The last time audiences saw Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) on the big screen was back in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Birds of Prey is the follow-up, directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee). Although it’s set in the DCEU, this is a standalone film that focuses almost entirely on Harley, the now ex-girlfriend of Joker who’s striking out on her own.
Birds of Prey is an origin story, a female empowerment piece and a sort-of breakup story. It tells of how the Birds of Prey, an all-female superhero team, came to be and how they had help from the unlikeliest of people – supervillain Harley Quinn. The team consists of Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). They’re obviously not a team yet and much of the focus is on Harley and her search for Cassandra Dawn (Ella Jay Basco) who possesses a rare and highly sought-after diamond. There are multiple plot threads; Harley, though, provides narration to keep viewers up to speed. Also, thanks to some deft juggling by Hodson, she weaves all these plot threads into a chaotically fun third act.
Hodson also did well to showcase each character by highlighting their distinct personality traits. It obviously allows audiences to become more invested.
Birds, maybe not surprisingly, relies on non-traditional storytelling. In addition to narration, there are time jumps, shots that are sped up or slowed down (specifically during action set pieces), tight shots of inanimate objects, and an amazingly bright color palette. All of it makes for a scattered and chaotic feature, but it also allows for endless amounts of fun.
On a rumored budget of just under $85 million, Yan is able to create a world befitting a maniacal antihero. Robbie has become more comfortable as Harley and it seems like Hodson has a better understanding of the character (something writer-director David Ayer failed to convey in Suicide Squad). Plus, Hodson had to incorporate the “grieving ex” dynamic, something Harley would deal with in her own unique way.
Hodson is maybe the film’s biggest star since she linked the female leads together through hardship. Renee, Dinah, Helena, Cassandra and Harley were all wronged. More specifically, they were wronged by men, so this almost a middle finger to toxic men and even the Hollywood system (which is clearly run mostly by men).
The big bad is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a crime lord who has a particular disdain for Harley. Roman is also connected to the other women in various ways; he has reason to kill them off, just like Harley. Regardless, talk about buying in; this may be McGregor’s most flamboyant role. He chews up all the scenery – that’s saying something since Harley is such an attention-getter. McGregor plays Roman as playful and somewhat effeminate, but with a mean streak that nearly rivals Joker. At times he resembles the Joker in terms of sheer cruelty (raising the idea that somewhere down the line McGregor could play the Clown Prince of Crime if ever asked), but he makes Roman his own and is a fine rival to Harley.
Birds of Prey, in short, is a fun time at the movies. It’s full of action that’s matched with bright colors and a jovial mood, and it's as lively as they come. With Robbie and McGregor leading the way, this is the type of fun comic book film that offers little stakes (no “save the world scenario” here) with good action and cartoonish, yet graphic violence. And embedding a females first/females united theme makes it appealing for both men and women.
4 stars out of 5