Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn)

Year: 2020
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Cathy Yan
Writer: Christina Hodson
Stars: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco

By Reyna Cervantes

(This review will be spoiler-free)

Let’s get something out of the way right now: “Birds of Prey” is a bone-crushing, bat-smashing, insanity-driven good time.

Following the infamous “Suicide Squad”, “Birds of Prey” sees the return of of the infamous Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to the big screen. Only this time things have changed since we’ve last spent time with her, she and the Joker have broken up. With this framing “Birds of Prey” follows Harley as she navigates her newfound independence from her toxic relationship, through various means she ends up in the hands of Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his twisted henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), that eventually see her crossing paths (Reluctantly) with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

quinn
Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

With fantastic action and world-building brought up to the next level by fantastic performances “Birds of Prey” is a film I want to revisit again and again.

With a seemingly simple setup and plot, “Birds of Prey” really begins to shine. Gone is the overabundance of the “Bigger is Better” mentality of most comic book movies. We’re presented here with a small scale story that feels very ground level. To be quite honest, “Birds of Prey” plays less like a traditional comic book movie and more of a woman blossoming into her own person. Free from the metaphorical shackles of being always attached to the Joker, we get to witness Harley become an independent character and being. “Birds of Prey” may have the DNA of “Suicide Squad” but its only inherited the good genes.

bop
Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, and Ella Jay Basco in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Cathy Yan gives us a comic book moving oozing in style, with action set pieces less along the likes of “Shazam!” and “Captain Marvel” and more in tune with the John Wick series and an 80’s action sensibility. The violence hits in this movie, and it hits hard. I found myself wincing and cheering at the same time at the action set pieces (which this film is in short supply of). Cathy Yan is also probably the first director to acknowledge battle damage and outfit changes in battle. Regularly at the end of the fight it genuinely looks as if these women really went through a brutal skirmish.

With a seemingly simple setup and plot, “Birds of Prey” really begins to shine. Gone is the overabundance of the “Bigger is Better” mentality of most comic book movies. We’re presented here with a small scale story that feels very ground level.

The performances lead by Margot Robbie elevate the film. Harley being an unreliable narrator is just as unpredictable as you would want the character to be. Winstead’s backstory and delivery brings a Tarantino-esque element to the film that I absolutely didn’t expect but thoroughly enjoyed! Another standout performance being Mcgregor whose Black Mask is deliciously narcissistic and vile that I found myself genuinely hating him but wanting to see absolutely more of him, he reminded me of those classic 80’s  action movie villains where you just absolutely love to hate them. Overall the cast is wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for more.

birds
Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, and Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

“Birds of Prey” stands out to me as a tale of a woman (or better yet a group of women) breaking away from codependency to blossom into their own individuality. Being written and directed by women, everything comes off as authentic, something not entirely common in the comic book sub genre of film. Where other comic book movies think that they’re witty or nuanced, it’s refreshing to have one that actually is. With fantastic action and world-building brought up to the next level by fantastic performances “Birds of Prey” is a film I want to revisit again and again.

Oh, and Margot Robbie, wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying an egg sandwich.

5 stars

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