Arts, Movies, Review

Robbie’s Harley Quinn Soars in ‘Birds of Prey’

This proves it. DC should call it quits on all of its male superheroes and just make movies starring women. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, Aquaman—all absolute garbage. Wonder Woman? It isn’t perfect, but it is a great superhero movie. Birds of Prey seals the deal. Superman, Batman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and the rest should be rented out Sony/Spider-Man style to studios that can actually make good movies. Joker is the exception that proves the rule (and notably features no actual superheroes). 

Birds of Prey is the newest DC Universe property to hit theaters. Set in the same world as the rest, the film follows a couple days in the life of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after her breakup with her puddin’—the Joker (the Jared Leto one, not Joaquin Phoenix). She is out on her own now that she doesn’t have the Joker’s protection, and every Gothamite she’s ever screwed over is now out to get her. First among them is Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his knife-happy henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). 

Once Quinn elects to trade her life in for finding a plot-important diamond in the possession of child pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Birds of Prey settles in for a pretty by-the-book action comedy team-up. With the help of other characters featured prominently on the poster—Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez)—Quinn can achieve the Freytagian pyramid the film so desperately desires. 

What elevates Birds of Prey above its peers is Robbie. Margot Robbie has quickly distinguished herself as one of the—if not the—best working actors in the business. Her reprise of Harley Quinn is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Not only does she take the character seriously, but she also clearly enjoys playing the role. Robbie’s character is sympathetic and terrifying at the same time. As an audience member, you know that Harley Quinn is a murderer, and yet you can’t help but root for her as she beats the shit out of dozens of bad guys and police officers, causing pain and destruction without care. Robbie’s whole heart is in this performance, and she delivers over and over. 

Her co-stars all do a fine job, but they’re lackluster in comparison to Robbie’s star power. McGregor is adequately menacing and eccentric, and Messina is the same minus the eccentricity. Her sisters in crime, Winstead and Smollet-Bell, have just enough characterization to do the job without stepping on Robbie’s toes. 

Birds of Prey isn’t too bogged down by superhero-universe flotsam to get out of its own way. The movie is laugh-out-loud funny at times, with visual and spoken gags that feel fresh. At times, Birds of Prey strays a little too close toward Deadpool territory: A couple moments in the movie lag a little in terms of cheesiness, Quinn does a bit too much in the way of fourth-wall-breaks, and there’s a sometimes grating amount of zaniness. But this aside, Birds of Prey is intensely enjoyable for all 109 minutes. 

Comic book fans should enjoy the film—it’s rife with Batman references both subtle and direct. Birds of Prey’s Harley Quinn is relatively true to the comic book character, but with a little more antihero than antagonist. A couple aspects of the plot aren’t well explained unless you have a fair understanding of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, but the movie carries you through them without too much gear grinding. 

While the movie is goofy, it’s goofy in a good way. It’s cartoonish, but not detractingly so. Birds of Prey sidesteps the typical doom-and-gloom, grayscale colorization of other DC superhero movies by embracing its differences. Perhaps this is thanks to director Cathy Yan. Yan has directed relatively few projects until now, and she appears to bring fresh life to an otherwise down-and-out series. We saw what happens when you give a movie like this to a guy who is just trying to make formulaic studio-driven movies, like David Ayer. You get Suicide Squad. Birds of Prey is the movie that Suicide Squad shouldn’t even be allowed in the same sentence with. If DC can continue to pair its interesting (read: not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, literally unkillable hot guy) characters with directors that actually have vision, then maybe it can pull itself out of this slump. Fingers crossed for Robert Pattinson. 

Featured Image by Warner Bros. Pictures

February 10, 2020