REVIEW: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
It’s intriguing to compare Birds of Prey with Margot Robbie’s other big release of the year, despite the films being as tonally far apart as a salsa class and a funeral. One of the main reasons I struggled to resonate with the latter (Jay Roach’s Fox News expose Bombshell) is because the film was handled almost entirely by men, despite it being a tale of feminine struggle. The former, on the other hand, is directed and written by women (specifically Cathy Yan and Christina Hodson) and is all the better for it.
Birds of Prey is certainly a hell of a lot more fun than you’d expect a film about Harley Quinn to be, considering the character was treated mostly as a sex object in the critically panned Suicide Squad. In fact, the film rights many of Suicide Squad’s wrongs and gives further credence to the notion that there might actually be life in the DCEU after all.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a long way from being a masterpiece. The plot is familiar and pretty much devoid of ambition, but the film is replete with great characters that are played almost note-perfectly by its cast. Robbie is typically excellent as the maniacal Quinn, but she is more than matched by her counterparts Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco. That’s not to mention Ewan McGregor, who gives a delightfully camp turn as the villainous Roman Sionis.
If I was going to be hyper-critical, I’d have liked to have seen more of a balance between Quinn’s arc and that of the rest of the titular tag-team. Winstead's Huntress is definitely a character I'd like to have seen more of. But that would be to avoid the inarguable truth that this film only exists because of Robbie’s brilliant interpretation of her character, which is all the more impressive given it originally debuted in such a turgid film.
All in all, this is a fun comic book caper that shows that the DCEU, despite its many failings, has at least learned how to do justice to female characters in a genre that is almost entirely dominated by the opposite sex.