Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (15)

Written by Film

Birds of Prey stars Margot Robbie, reprising her role as Harley Quinn from 2016’s Suicide Squad as she deals with her break-up with The Joker. Naturally, Quinn’s recent loss of immunity in the underworld doesn’t bode well, getting caught in a conflict with crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), as well as a complicated matter with pick-pocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

Birds of Prey immediately defies expectations of another comic book romp, trading end-of-the-world level stakes for a comically violent and well-contained affair. Told entirely from Quinn’s perspective, Prey takes a straight-forward narrative and presents it in a wonderfully chaotic and anachronistic style. In doing so, the audience becomes trapped in Quinn’s headspace, which greatly helps her character become more fully realised to her comic counterpart than in Suicide Squad. Unfortunately, this also means that we don’t get to spend much time with other characters, leaving stragglers such as Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a bit thin.

Despite some thinly written characters, the film’s talented cast are able to make the most out of small moments, displaying who they are now rather than who they were in a series of flashbacks that most comic book films are accustomed to doing. Robbie’s Quinn and McGregor’s Sionis aside – the latter of which is gleefully flamboyant and sadistic – Jurnee Smollett-Bell shines the brightest as the compassionate Black Canary with a performance that is sure to please comic book fans.

Harley Quinn is back, free from Mr. J and this time she has a crew at her back. Image:IMDB

Cathy Yan proves herself to be a talented director in her first studio outing, making strong decisions all the way through. What stood out in particular was the production design of Roman Sionis’ nightclub. “The Black Mask” – the name of the nightclub, as well as Sionis’ alter ego – is beautifully realised with “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil” props and statues. The centrepiece of the club in particular – a black statue of hands on either side of the stage with eyes in between the fingers – is both chilling and hypnotic to look at.

Cathy Yan joins Patty Jenkins as the second female director of a DCEU movie. Image:IMDB

Birds of Prey distinguishes itself from others in its genre through inventive action sequences, of which there are many, expertly choreographed and overseen by John Wick’s Chad Stahelski. Before this film, I didn’t know I needed a car chase sequence involving roller skates, or a showdown in a funhouse, but they have since become my new standard. The action more than justifies the film’s occasional use of hyper-violence, which is akin to that of a Quentin Tarantino film.

While it is certainly not necessary to watch Suicide Squad before Birds of Prey, the latter doesn’t pretend that the events of Squad never took place. I was actually surprised how many Easter eggs and references there were, from the recurrence of props to a certain fellow Suicide Squad member appearing on a “most wanted” poster in the Gotham City Police Department. The inclusions were pleasant in reminding the audience that the DCEU is still a continuously fleshed-out world, even if the new direction is more self-contained. At any rate, they were far less intrusive than some MCU references that chastise those that haven’t caught up.

Following from one of the better aspects of Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey also boasts a kick-ass soundtrack and a complementary score by Daniel Pemberton (Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018), who seems to be having the time of his life composing for the film. The soundtrack itself exclusively features upcoming female artists, which is in keeping with the film’s central theme of, not just female empowerment, but providing a platform for female voices to thrive.

I can imagine, though, that the screenplay by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, 2018) is going to receive the most criticism. The screenplay is fairly niche in its campy and black comedic humour, as well as its chaotic arrangement. Beyond the obvious and aforementioned themes of the film, there isn’t really a lot going on as far as depth is concerned. This will inevitably bother some audience members, but if the 2-dimensional plots of the John Wick series aren’t enough to spoil your fun, than this isn’t likely to either.

Overall, Birds of Prey’s campy style of vibrancy, brutal violence and innovative fight sequences are sure to please audiences in general and delight those with this particular niche. Though it doesn’t deny the events, Prey is a fresh start from Suicide Squad and lives up to the expectations that the latter set but couldn’t achieve.

Rating: 4/5

Last modified: 13th March 2020

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