February 3, 2020

GENRE | Margot Robbie Just Wants to Have Fun – 'Birds of Prey'

"Vengeance rarely brings the catharsis we hope for."
Margot Robbie Ella Jay Basco Cathy Yan | Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Films
Chinese-American director Cathy Yan tackles the female DC Comics superhero and villain team-up group in the amusingly manic Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Starring one Harley Quinn herself, Margot Robbie (also a producer) originally seen in Suicide Squad, the spin-off is a much brighter and wacky affair.

Robbie's energy as Harley really makes everything work with her effortless charisma and joyful characterization. You quickly forget she's a villain or self-described "terrible person" turned antiheroine. Yan's direction provides a colourful look and feel to this sunny version of Gotham City thanks to cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Much of the action feels inventive and energetic from the use of rollerskates to the geography of every battle.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell gets a lot to do physicality as a sultry lounge singer turned bodyguard in Black Canary while a self-serious but dynamic Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the highlight in her few appearances as the humourless badass Huntress (aka "the Crossbow Killer"). Veteran actress Rosie Perez does most of the heavy lifting as the typical grizzled detective run afoul.

Teen actress Ella Jay Basco is curious enough as the troublemaker orphan pickpocket all our heroines and villains are after. Both Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina portray a suitable psychopathic crime boss and his murderous sidekick (and likely gay lover) as Black Mask and Zsasz. They have a flamboyant but captivating energy dialling up their campiness to eleven.

Margot Robbie Cathy Yan | Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Screenwriter Christina Hodson very much streamlines the slight story with a minimal amount of important characters who all know each other with most of the action taking place over the course of a couple days. Despite the jumbled, convoluted plotting and sometimes unclear motivations, the story mostly services our actresses.

Actually, the uncomplicated Birds of Prey structures itself as a sort of breakup movie and live-action cartoon with bright, shiny violence and foul language. It certainly apes the Deadpool series' R-rated formula of filthy fun. There's a lot of time-jumping as Hodson efficiently connects all our characters together before a series of escalating fight sequences overseen by John Wick director and long-time stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski.

Birds of Prey's whimsical appeal revolves around the refreshing feminin energy behind and in front of the camera. Comic book fare is usually so male gaze oriented even when following heroes or villains played by strong women, so the fun antics here feel particularly fresh.

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