Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

 

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The Harley quintet are badass to the bone but could have done with some stronger male opposition.

 
Birds of Prey

The lady is a vamp: Bruce and Margot Robbie

   

Maleficent had her reasons. And, apparently, so did Joker. But Joker’s girlfriend, Harley Quinn, is just a badass. She seemed meaner in Suicide Squad and was a major redeeming feature of that critically derided movie. It made sense, then, to give her her own starring vehicle, particularly as Margot Robbie is so hot right now. And, better still, why not team her up with four other kickass sisters?

 

The cartoon tone of the film is set up from the start with an animated intro sketching in Harley’s childhood. Rejected by her father, she was dumped in a convent where she created holy hell and established her anti-establishment temperament. Even so, she was a bright kid, got herself a PhD and ended up as a psychologist at the Arkham Asylum. It was there that she met the Joker and fell in love with him. He then turned her pretty head towards crime and the rest is now her story.

 

After the Joker dumps her, Harley suffers severe withdrawal symptoms and finds that, without his protection, she is easy prey for all those she offended in the past (such as the thug on whom she meted out some major “cosmetic vandalism”). She’s now a wanted woman in Gotham City and has only her remarkable combat skills to save her. While she blows up a factory for fun and is something of a litterbug, she’s not all bad, and has a soft spot for short order cooks, kids and her pet hyena called Bruce.

 

The real evil is supplied by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) – aka Black Mask – who likes to carve off the faces of his opposition and is planning to take over Gotham City. Having wiped out a rival crime syndicate, he just needs the security code to unlock their untold billions which is encrypted inside a diamond. But when the gemstone is lifted – and then swallowed – by Cassandra Cain, a young pickpocket (newcomer Ella Jay Basco), he agrees to spare Harley’s life if she makes good on her promise to retrieve it. Then, very late in the day, Harley and Cain are joined by three other women with their own reasons for ending Roman’s reign of terror.

 

Nothing that Roman does is commendable, yet Ewan McGregor is such an agreeable leading man that he’s constantly working against the grain to make us despise him. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn is deprived of the great one-liners she doled out in Suicide Squad and her constant ability to evade armies of trained assassins is simply baffling. And that’s the problem with Birds of Prey: even by comic-book standards, it is ridiculous, while its tone swings precariously between Keystone Cop slapstick and something darker. The projected sequel, Gotham City Sirens, should be more fun now that we have been introduced to the other ladies, particularly the stony-faced ‘Huntress’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who really, really knows how to use a crossbow. After the horrors of Todd Phillips’ Joker, Birds of Prey comes off as a lightweight romp that believes attitude alone will see it through. But there’s never any real sense of danger, a failing that might have been papered over with a meaner streak and better jokes.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, Ali Wong, François Chau.

 

Dir Cathy Yan, Pro Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless and Sue Kroll, Screenplay Christina Hodson, Ph Matthew Libatique, Pro Des K.K. Barrett, Ed Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff, Music Daniel Pemberton, Costumes Erin Benach, Dialect coach for Ms Robbie and Mr McGregor Elizabeth Himelstein.

 

DC Films/LuckyChap Entertainment/Kroll & Co. Entertainment/Clubhouse Pictures-Warner Bros.

108 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 7 February 2020. Cert. 15.