Hooray, hooray – comic book movies are fun again thanks to Birds of Prey! This utterly fabulous addition to the Batman cinematic universe is a flat-out riot. Margot Robbie once again dons the make-up of Harley Quinn and she owns the role with captivating abandon.
The Batman movies have struggled to harness the cartoonish violence of the genre since the days of Adam West and the shark repellent Bat Spray, veering too dark with the Christopher Nolan movies and far too self-serious with Joker. Birds of Prey strikes the right balance. It’s wild and wacky fun splattered with cartoonishly operatic violence and badass chicks. The big thrill of Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is just how much fun everyone seems to be having.
Starring Margot Robbie and an Amazing Sandwich
The film doesn’t set the reset button on Suicide Squad, but it doesn’t bog itself down in origin story exposition. Quinn recites a brief personal history of her whirlwind romance with the Joker and the action begins shortly after their breakup. (Thankfully, Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix don’t reprise their Joker roles.) Breaking up with Mr. J, however, means that Harley Quinn no longer has his protection. That fact puts her freewheeling hedonism in the crosshairs. Being an out-of-control sociopathic drunkard is something people tolerate for only so long.
The string of baddies who come out of hiding to go after Harley include Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). The effete gangster wants Harley whacked for a rap sheet of grievances. As Quinn spins her yarn in rambling freewheeling voiceover, Birds of Prey takes audiences through a fractured narrative. Quinn is all about smoke and mirrors and the film plays like a funhouse illusion. She calls the shots to say when the story fast-forwards or rewinds. The dizzying nature of the storytelling can be a little clunky, but the ride is often more fun than not. Robbie and director Cathy Yan commit to playing every beat with gonzo energy.
For example, there’s a wild chase featuring an overzealous cop (Rosie Perez) whose hunt for Quinn intersects with Sionis’s. Instead of giving audiences the usual caper, Birds of Prey offers a eulogy for a lost bacon and egg breakfast sandwich. Throughout the zany chase, which careens through market stalls and food trucks, Harley’s only concern is the greasy bacon-and-egger sandwiched between her boobs. The lost hangover breakfast, and not the impending charges, fuel Quinn’s rivalry with Detective Montoya. (In fairness, the sandwich looked really good.)
All the Single Ladies
At the same time, whirling between the storylines and ultimately connecting them, are the fates of three other women. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a singer who becomes Sionis’s driver after Harley breaks the first guy’s legs. Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) has everyone from Sionis to Detective Montoya on her tail after stealing a priceless diamond. Then there’s a masked crossbow killer (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaving a bigger trail of bodies than Harley Quinn. Eventually, the girls all unite to kick some serious ass against shitty men. Without Mr. J, Harley leads the ultimate girls’ night at the movies.
Despite having a whirlybird plot, Birds of Prey moves way faster than the average DC or Marvel actioner does. Its economically used 109-minute running time is a target to which all future comic book movies should aspire. (Hat tip to editors Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff for making it a brisk OCD ride.) The film knows that audiences don’t need (or want) an excessive primer. Origin stories are so been there, done that. Birds of Prey refreshingly does what too few entries in the genre try to do: tell a new story. The film’s energy and style are unique in the field, too, and it’s welcome to see such a sparkling and glittering actioner. From the dazzling costumes by Erin Benach to eye-popping cinematography by Matthew Libatique and the outstanding production design K.K. Barrett, Yan does a phenomenal job building Quinn’s world. The film has a great sense of character.
A Zany Rush
Nothing in Birds of Prey, however, sparkles quite like Margot Robbie does. She is spectacular fun in her second outing as Quinn. It’s a smart choice to let her fuel a movie after being one of the few (if only) highlights of Suicide Squad. She is delightfully unhinged and utterly fearless in the zany physicality of her performance. The spot of fun Robbie has with Quinn further accentuates the character’s sociopathic qualities. Whereas Joker posed as something it was not by throwing out buzzwords like “society!” and having Arthur scribble “mental illness” on a sheet of paper, Birds of Prey puts the audience in the shoes (or roller skates) or somebody who gets a perverse thrill from nihilistic violence. Like it or not, it’s a rush.
Birds of Prey reminds a fan what comics can do. It works because it simply seeks to give audience a good time. However, in doing so, it also checks many of the boxes that one hopes to find in a full-blown studio movie. Here’s a great slice of escapism that features grand effects, a top shelf star performance, a zany cast, and a bold director leading the party. These movies provide welcome escapes from reality and Birds of Prey is just the ticket for anyone looking for a reprieve from the headache of 2020. It’s fantabulous fun.
Birds of Prey is now playing in theatres.