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Review: ‘Birds of Prey’ (and the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Is Brilliantly Bonkers

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With so many superhero movies in existence, it may seem hard to fathom a new take on the popular genre. And yet, director Cathy Yan and company have found a way to do just that. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is bold, dynamic, and just plain fun. The film showcases the wonderful messiness of Harley Quinn, as well as the unconventional sisterhood she forms with a couple of other fierce Gotham City ladies. It’s an edgy, hyper-stylized, action-crime-comedy that doesn’t hold back.

Our story picks up shortly after Harley (Margot Robbie) breaks up with the Joker. She’s finally liberated, but also has a target on her back because of all the people she’s wronged. To avoid getting killed by crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), she must retrieve a valuable diamond for him. Along the way, she mixes up with various other ladies who are also looking for some emancipation. The storyline isn’t anything special, but seeing Harley resiliently take ownership of her life, and following all trouble she gets herself into is an absolute blast.

Having Harley Quinn narrate the film was a great decision. On top of the obvious comedic benefits, this also allows for the frenetic non-linear structure of the film that makes it so engaging. Harley’s quirky point of view and retelling of events creates this wonderfully eccentric tone and energetic pace. The humour is both hilariously cheeky and absurd. Meanwhile, the vibrant and stylized visuals are a real feast for the eyes. Birds of Prey fully embraces its protagonist’s chaotic perspective to great effect.

This is absolutely Harley Quinn’s story and she really shines. We get the pleasure of seeing her everyday life and it’s as wild and outrageous as you’d expect, but also quite endearing. And on her scrappy pursuit of the diamond, we are treated to her badass (and incredibly athletic) fighting skills. Harley with a baseball bat makes a lethal combo. Also, it was nice to see her psychiatry smarts and more sensitive side on display too, without making her too sympathetic. Harley proves to be a great character all on her own, as she steps out of the Joker’s shadow into the spotlight. And Margot Robbie just owns this role; she’s a delight to watch.

The rest of the Birds of Prey are all solid additions and the film does a decent job of incorporating them into the plot. Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the intense Huntress who has revenge on her mind. Her deadliness is amusingly complimented by her social awkwardness. Meanwhile, Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a singer who gets caught up in Sionis’ inner circle. Despite her powers, she has understandable reluctance towards crime-fighting. Out of the new additions, Huntress and Black Canary were definitely the stand-outs. I just wished they had more screen-time to better explore their situations.

Meanwhile, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is a detective fed up with the police system and their way of fighting crime. She provides a nice mature, moral presence and contrasting personality. The only character that was a bit disappointing was Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). From being a stealthy assassin in the comics, she’s now a pickpocket who unfortunately doesn’t get in on much of the action. Still, seeing the whole team finally get together is very satisfying. Even if their team-up is sadly quite brief, the banter and clashing personalities is a joy to watch.

As far as villains go, Roman Sionis was one of the more entertaining (and fashionable) ones. Ewan McGregor oozes charisma, while also being very unsettling. The film really hammers in just how sadistic he is, though his motives and actions aren’t all that compelling. Luckily, the basic plot and villain are mostly forgivable since the rest of the movie is so entertaining.

And we have to talk about the inventive, well-executed action. The stunt choreography is really impressive, making cool use of the different settings, props and characters. The fights are grounded in their visceral roughness (there’s a lot of broken bones), but also very playful. It helps that the fights are quite varied and have a lot of visual appeal too. The fun-house brawl, in particular, is a pure adrenaline rush of awesomeness.

Bird of Prey is bonkers in the best kind of way. Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson have crafted an explosion of chaotic fun. Boasting memorable style, action, humor and characters, this movie is a joyride with immense repeat-value. More than anything, I want sequels and spin-offs immediately.

 

Birds of Prey

8.5

Overall

8.5/10
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