10 Feb 2020


Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor.
Director: Cathy Yan
Runtime: 109 minutes
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 7th February 2020

Jo S: Harley Quinn, powered with nuclear level energy by Margot Robbie, was the standout highlight of the otherwise fairly forgettable Suicide Squad, and now Birds Of Prey really allows that character to rule in the way she truly deserves. Robbie owns the screen: unhinged, eccentric, vicious, tortured but also gleeful, joyous, even tender; she has recreated the cinematic Harley Quinn from scratch. A story about stepping out on your own, this movie is much more about its subtitle than the titular team but that is absolutely not a criticism: Harley has earned her spotlight and here she takes it by force, with even Ewan McGregor's gangster Sionis (alter ego the Black Mask) taking something of a back seat role. That's not to say the supporting cast aren't also fantastic: Chris Messina's trophy-scarred Zsasz is terrifyingly creepy and Jurnie Smollett-Bell plays Black Canary with sensitivity and enormous physicality. Rosie Perez' Montoya is a jaded alcoholic cop (though the movie takes a rise out of itself by pointing out the corniness of this repeatedly) and Winstead and Basco both bring something special as characters who are trying to find their place having left something traumatic behind them.

My overall sense was that the plot was pretty straightforward: despite the non-linear storytelling (we rely on Harley's erratic memories for order and she bounces around the timeline like a rubber ball), there aren't really any major twists in the tale, so few shocks or surprises - I can't say I was near the edge of my seat at any point - but blistering action scenes abounded, with hand-to-hand (-to-boot-to-bat-to-comedy-hammer) fight scenes so phenomenally well choreographed, it's hard to see where body doubles were used. There were a few scenes which felt like 'John Wick in Bunches': Harley's limb-busting technique had the whole audience wincing and placing a fight scene in the Gotham PD evidence locker was a stroke of genius, proffering a kaleidoscope of different weaponry, both traditional and hilariously improvised. Harley's mode of transport in the car chase scene was so typically 'Harley', so inventive and so superbly acrobatic that I felt I could forgive the addition of yet another vehicle chase in the saturated genre.
The feminist nature of this movie is impossible to miss: creeps who take advantage of women get their comeuppance, there's mention of the need for a hair tie in a fight scene, and for decent pockets even in the tiniest pair of shorts, and appropriate footwear for the transition between villain and, well, villain with a sidekick to take care of, and every member of the female cast is required to be badass (or at least badass-in-training) but the message is delivered with a smile as well: the embryonic crime-fighting team struggle with the social skills needed to adapt from their own lone-wolf experiences to be a mutually supportive team, with awkward compliments drawing cringe-laughing from us as well as the recipients.

The Huntress and Cassandra Cain characters perhaps don't get as much development as they might: those familiar with the comic book Huntress were likely expecting someone a little more sophisticated, a little more stoic, but this movie is really Harley Quinn #2; perhaps we should consider it Birds Of Prey #0 - and hope that this flock gets more of a chance to fly in future. 7/10

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