At this point, Harley Quinn is DC’s feminine Deadpool.
Unlike “Suicide Squad,” “Birds of Prey” gives Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn a real character study, a trippy narrative, and a lot of balls. Considering that film from my previous years of film criticism, I was surprised to enjoy this one.
For one thing: Harley and the Joker broke up. That’s good for us, because I hated Jared Leto’s pimp look. And do you know how I knew he survived that helicopter crash? Because we didn’t see his carcass, a typical movie cliche.
Without the Joker, everyone in Gotham City wants a piece of Harley Quinn, who herself wants emancipation, as well as the other women, who are either mistreated or vengeful. Harley explains everyone’s stories in a juggling time-line of her own. At least she tries to, because for some, she has no clue what their deals are with her.
The main bad guy who wants her is a sadistic, male-chauvinist pig, and powerful gangster Roman Sionis A.K.A. Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who also seeks a valuable diamond that will guarantee him full control of Gotham.
The other girls after him consist of:
- Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a lounge singer in his club, who becomes promoted as his personal driver. She’s the mole in his operation.
- Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a detective, whose recurring gag is her cheesy one-liners inspired by 1980s cop shows and movies. She ends up getting suspended due to stealing evidence to expose the monster.
- Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), A.K.A. as “The Crossbow Killer.” No, no, no. Scratch that. She’s “Huntress,” an orphaned daughter of a gangster, who vows vengeance of her family’s murderers. And with her attitude, she makes it very clear, it’s now a bow-and-arrow. It’s a crossbow.
- Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), an orphaned pickpocket, who steals the diamond Roman covets, and swallows it. At this point, she has a very strong stomach, because not even prune juice or laxatives can clear her bowels.
For another thing (I know the first thing was long), it splices the qualities of “Deadpool” and “Natural Born Killers” with a feminine twist. How? This movie loves violence, levity, fantasies, and nostalgia. My favorite sequences include the traditionally animated opening shot when Harley explains how she came to be. We know she was the psychiatrist, who fell in love with the Clown Prince of Crime (or Clown Pimp of Crime as I would call that version). There’s also a Marilyn Monroe-type fantasy that she has after Roman knocks her out. And she has a “Fun Gun,” which shoots bean bags, confetti, and colored smoke bombs.
Let’s put it to you another way, with director Cathy Yan’s help and Robbie producing it, “Birds of Prey” blows “Suicide Squad” out of the water.” Yes, the story gets complicated and there are some violent moments that go a little AWOL, but it plays like a nostalgic and flexible black comedy.
Robbie improves her character quite considerably with her bizarre and old-fashioned timing and behavior, Perez provides the goods as the main detective; Basco introduces herself very wisely as the kid; Winstead keeps you going; Smollett-Bell has her moments; and McGregor is flat-out brilliant as the narcissistic villain.
I’m not saying it will get the Oscar buzz Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is salvaging, and Joaquin Phoenix was phenomenal in that. I’m saying “Birds of Prey” is fresh, original, twisted, and damn entertaining.