REVIEW: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
The world is full of great breakup movies, but very few are as madcap and fun as Birds of Prey. Cathy Yan’s colorful crime odyssey is full of exciting fights, zippy dialogue, and buckets of style. Even if it is a bit scattered in its first act, it comes together as something unique, vibrant, and empowering.
Birds of Prey follows the exploits of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) following a big breakup from the Joker. As she tries to carve her own path, she ends up crossing Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), and needing the help of the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
The film does take awhile to find its groove as it introduces and brings its many heroines into each other’s orbits. Christina Hodson’s script is full of lively encounters and gleeful humor, but it also contains some choppy plotting, at least to start.
Even if the plot starts out a bit uneven, it’s certainly never boring. Every character gets their own time to shine, and Birds of Prey moves from set piece to set piece with plenty of personality. Whether it’s a confetti-covered attack on a police station or a soulfully sung introduction, this film knows how to put a scene together.
No matter how many characters there are, at the end of the day this is Harley’s story. Thankfully, it’s much more sympathetic and significantly less over-sexualized than Suicide Squad. Her journey here is one of self-exploration and discovery, as well as learning to be on her own.
Once she meets Cassandra Cain and the rest of the group, it becomes clear how powerful that journey is. Birds of Prey is empowering in an authentic way (at least, it is to this dude). The film is full of small moments that could only come from a place of understanding, such as the already popular hair tie handoff in the middle of a brawl. This film is wild and kinetic, but there’s an undeniable human element.
Much of the story’s human success comes from the cast, which is thoroughly excellent. Robbie continues to crush it as Harley Quinn, bringing a frenzied energy and real sense of self to Gotham’s Queen of Crime. Winstead is effortlessly cool as the Huntress, Perez is clearly having a blast as Renee Montoya, and Smollett-Bell sings and soars as Black Canary. Basco is the heart of the group as the young pickpocket Cassandra Cain, and it’ll be exciting to see where she goes next. However, Ewan McGregor absolutely steals every scene that he’s in with his maniacal take on Black Mask. This cast is, simply put, a riot.
As the DCEU grows more and more convoluted, this film bravely charts its own course and makes its own way, mirroring Harley Quinn’s personal journey. It’s a somewhat uneven but ultimately triumphant exercise in learning that you can change and finding your place among others without losing yourself. Full of memorable fights, a killer soundtrack, and some truly badass women, Birds of Prey soars.
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Written by: Christina Hodson
Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina