Never forget that the sisters are doing it for themselves…
With Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn) we get a light comic book action romp that has some exceptionally well staged moments while leaning into a positive but occasionally clunky message from the material.
You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz (Chris Messina) put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya’s paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
While Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) has some chaotic and uneven moments it’s also a very fun and well staged action flick with two very knowing leading performances who knock it out of the park and make this comic book yarn feel campy and fun as the bullets and the fists are flying across the screen as it steers fairly clear of any major lore in the DC universe.
With this only being the second feature under the belt of director Cathy Yan there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be seeing more of her in bigger scale productions as time goes on. The film has an exceptional sense of style and design and even in the chaotic narration of Harley, the story has a genuine flow to it with some exceptionally well staged action set pieces, and while you can tell that there are moments where we see staging that is borrow from other films, Yan and her team are borrowing from some of the best and we get sucked into the action that succeeds in finding the line between silly and very violent. Sure it’s an R movie, but really not by that much as it never slides into full on Deadpool territory, it just dips the occasional toe into that water.
The script from screenwriter Christina Hodson is admittedly a little chaotic, but it’s ultimately supposed to be as it’s told in Harley’s voice. And while it succeeds in managing a very feminist tone as it’s embracing a gonzo action flavour throughout, it also leans into the misogynist nature of the material a little too hard at times. I’ll grant that it’s always deserved and it’s the overall point of the story since Harley doesn’t have any men in her life that she can count on, it occasionally plays a little cheaply to the point of overkill and it could have used a little more nuance to it rather than painting practically every single male character in the film as at best; a misogynistic jerk. I won’t deny that it has a purpose, but it felt that one degree too far over the top, but it never took away from the leading performances that really made the film fly.
Margot Robbie just owns the screen as Harley Quinn in a role she’s fully embraced and made her own. She gives the character emotional depth while still playing unhinged to the absolute hilt. You can tell she’s having a lot of fun on this one and it comes through in her performance as she has full confidence in what the character is all about and knows where she can take her. Ewan McGregor is simply chewing the scenery at every turn as Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask) as he slithers around the frame making every woman around him as uncomfortable as humanly possible and giving us a villainous turn that hasn’t been this entertaining since Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman. Chris Messina is slimy fun as Zsasz while Jurnee Smolett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosie Perez all help carry the narrative well enough, the film really only scratches the surface for them, probably in case we get some kind of Birds of Prey spin off.
Ultimately, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is an entertaining and occasionally silly effort which will end up as a fun piece of cotton candy or popcorn cinema that won’t do that much for you in the long term, but you’ll certainly have some fun while in the middle of it all.