Birds of Prey Movie Review: Margot Robbie spearheads DC's best action film
An eye-pleasing action-fest that is sure to entertain
How would you deal with a breakup? Become an emotional wreck, stay at home and make ice cream a part of your diet? Try to move on by swiping right on dating apps? Surround yourself with people and get out for some fresh air? Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) does none of those. Instead, she destroys the Ace Chemicals plant where the love she had for Joker became official. Incidentally, that's one of the least crazy things we see in her latest adventures. The wildness starts from the title itself - Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
Director: Cathy Yan
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor
Producer: Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless, Sue Kroll
Right after the events of Suicide Squad, the Joker throws out Harley out of his life, quite literally. In the words of the Cupid of Crime herself, "Being Joker's girl gave me immunity" but now, she is in trouble. This is because, while Batman put half the criminals of Gotham behind bars, Harley has indirectly affected the other half. When Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) finally gets her tied up, she takes the easy way out by promising him something that he dearly wants. And so, we get to see Harley team up with Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to save the life of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
When DC films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Justice League failed to make an impression, the studio aped Marvel's origins story model to good response. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam!, apart from introducing us to a character, also immersed us in that character's universe. This pattern continues in Birds of Prey. Though the film cannot be categorised as an origins story per se, it is a documentation of one of comic world's legendary female characters. We get to know about Harley's childhood in an animated sequence and also get a recap of how the PhD-wielding psychologist became who she is. Be it shooting glitter shells and coloured smoke cans off a shotgun or the scene inside an evidence room where some cocaine drops over her, we get to witness the colourful, psychedelic, and batsh*t insane world of Harley.
We also get to witness the softer side of Harley, and how beneath the pale skin and tattoos, she's just another hurt soul. Despite having a name that is a play on Harlequin (a comical servant character from early Italian theatre), her helplessness when she is left to fend for herself brings much-needed heart for the film.
Birds of Prey sets a benchmark for old-school action sequences that do not rely on CGI, shaky cinematography and quick cuts at the editor's table. Though not exactly gory, these action sequences are raw enough to justify the film's A certification. Director Cathy Yan, the first female director of colour of a superhero film, nails the dark comedy sequences that make props out of the film's backdrop as well as jokes on girl power. There's a scene where Black Canary asks for a hairband in the middle of a fight and another scene where Huntress praises Black Canary for fighting with tight pants. Details such as Harley naming her pet hyena Bruce, Renee Montoya wearing an 'I shaved my balls for this' T-shirt, and Harley giving a monologue on why no one can be like her are some of the best bits of the film.
Birds of Prey has a better villain than most films of the genre in the form of Roman Sionis. As the delirious misogynistic villain who wants to rule the streets of Gotham with an iron fist (or a Black mask, to be precise), McGregor gives a lovely performance that makes us wish that he had more screentime. But it's Robbie and Winstead's brilliant act in contrasting roles that steals the show. Robbie brings the craziness of Harley alive with her physical humour (even the character's creator, Paul Dini appreciated her after Suicide Squad). Her performance in Birds of Prey completely justifies the film being made. Likewise, Winstead's act as the well-bred daughter of a gangster who grows up to be a stone-faced crossbow carrying assassin deserves a standalone film.
On the flipside, Birds of Prey does not offer anything new to the superhero genre. The non-linear narration the film begins with disappears about a third of the way into the first half. The supporting characters apart not fleshed out enough. The wacky lines, bone-crushing action, and the sub-plot of saving a kid make it hard to not compare the film with Deadpool 2. That said, the comic-book characters chosen by the maker deserve a special mention. What the character saved by the team, Cassandra Cain, ends up being in the comic is what an easter egg ought to be. Birds of Prey is an eye-pleasing action-fest that is sure to entertain. And oh, do yourself a favour and don't stick around for the post-credit sequence.