Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)– Film Review
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor
Director: Cathy Yan
Synopsis: Following a split from The Joker, Harley Quinn is determined to start fresh and get back on her feet. However, she soon realises that a number of people in Gotham want her dead…
Review: 2016, a year that promised so much for the DC Extended Universe. Two massive flagship blockbusters in the shape of Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad were lined up. These were the two films that were supposed to kick-start their cinematic universe to the next level. Unfortunately, that hype soon turned to disappointment as neither lived up to those lofty expectations. Yet through that disappointment, Margot Robbie’s performance bringing the much loved Harley Quinn to life proved to be one of the few rays of light. Subsequently along with a certain Amazonian warrior, a platform for the DCEU to build on going forward.
Following a brief recap of the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn’s relationship with The Joker is over, something she announces in quite the dramatic fashion. Seeking to put this behind her and move on, it dawns on her that being with The Joker offered her protection from some of Gotham’s underworld. With that gone, a lot of these people are now baying for her blood, and they sense an opportunity to exact revenge on Harley for past grievances. Soon enough, Harley comes to the attention of crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) who’s seeking possession of a rare artefact that would enable him to take control of Gotham’s Underworld, putting him on a collision course with Harley and an array of other badass ladies.
Margot Robbie continues to prove that she was perfectly cast to bring the one of the most beloved comic book characters to life. She might (read probably) be a complete psychopath, but Robbie imbues Harley such charisma that it’s impossible not to get on her side. Gone are her Suicide Squad associates and in their place we are introduced to an exciting crop of badass heroines. We have Black Canary (Smollett-Bell), Cassandra Cain (Basco), Huntress (Winstead) and Renee Montaya (Perez). Though they all get a moment to shine, the most compelling character of the new crop is Huntress, an archer who is on a deeply personal mission of revenge, and who could definitely use her bow to kill you one hand tied behind her back.
For her first foray into the realm of super-hero film-making, Cathy Yan brings a vibrant, colourful energy to the action scenes, which never fail to be consistently entertaining. However, with the exception of one enthralling showdown in the second act, there’s a majority of these don’t take place until the film arrives at its concluding act, and all the pieces have fallen into place. Consequently, while they are consistently entertaining, there’s a distinct dearth of punch-the-air-in-delight moments, to really get the adrenaline pumping. With female empowerment beating at at the heart of the film, screenwriter Christina Hodson certainly captures that strong camaraderie and teamwork between the titular Birds of Prey. In spite of this being their first time on screen together, there’s a real feeling of sisterhood between the women, and it helps each of their performances shine.
Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis was certainly a strong piece of casting and while he’s clearly having fun with playing a villain, he frustratingly doesn’t get enough material to sink his teeth into. While he’s certainly far from the least interesting to villain to have emerged from the DC Cinematic Universe, there’s just not enough material for him to create a lasting impression, which is a shame when you think of the calibre of dastardly villains that DC have in their repertoire, feels like a missed opportunity. Birds of Prey may not have been the home run DC wanted it to be, but with Harley and her baseball bat in hand, it’s certainly a solid swing in the right direction.