2016’s Suicide Squad was not a very good film – but one thing that many people did like about it was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn. So to Warner Bros executives, bringing back Robbie for a film with Harley as the main character – while quietly pretending that Jared Leto never happened – must have seemed like a pretty good idea. And wouldn’t you believe, the end result – Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – really works.
After being dumped by the Joker (who, unsurprisingly, never appears onscreen), Harley Quinn decides that from now on, she’s going to be her own woman, and declares the fact to the world by blowing up the ACE Chemicals plant. Unfortunately, this means it’s now open season for the many, many people in Gotham who hate Harley, but were previously too scared of the Joker to touch her. After being confronted by one of these people, crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), Harley is forced to go and find a very important diamond, which has fallen into the hands of young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). With police officer Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), undercover informant Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and a crossbow-wielding assassin called the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also getting involved, a big mess becomes inevitable.
Even though I didn’t think much of Suicide Squad, the trailer for Birds of Prey made it look like a lot of fun – and that’s exactly what it is. Okay, perhaps the kind of black comedy that befits Harley Quinn – such as cutting from a pet store owner propositioning Harley, to her newly bought hyena gnawing on his severed leg – isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But someone like me who goes to a lot of comic book films should be happy, particularly if they’re looking for something that feels very different from, say, a typical MCU film. There’s not much in the way of deep conversation and complex soul-searching here; just a bucket of raw action, on-the-mark humour and gorgeous, colourful style, helped by a particularly good soundtrack, which carries you on a very enjoyable roller coaster all the way to the end. The effort has clearly been put in on practically every level, and watching the end result feels like pure entertainment.
Margot Robbie is still a perfect Harley Quinn, more than capable of filling the protagonist’s role. Despite her being a mentally disturbed murderer – the first half of the film, which skips all over the place chronologically, seems to reflect the disorganised state of her mind – she still manages to be a sympathetic character throughout. We want to see her move on from her abusive relationship with the Joker, and we feel sorry for her when, in a truly tragic moment, she doesn’t get to eat her perfect egg sandwich. Ewan McGregor is clearly having a great time as the villain, Roman Sionis: camp, narcissistic, and revelling in being the bad guy. The other Birds of Prey are great too, each going on their own journeys, though they don’t really come together as a group until the climax. I would have liked more of Huntress, who doesn’t seem to get as much screentime as the rest; I did like how there’s more to her than just being a female equivalent of the Punisher, with her being socially awkward and practicing one-liners in a mirror.
If you’ve got the stomach for it, and you’re happy with this kind of dark, crazy humour, Birds of Prey is a highly entertaining film that will put a smile on your face without any need for Joker toxin. Rating: 4.5/5.