Birds of Prey Review
Ever since Margot Robbie pitched the idea of a Harley Quinn and the women of Gotham spin-off to Warner Bros. back in 2015 this producer stroke leading-lady hasn’t stopped pushing, and boy should we be thankful. A female director, a POC playing Black Canary, and even the movie itself were all insisted on thanks to Robbie and the fantabulous creative team. The result is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a refreshing take on the comic book movie that is as fabulous and fun as its leading women.
When Harley Quinn (Robbie) and her long-term boo, the Crown Prince of Crime, break-up it’s not only a new-found self that she finds. No longer protected by the Joker’s power, a whole lot of Gothamites come out of the woodwork to carry out revenge against Harley for every grievance known to man (including forced clown-theme tattooing). Top of this list is crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), better known as super villain Black Mask, and his right-hand man Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). But soon revenge isn’t the only thing Sionis wants from Harley, and she’s forced to work together with other badass women — Black Canary, (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
Birds of Prey is non-stop, with Cathy Yan’s assured visual style and Christina Hodson’s flawless script, it finds a perfect balance between more serious ideas about female autonomy, adrenaline inducing set pieces, and straight up campy fun. The film takes you on ride, and one with no petrol stops. You’ll be slapping your leg with laughter one moment, squirming in your chair the next, and then be asked to reflect on what it is to be a woman in Gotham before you know it. Alongside this is a non-linear structure that really lets Harley take control of her own narrative and confidently carries us back and forth through the story thanks to Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff’s tight editing.
It’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the wild designs. This is a version of Gotham that has rarely been seen onscreen before: colourful, retro, and more than a little messy. Yan and designer K.K Barrett create a fleshed-out Gotham where real people live, exemplified by Harley’s own flat above the local Thai restaurant: small, scrappy, but eclectic and homely in her own way. It feels like a rampage through candy-land fuelled by a sugar high. The sheer amount of colour that fills the screen seems to permeate into the rest of the film, even characters with limited screen time feel vivid and fresh.
Unapologetically violent, BoP sports some of the most exhilarating set pieces of any superhero film. Ingenious uses of non-lethal glitter guns, carnival fun-houses, and baseball bat choreography (which was good enough to even receive applause) keep you on the edge of your seat as you really have no idea what these women could do next, but you simply can’t wait to find out. Backed up by a female-led pop soundtrack that is rebellious and fun, Yan doesn’t hold back in allowing the gang to be as violent as they please without ever crossing the line of gratuity.
Birds of Prey takes the typical comic book movie, amps it up to 100, and, most importantly, realigns the male gaze. At the heart of the film is a story about five women who are trying to find a place in the world, how they stand alone and also together. In one flashback, Harley turn to Black Canary saying: “Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin's role is to serve. It's nothing without a master. No one gives two shits who we are, beyond that.” It’s moments like this that remind us just why female-led films such as this deserve to have their place. No longer just the sidekicks or the bodies, these badasses are leading the way for change.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is released on Friday 7th February
Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Dir: Cathy Yan | Cast: Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor, Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead | Writers: Christina Hodson, Chuck Dixon (Birds Of Prey Comics created by), Greg Land (Birds Of Prey Comics created by), Jordan B. Gorfinkel (Birds Of Prey Comics created by)