As the saying goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Warner Bros. attempted this metaphorical larceny with their DC Comics cinematic universe before when they tried to turn Suicide Squad into their version of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, complete with neon-soaked title treatments, offbeat humour, and ear-wormy needle drops. But that was the issue (well, one of the issues): They tried to turn it into something else. Suicide Squad had already been on a wholly different, far more sombre creative trajectory when the WB suits got director David Ayer to change course. The result was a disjointed mess of a movie suffering a serious identity crisis which really only had a single consummate plus-point: Margot Robbie’s delightfully unhinged portrayal of Joker’s best squeeze, Harley Quinn.

And so it’s a bit ironic that Birds of Prey, the return of Robbie’s breakout character to the big screen, sees WB once again riffing on a genre-busting sensation from the competition. This time it’s Deadpool, complete with breaking the Fourth Wall, bone-crunching action, verbal diarrhoea, and wacky humour just one pair of ACME rocket skates away from a Loony Toons cartoon. The difference this time around is that this appropriation was clearly all part of director Cathy Yan (whom Robbie, who doubles as EP, personally picked from indie obscurity to helm) and rapidly rising genre writing star Christina Hodson’s plan from the get-go.

There are no half-measures here. Birds of Prey (full title: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) leans as fully into its R-rating – with liberal helpings of salty F-bombs and eye-popping, fantastically choreographed violence – as it does into its kooky tone. A tone set entirely due to this story, one of personal emancipation and accepting your true self, being told from Harley’s manic POV, with everybody else in on the joke as self-referential gags fly thick and fast. Just like Deadpool. Hell, Birds of Prey’s narrative structure even has Harley narrating past, present, and future events out of sequence with witty segues in-between. Just like Deadpool. So yes, the two films share a fair bit of DNA, but Yan mixes in sizable helpings of her own distinctly feminine voice and those of her characters to breed something new. Something uplifting and unapologetically fun.

Despite this film bearing the title of a DC Comics superhero team of which she has never been a member, Birds of Prey is undoubtedly Harley’s movie. It’s her personal situation, having just recently broken up with “Mister J” and thus no longer having his protection, that sets it all in motion. Everyone the self-admitted “terrible person” Harley has ever pissed off in Gotham City over the years is out for payback, including flamboyant crime boss Roman Sidonis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his gleefully homicidal henchman, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). More than just stepping out from Joker’s shadow, If Harley wants to not die a painful and gruesome death (and who’s a fan of that?), she’ll have to locate and present Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a streetwise pick-pocket who inadvertently stole something of great importance to Roman.

Also looking to get her hands on Harley, but in a much more legal and less slicing-off-of-her-face kind of way is Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a veteran Gotham City Police Dept. detective struggling against the underhandedness of her superiors. Then there’s Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), a sultry lounge-singer in Roman’s club who sees her vocation forcibly changed to being his personal driver/muscle after he witnesses the ass-whooping she can dish out when she saves Harley from some scumbags during a drunken post-breakup bender. Finally, we have Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious assassin killing her way across Gotham, crossbow in hand, with her own personal agenda of vengeance.

Stodgy comic book purists beware though, as Yan and Hodson only copy these characters from the comic page in broad strokes. The nitty-gritty details of what makes them tick get tweaked a fair bit… and this is actually what makes them work so well. Not every character is layered as deeply as Harley – and they take a little too long to actually get together to show off their chemistry – but they all get their own little endearing quirks that make perfect sense in a forehead-slapping “Why didn’t anybody else think of that?!” way. (Of course Huntress would be tightly-wound and have an unintentionally hilarious socially awkwardness given her upbringing!) And the cast shine in bringing this all to light.

As a colleague put it, Robbie has become the Michelle Pfeiffer of this generation where people often forget how great of a pure actress she is. Even under the garish clown makeup, exaggerated “poi-fect” speech patterns, and never-ending self-aware cartoonish grins which all do occasionally get a bit much, she’s acting her butt off. So too does Perez, Smollet-Bell, and Winstead, all infusing their characters with infectious charm and emotion. Where the same happens in unexpected fashion is McGregor’s uproariously entertaining ham-up of the traditionally super-serious Black Mask… until he gets nightmarishly creepy, that is. His full-spectrum performance is everything you wished Jared Leto’s misguided take on the Joker in Suicide Squad would have been and more.

And besides for a bit of a slow start, Birds of Prey keeps these characters moving from one scene to the next with kinetic gusto across its 105-minute running time. Hodson’s script, while tackling that titular theme of emancipation with copious heart, is admittedly on the lean side, spinning a relatively simple story that’s only puffed up in perceived complexity through its time-hopping narrative structure, but there’s never a dull moment. There are plenty of moments you may want to pause to clutch a limb in sympathetic horror though as the film’s incredible action leaves brutally wrecked bodies in its wake. Yan brought in John Wick director Chad Stahelksi to help coordinate, and also got the actresses to train to do a lot of the action themselves (so no need to hide faces behind rapid cuts) and it pays off big time.

Back when WB originally rolled out their plans for the DCEU, before those were unceremoniously scuppered by Justice League’s failure, this was supposed to be a straight-up Birds of Prey movie with Harley Quinn off doing her own thing in a separate film. By smooshing the two together though, and using Harley’s bonkers larger-than-life persona as the jumping-off point, Yan has turned in a colourful riot of a film equally as much about breaking out of your shackles as it is about breaking legs with a carnival mallet.

Last Updated: February 7, 2020

Birds of Prey
Yes, Birds of Prey borrows from Deadpool, but thanks to fantastic characters brought to life by a fully committed cast led by Margot Robbie, gorgeously choreographed violence, and a strong central story theme delivered with heart, it's also its own off-the-wall, hilariously entertaining comic book romp.
8.0
/10
60/ 100

8 Comments

  1. Kromas

    February 7, 2020 at 14:28

    I loved every second of it. I can’t remember when last I had fun watching a DC movie. I would recommend it to everyone. and as for the pacing of the movie it was actually rather brilliantly executed as it was based on Harley telling the story and her remembering things had the story jumping a bit. I found it rather well done.

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      February 7, 2020 at 16:10

      Good to see you last night, dude! Glad you enjoyed the movie!

      Reply

      • Kromas

        February 8, 2020 at 01:12

        Good to see you as well. The only gripe I had with the movie was the skipped pre roll trailers. 😛

        Reply

  2. Jacques Van Zyl

    February 7, 2020 at 11:50

    This movie was fun! The whole way through, I sat with a dumb grin just enjoying how absolutely mental and fun this felt.

    Having Harley be the anchoring point for the Birds of Prey, all the way till the very last scene worked well. Especially for people who might not be too familiar with the comic book versions of the Birds.

    All in all, I agree with the score and would say go watch this if you love fun action movies, regardless of how you might feel about comic book movies, of which this is a very solid one too.

    Reply

    • Kervyn Cloete

      February 7, 2020 at 12:17

      Yeah, I was one of those people who was irked at how they were shoehorning Harley in. BoP to me is Batgirl/Oracle, Huntress and Canary. But this worked really well. And I like how they end things with the team status.

      Reply

      • Jacques Van Zyl

        February 7, 2020 at 12:17

        The ending left me with a few questions regarding Cassandra Cain, but overall I am happy with how it all was handled.

        I would like to see more BoP films, perhaps tonally more serious ones if I am lucky, but I am happy that DC’s current poster girl headlined this specific outing.

        Reply

        • Kervyn Cloete

          February 7, 2020 at 12:17

          Well with Batgirl coming up and being written by Christina Hodson as well, you have to think they’re setting something up between those movies

          Reply

  3. Tbone187

    February 13, 2020 at 10:33

    It’s getting panned on IMDB. I Suppose you’ll have to watch it yourself.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad has Been Delayed Until 2023

According to a Bloomberg report, various sources familiar with the development have said t…