Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a glorious mess told from Harley Quinn’s point of view, perfectly echoing her persona with violence and cheesiness — but that’s about all this movie took from its comic book source material.
Harley Quinn’s first standalone film from Warner Bros. captures the essence of one of DC’s craziest characters while creating a story we haven’t seen before. You can breathe a sigh of relief: You don’t need to see 2016’s Suicide Squad in order to understand what’s happening in Margot Robbie‘s second portrayal of the beloved antihero.
In the beginning, Harley Quinn conveniently recaps her time with the Joker (in a cartoon that bears striking resemblance to the classic animation of the comics). But be warned: It’s her story, and she will tell it how she wants. With this in mind, you can’t be surprised by the occasional musical number or death by glitter. It’s cheesy, it’s gory, it’s Harley — and it’s so much fun.
The plot is never really that hard to follow, despite the timing being all over the place. Harley Quinn breaks up with Joker and tries to find catharsis by buying a hyena, killing a man with said hyena, and eating some junk food. In an effort to finally prove she’s over Joker, Quinn blows up Ace Chemicals Power Plant — some couples have the Eiffel Tower or Olive Garden, she says, but this was her and J’s special place. This move inadvertently tells the world that she is no longer under the Joker’s protection, and suddenly everyone is out to get their revenge.
In the midst of trying not to die, Harley finds herself offering to help the film’s villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), recover a priceless diamond that was stolen from him by Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). She decides to protect Cain instead and ultimately needs the Birds of Prey to help her.
Harley introduces the characters slowly, building up to a fight scene toward the end. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a singer at a club that Sionis owns. She becomes his personal driver after the position is made vacant because of one Harley Quinn. Canary calls Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) — a cop with a good heart straight out of a bad ’80s movie — when she realizes her neighbor Cassandra Cain is in trouble with Sionis. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) remains a mysterious character, showing up randomly as she plots revenge against the people who killed her entire family.
It feels like every other second of the film is a fight scene, and the directors try hard to keep its R-rating with plenty of needless, bone-shattering gore. There is some funny dialogue interlaced with that gore; it never really gets you dying of laughter, but you won’t feel yourself getting bored, either.
Where the film falls flat is in staying true to the DC world — or trying to, anyway. Harley’s story stayed the same (and, yes, that intro cartoon was everything), but it’s certainly not the Birds of Prey story that comic book fans will recognize.
The DC comics universe version of the story depicts Black Canary and Oracle (aka Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon) as the founding members of the Birds of Prey. Batgirl is nowhere to be found in this imagining, however. Cassandra Cain was the fourth person to take on the persona in the comics, but her character in this film doesn’t resemble that character at all. A standalone Barbara Gordon film has reportedly been in the works since 2017, but I don’t think that’s why they made the change. The birds needed someone to save. Who better than a kid who accidentally steals a priceless diamond from a rich tyrant?
In the comics, mute and standoffish Cain is raised to do nothing but kill, but she’s nowhere close to that in this big-screen adaptation. Her pickpocket skills are top-notch, and she’s eager to learn from Harley, but unless she was hiding some major skills for this entire movie, she is no fighting machine.
Everything leads up to a huge battle that goes down in a funhouse. (Of course.) Each of the women ends up there for her own reasons: Black Canary (please don’t make me talk about her Canary Cry) wants to protect Cain, Montoya wants to bring Sionis down, Harley wants to trade Cain for protection, and Huntress just happens to be there. They all come together for the first time more than halfway into the film. It’s only when Sionis fully turns into the Black Mask and has an army of mercenaries after them that these ladies decide to work together. They don’t have a choice: It’s fight or die.
McGregor morphs Sionis into the supervillain Black Mask flawlessly. In a heartbeat, he goes from a man who seems forgiving to a vile man with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Sionis is a rich man out to rule Gotham — and absolutely nothing will stand in his way. (Seriously, nothing. He had Szasz cut off people’s faces, and that wasn’t even the hardest thing to watch.)
I expected the movie’s imagery to be more colorful than it actually was. Scenes like the exploding power plant feature bright hues, while specific colors follow different characters throughout the film, such as in the picture above — stories about Huntress were splashed with purple. Also, five stars to the costume department for making a ton of costumes worthy of cosplaying.
The trailers for Birds of Prey tried too hard to paint this as a girl-power comedy, but there were way too many exploding people for this to be a stereotypical chick flick, which is refreshing. Few films have shown women in this light. The Birds of Prey don’t need saving while they seek revenge, protect themselves, and cause a whole lot of damage. The film proves what women have always known but few films have explored: We’re a bunch of badasses.
Photos: Warner Bros.