Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Directed by Cathy Yan
Let's get this out of the way upfront, first and foremost, and most importantly, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is dump trucks full of fun. It's almost as much fun as a dozen Golden Lab puppies. And it's also utterly insane. It's nuts. it's completely bonkers and deranged and psychotic and unhinged. It's the film equivalent of taking Lemmy quantities of speed. It's like taking a sample of Hunter S. Thompson's blood and dropping it on some celluloid and seeing what happens. The film starts at 11 and keeps it up right to the end, careening into corners and towards the edge with no brakes. This is the kind of movie that has a loveable pet hyena and the loveable pet hyena is one of the more sane decisions.
I really don't want to talk about Suicide Squad but I think I have to. Birds of Prey is a kind of, sort of follow-up to Suicide Squad. But where Suicide Squad was everything that could be wrong about a movie, Birds of Prey is everything right. Where Suicide Squad barely qualifies as a movie, Birds of Prey is everything that is good and fun about movies. If Birds of Prey really is a follow-up to Suicide Squad it might be the single greatest sequel trick in over a hundred years of film history. I can't think of another film as bad as Suicide Squad having a sequel as good as Birds of Prey.
And that's enough talk of Suicide Squad.
What's Birds of Prey about? Well, it's about the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn. After an hysterical animated exposition dump where we learn that Harley has dumped Joker, the movie begins with Harley keeping that little factoid a secret. Harley with Joker is invincible, untouchable. Harley without Joker, well, all those people she's pissed off over the years, they're coming for her. And stuff and things happen. And that's all your getting from me. Nice try.
What's Birds of Prey like then? Good question. Like the Deadpool movies before it, Birds of Prey's creative team uses Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a template. Fourth wall breaking. Narration that moves the story forwards, backwards, sideways. A movie with a tenuous grasp on linear time. That seems like it was directed by one of those kids on Ritalin who has been off their meds for a week or two. Humour of all shades, but mostly dark. It's an odd truth, but Shane Black's little mystery movie that couldn't has served as a door into how to make movies about 2 characters that should be unfilmable. And it has served as the template for 3 of the most entertaining comic book movies of, well, ever.
There is darkness in Birds of Prey. At its centre is the story of a woman trying to figure out who she really is without the alpha males in her life while half of Gotham tries to kill her. And she is over the moon psychotic. The movie takes place in a Gotham that we rarely see, that we only get hints of in the Batman films. It's a world of struggle and poverty and crime and orphans without butlers. It's a world of blood and mayhem and gore and chaos and the world's greatest egg sandwich. It's a world of darkness where things explode in comic book colours. Birds of Prey is a kaleidoscope of insanity and violence and profanity and gore and glitter. Like Shazam! and Aquaman before it, Birds of Prey steers straight into the strengths and weirdness of its source material and has more fun than should be legally allowed.
The cast is great. A mix of familiar faces with new faces and everyone brings their A-game. Margot Robbie is the life of the party, she sets the gold standard, brings the energy and invites everyone to keep up. And keep up they do. And then some. Ewan McGregor chews all the scenery he can find. He's smooth as silk, flamboyant, dangerous. Rosie Perez completely owns the middle-aged alcoholic cop who has had enough. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is wonderful, singing and moving like a dancer, kicking all kinds of butt when needed. But the secret weapon of the entire project has to be Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She is funny and cool. Her Huntress may be one of the greatest assassins of ever, but she never gets her tag line down and has to practice it.
The action, stunt work, and fight scenes are also off the charts. Especially the fights, all long takes, more Hong Kong than American chaos. The long takes give us time to appreciate the choreography, which is, really, quite beautiful. But then you find out that John Wick director Chad Stahelski supervised the film's action and it makes all kinds of sense.
I guess what I'm saying here is that I liked Birds of Prey. A lot. It's funny. It's twisted. The violence is kind of beautiful. And it earns its R rating, it really does.