Birds of Prey

Dept. of Sisters, Swearing, and Sandwiches


OK, let’s get one thing out of the way first; the film’s full title is “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” but it really should be the other way around. “The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (featuring the Birds of Prey)” is far more accurate and in line with advertising standards. Make no mistake, this is Harley Quinn’s (and producer Margot Robbie’s) movie.

It’s narrated by her. It (mostly) focuses on her story. The Birds of Prey that feature, aren’t quite the ones from the comics, nor the TV series from the 2000’s. Plus they all only really get together towards the end of the movie.

What you do get however is a funny, inventive and kick-ass action flick, told in a patchwork style by Miss Quinn herself. She might regularly forget to introduce characters, or fill in some back story, but it’s in a way that feels fresh and certainly kept the audience I watched it with interested and entertained.

After a brief animated introduction to one Harleen Quinzel and how she became Harley Quinn; the Joker’s partner in crime (romantically and … criminally), we arrive in a Gotham City where Harley and the Joker have finally broken up. This animated section has some nice shout-outs to Harley’s animated origins, her complicated comics past, and that Suicide Squad related nonsense.

Aw Puddin’

Harley blows shit up in Birds of Prey.

In an attempt to make a fresh start Harley commits a grand gesture that she immediately regrets. Without the threat of the Joker’s retribution to protect her, everyone she’s ever wronged is out to kill her. That’s a long list of grievances.

As Harley worries about survival, sanity, and sandwiches she crisscrosses with club-singer-with-a-secret, Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), stereotypical-80’s-cop, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), young pick-pocket, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and the mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), as their paths converge around a diamond Macguffin and the threat they all face from unstable crime-lord Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregror).

All of which provides the set up for a raucous, explosive, and funny action flick. One thing I wasn’t expecting was that right behind being a Harley Quinn movie, this would be an action packed film. Director Cathy Yan stages fight scenes that feel intimate without resorting to Jason Bourne style shaky cam. It’s always clear where everyone is. The action is never filmed too closely that you lose track of the action. Yan always makes sure to pull back the cameras to see just how amazing and f’ing cool the cast’s fighting moves are.

“I Get Some of my Best Ideas While Drunk”

Harley and Cassandra watching cartoons in Birds of Prey.

Margot Robbie does things with a baseball bat in this movie that seem to defy the laws of physics. Almost as much as Captain America’s shield! Thanks to a lack of obvious CGI replacement and Robbie’s presence in almost every frame of the film I still don’t know how they pulled off some of the stunts.

Not all the damage is physical either. Anyone who’s gone through a rough breakup will find something to empathise with, in Harley’s complicated feelings around Mistah J. Any concerns I might have had about any tonal shifts in her performance, based upon the trailers, soon disappeared. She nails Harley, in all her random effervescence and charm, in every scene.

The rest of the cast are no slouches either. One of the best scenes in the movie involves all the Birds of Prey, fighting together against a horde of enemies. It’s staged in an inventive setting where Yan avoids the use of slow motion or fast edits to hide stunt people. Instead the camera effortlessly glides from one Bird of Prey to the other as they demolish multiple enemies. It’s glorious.

BOP earns its 18 certificate not just because of the frequent colourful language but also due to the violence of those (fantastic) action scenes. Harley has a nasty habit breaking bones in a way that had my audience wincing and groaning in sympathy. If you’re in any way bothered by this sort of thing, you might want to give it a miss until you can fast forward past the grisly bits at home.

It should go without saying, but at this stage I feel like I have to say it anyway: PARENTS, DO NOT BRING YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE! It may be based upon a comic but it’s not for them. You’ll just be handing them trauma by the bucket-load!

All You Can Eat Scenery Buffet

The bad guys in Birds of Prey.

As a villain Ewan McGregor is clearly having the time of his life devouring all of the scenery as the unpredictable Black Mask. Chris Messina provides a more traditionally creepy counterpoint as Roman’s main, knife obsessed henchman/partner/I-don’t-even-know-what Victor Zsasz.

Rosie Perez delivers a quite different Renee Montoya than we’ve seen in other portrayals of the character. She may be older than the rest of the impromptu team but she more than holds her own. Similarly Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain is probably the biggest deviation from her comic book counterpart. She’s “just” a pickpocket kid here, but with plenty of sequel potential. Rounding out the team, Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Dinah Lance provides another perspective on those in thrall to crime, and how to fight it in incredibly tight pants.

Both Lance and Cain, share around equal screen time with Perez, grounding the story around the flighty Harley.

You Winstead Some, You Lose Some

Mary Elizabeth "Winsome" is Huntress in Birds of Prey.

One of my only complaints with Birds of Prey is that while it makes perfect sense in the story for Mary Elizabeth Winstead to turn up late in the story, she is such a nuclear F-bomb when she does arrive that you wish she was in it more.

It also seems like a missed trick by the production by not sneaking in more background references to “Bat-canon”. Based upon a single viewing, there were some randomly themed gangs that could have been tied to any of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. A fight in the Gotham City Police Department evidence locker also seemed like the perfect opportunity for Easter eggs.

There is at least one mocking reference at the end of the credits that you’ll have to wait for.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a hugely enjoyable R-rated action movie that plays down the comic book links but forges it’s own path. I just wish the Malaysian censorship board wouldn’t blur out/cut out so much of the swearing when it’s very clearly targeted at an adult audience and is so damn funny.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
109 minutes
Director: Cathy Yan
Writers: Christina Hodson
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, and Ella Jay Basco

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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