‘Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’ is quite the mouthful. Should they have just gone with calling it ‘Harley Quinn’? Probably. Does it make the movie any worse for it? Absolutely not.
The tongue-in-cheek title is the first clue that this movie isn’t going to be taking itself too seriously. Told from the perspective of the deranged Harley Quinn, it’s full of nudge-nudge, wink-wink moments, over the top action, every colour of the rainbow and a shit ton of action. And I loved it.
*Note: This review is going to contain spoilers*
The movie opens with a quick animation detailing Harley’s life up until that current point. Set after the events of ‘Suicide Squad’ (which I actually liked!), the semi-sequel reveals that Harley and the Joker broke up. Harley does this in the most… well, Harley way, possible: by driving a truck directly into the chemical vat where the two fell in love, sending it exploding into a colourful display of fantastical fireworks. That sets the tone of the movie, a run of 1hr 49min runtime that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And, nor should you.
The events that follow lead up to Harley’s eventual meeting of the Birds of Prey themselves, an all-female girl-power based group of vigilantes, filled with knock-out violence, setting dripping in atmosphere, and a humorous tone that keeps everything light and breezy. ‘Birds of Prey’ is available to buy on Amazon Prime.
The film isn’t told from a linear perspective. It jumps around in time, guided by Harley’s narration, zipping back and forth so quickly it’ll give you mental whiplash. While it is slightly irritating, it does mirror the wild thought processes of our one and only Harley Quinn, so I assume that was the metaphor that director Cathy Yan was going for. Annoying or not, it certainly keeps the audience on their toes as the film rushes by in a blur of zany antics.
While the entirety of Gotham is out to get Harley – losing the protection from her precious Joker – we meet an array of people she’s wronged as the Clown Princess. Whether its tattooing a thug’s face, or being chased by ‘some Frida Kahlo looking asshole’, the list of reasons as to why Harley has so many enemies always put a smile on my face. My absolute favourite, though, is the many, many, many reasons as to why Black Mask hates her. Besides simply being a woman, one of his biggest gripes is that she peed in his Brita. Damn, only in ‘Birds of Prey’.
‘Birds of Prey’ features an array of memorable characters. There’s Black Canary, played by the brilliant Jurnee Smolett-Bell – who takes no shit and has a killer voice. She also wears some sick outfits (come through skin-tight gold trousers!), so there’s that. Joining her is Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who’s a jaded, queer cop, fed up with the patriarchal police force. She starts out as Harley’s nemesis (I mean, she did kill her awesome sandwich, so that’s understandable), but she eventually joins up with her vigilante gal pals, who continuously rinse her for speaking as though she’s in a bad 80s cop movie. There’s also
The Crossbow Killer Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who had me cracking up with each and every line. Joining them is Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay), re-imagined from her comic counterpart, but nevertheless still entertaining. And, rounding them all up is Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who offers a wonderfully dramatic performance that ends in him exploding into a thousand teeny tiny pieces.
Each actor plays their part wonderfully, with not a wooden performance in sight. Whether it’s Huntress rehearsing her anti-hero speech in front of a mirror, or Black Mask relishing over his pickled face collection, the cast are enveloped by their roles, becoming the characters in their own right.
Of course, the star of the movie is Margot Robbie; who completely and utterly embodies Harley Quinn. Her zany manic aura is wrapped up in Robbie’s energy, from her inappropriate laughter to her love for breakfast sandwiches.
What’s interesting about this iteration of Harley, though, is that she’s layered. Whether she’s sobbing while cutting her hair, finding solace in her hyena Bruce and restaurant owner Doc, or feeling conflicted about selling out Cassandra Cain to save her own skin, there’s far more of Harley to delve into here than in most superhero movies, let alone Harley pieces of media. Robbie’s performance of her only adds to these layers; from her tears to her laugh, everything is wonderfully believable. She truly is the star of the show.
There’s a slew of laugh-out-loud moments in ‘Birds of Prey’, too. Whether it’s Harley breaking a misogynist’s legs, before declaring “oh, boo-hoo!” when he complains, or Huntress screaming “it’s a crossbow, not a fuckin’ bow and arrow – I’m not twelve”, I was left in stitches in almost every scene. Maybe it’s just my weird sense of humour, but it ticked every box for me.
I can’t review ‘Birds of Prey’ without talking about it’s amazing soundtrack! Doja Cat’s ‘Boss Bitch’ is now a staple feature of my workout playlist, and Halsey’s ‘Experiment on Me’ is oddly eerie. And closing the entire movie off with ‘Woman’ by Kesha was just the icing on the cake!
Another micro part of this movie that made the macro all the more juicy is the fashion. A blend of Brooklyn meets club kid, the merge of bold colours and prints makes the movie like a walking, talking fashion show. While some of it (okay, most of it) is beyond extra, I constantly found myself in awe of the casts’ costumes.
‘Birds of Prey’ isn’t a high-brow work of art, unlike ‘Joker’ released last year. Nor does it even attempt to take itself as seriously as Marvel’s counterparts. It’s self-aware, witty, and full of comedic moments that made me laugh out loud. Don’t get me wrong, this movie’s humour is for a certain niche. It borders on satire, while simultaneously juggling a slapstick tone.
Personally, it felt as though this movie was made for me. I was on the streets of Gotham, accompanying Harley on her weird, bright, insane journey, and I didn’t want it to come to an end. I could honestly watch an entire franchise centred around Miss Quinn. Alas, it seems I’ll just be keeping ‘Birds of Prey’ in a constant state of rewatch, a perfect mood boost for an hour and a half.