Margot Robbie is back and more bonkers than ever as fan favourite DC character Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey, who was undoubtedly the best adaptation from comic book to screen in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Despite the influence of negative Twitter trolls, the film has impressively sold more first-day presale tickets than Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad, ranking as the third-best day of presales for a DC title behind Aquaman and Joker. The big draw of a female director with an all star female led cast, along with an R-rating and quirky storytelling, have a lot of fans excited for the film. But does the team-up live up to expectations?
Directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey chronicles the aftermath of Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) recent break up with the Joker, (it was totally mutual…) as she finds herself somehow babysitting a young girl named Cass (Ella Jay Basco), just as Gotham’s newest narcissistic gangster, Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) puts a bounty out on her head. As their paths collide, Harley must team up with Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya if she has any hope of protecting the kid and taking Roman down.
It’s hard to deny how much fun I had with this film. This IS Harley Quinn’s tale, so queue an utterly chaotic nonlinear way of storytelling! We fly back and forth with frenetic pacing as she retells specific versions of events through colourful character introductions with neon flourishes reminiscent of the comics, usually hilarious listing why they’re after her. It’s an inventive and refreshing way of breaking the mould on the most often cited criticism of comic book movies and their formulaic tendencies, giving Yan a lot more creative freedom to have fun with the project.
It certainly seems as if the studio has a lot more faith in the director, as the film is definitely it’s own beast, flowing as a whole with a clearly defined style and narrative – featuring just enough connections to the larger DC universe to feel part of it, but not encroach upon the Bird of Prey’s arcs. The exploration of themes including femininity and abuse/trauma, particularly how women cope in those situations, was a bold and daring move which I applaud.
One minute she’s completely off the rails and the next she’s hilariously psycho analysing others; Margot Robbie IS Harley Quinn. The Australian actor is absolutely perfect in the role, bringing an exquisitely layered and emotional performance to the table. Yan gives her a tremendous character arc in this film, stepping out of the shadow of Mr J to form a truly kick ass girl group. Speaking of the Birds of Prey, Smollett-Bell almost steals the show as the fantastic Dinah Lance/Black Canary. She has an absolutely amazing voice and impressive fight skills to boot, particularly THAT canary cry which is well worth the wait.
Other highlights include Winstead’s deadly but surprisingly awkward Huntress, who’s nickname becomes a particularly hilarious running gag throughout, along with McGregor’s absolutely camp and spoilt brat of a villain – who’s clearly having a whale of a time in the role!
As previously mentioned, the unique aesthetic, combined with the killer female soundtrack and impressive fight choreography, really sets this film apart from its predecessors. It was colourful, loud and most of all, fun! The cinematography from Matthew Libatique was stunning, featuring shots filled with a riot of slow-mo glitter and colour bombs, along with neon and shocking ultra violence. The crazy funhouse scene was definitely a standout, along with an early roller derby tournament.
The production value of the main sets, particularly Black Mask’s nightclub, Harley Quinn’s flat and the funhouse were all fantastic – showing off a different side to Gotham we don’t usually see with Batman. The costume design by Erin Benach perfectly embodied the aesthetics and characterisation, with Harley’s brilliant array of sequins of particular note. The absolute plethora of female talent involved in the soundtrack is also so impressive, featuring a mix of new and old/reworked tracks. Particular highlights are Charlotte Lawrence’s “Joke’s On You” and Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s “It’s a Man’s World”.
Overall, Birds of Prey is a rip roaring riot of colour, violence & music! It’s a completely bonkers but utterly fun caper that leads the way in representation, being the first Hollywood comic-book movie written and directed by women. In a way it’s the spiritual successor to Suicide Squad, but it’s everything I was hoping for from that film. The characterisation and chemistry of the Birds of Prey team is truly phenomenal and I genuinely can’t wait for the sequel following THAT tease at the end!