Movie Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

“Psychologically speaking, vengeance rarely brings the catharsis we hope for.”

– Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

By Cain Dennis

“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)”. A long-winded, flashy title that gives a hint as to the sense of whimsical, self aware fun that the entire movie brings. “Birds of Prey” spins off of 2016’s “Suicide Squad”, but the only pre-established character is Harley Quinn, who leads (and narrates) the film. Thankfully, Birds of Prey is better in almost every way than its predecessor, and throws any obligation to “Suicide Squad” to the wind, in fact, the very first scene of this film highlights Harley Quinn’s very dramatic recent breakup with The Joker and serves as a launchpad to set Harley on her own, unprotected by her ex-boyfriend in a Gotham City where everyone has a reason to come after her.

This is the kind of movie that would absolutely fall apart without a very strong lead character, and Margot Robbie plays Harley Quinn with so much energy, and she feels at home in this stylized, more colorful version of Gotham City. This vision of Gotham is far different than what we’ve seen in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and more recently, the Best Picture nominated Joker. I was impressed by the attention to detail in the production design, the sets and costumes all pop onscreen, and there’s always something visually interesting going on. It’s been repeated ad nauseam in relation to DC and Marvel’s recent films, but “Birds of Prey” really does feel like a comic book brought to life. The movie’s pacing moves along swimmingly and the editing matches Quinn’s energetic narration. While the film focuses on Harley Quinn, the other characters are all very well played and work very well as an ensemble, even though the team doesn’t really have any scenes completely united until near the end of the film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stands out as the socially unaware Huntress, and Rosie Perez retools what easily could have fallen into the “Cop with something to prove” archetype into a fun character that plays into Birds of Preys built in sense of campiness as Renee Montoya. You can’t really have a movie like this without a villain, and Ewan McGregor plays the antagonist Roman Sionis, or Black Mask. McGregor has previous grievances with Harley Quinn and uses her shedding the protection that Joker gave her as a chance to finally try to kill her. The two have a great (Anti)hero/villain dynamic and McGregor is having so much fun in every scene he’s in, and the movie is all the better for it.

Cathy Yan does an amazing job directing action in “Birds of Prey” especially for a director who has never directed a big budget action movie. The hand to hand choreography is believable and late-film fights including group dynamics and spinning sets are especially impressive. Yan knows exactly where to have her characters and when so that they compliment each other in the combat scenes. All of the action is completely engaging and fits Harley Quinn’s erratic character and storytelling throughout the film. The music is also used successfully and fits the feel of the rest of the film. If I really had to nitpick, there’s a couple unconvincing visual effects shots, and a few jokes fall a bit flat but there’s nothing egregious that detracts from the experience.

“Birds of Prey” easily could have been an uninteresting, unnecessary film if it were handled incorrectly, but the filmmakers instead give us an extremely entertaining ensemble film that knows exactly what it is and uses campiness and comedy to its benefit. This movie achieves everything that it sets out to accomplish and I enjoyed it more than I thought that I would. I recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting time at the movies, especially if you enjoyed Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, she was good in that film, but really brings the character to her full potential here.

“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” gets an

8/10

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