Birds of Prey is like emptying an entire jar of Nutella onto a singular slice of bread. Very few people may find it excessive, and those are the people you cut from your life.
A technicoloured ballet of violence and a primal scream of gorgeous lunacy, Birds of Prey is the levity many a DC fan needs after the bleakness of Joker. It’s also everything Suicide Squad should have been – a hyper manic slugfest with a very real, very human heart at the centre of its story. Much like Harley herself, while it offers up wonderful amounts of psychotic style at a break neck pace, at its core it’s extremely interested in the human element, moreso than the fantastical. If this is yet another preview of the DCEU course correction many are hoping for, then I’m as giddy as a 6 year old who’s been snorting lines of sugar off the back of an empty bag of gummy bears.
A break-up movie, a “get back on your feet” movie, a “getting one’s groove back” movie, Birds of Prey centres on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Following the events of Suicide Squad, the once brilliant psych turned one half of Gotham’s criminal royalty has found herself dumped. With the Joker having discarded her like trash, Harley is in need of a little TLC and attempts to rebuild her life. The only the problem is now that she’s no longer under the Joker’s protection, a who’s who of Gotham’s underworld are waiting in line to get a piece of the former Dr. Quinzell. Having had criminal immunity for so long, Quinn’s been able to get away with quite a many thing, and now it’s time to collect.
Of those looking for their pound of flesh is the dangerous and deliciously flamboyant Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a man in need of quite a number of therapy sessions himself, but maybe not as much as his slash happy right hand, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). When cheeky pickpocket, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Bosco) steals something of Roman’s, it sets off a chain of events that entwines Harley, Roman’s driver, Dinah aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the crossbow wielding menace, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a brilliant yet overlooked detective, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
Quite frankly, I don’t even know where to begin. While my boy Shayne enjoyed it (check out his take here), every part of this movie tickles all of my cinematic giblets. From the insanely gorgeous fight sequences (much of it handled by John Wick director, Chad Stahelski), the chemistry between the Birds themselves, McGregor hoovering every bit of scenery he can possibly get his hands on, or just Robbie owning every part of a character seemingly designed specifically for her, there is very little in this movie that doesn’t work. It’s supremely evident that every bit of care and adoration for the source material has been taken by Robbie (also acting as producer), writer Christina Hodson, and the wildly talented director, Cathy Yan. This being only her second feature off the back of indie sensation Dead Pigs, Yan proves herself to be a force to be reckoned with. She knows when to put her foot down on the insane and when to let the movie coast to allow moments of elation or dread really sink in. One particularly cruel scene involving Sionis humiliating a patron in his club had me wanting to scrub my entire body with bleach.
But it’s the women of this movie that are the true gems of Birds of Prey and when they all finally come together amidst bright lunacy of a carnival park, the film skips up a whole other level that I wasn’t anticipating. And while they’re all badasses in their own right, the story allows for them to be vulnerable in a way that feels organic. Their toughness feels like it comes from a place that’s believable (for the most part) and adds lot of dimension, especially given their limited screentime together.
It’s fun in a way that I haven’t felt in a movie of this genre in a LONG time. A kind of naughty glee sets in and you can’t help but enjoy the cartoonish levels of team-up violence that occurs. There’ll be a few who will (and have) compare the film to Deadpool which feels fairly reductive. While that film proved that there was more to the superhero genre than the classic origin of a hero formula, Birds of Prey also proves that there’s far more juice in the genre than one might have thought. While hilarious and completely off kilter, the movie never falls into parody or out right satire. There is a sincerity and earnestness coursing through its veins that makes the whole endeavour wonderfully refreshing.
This movie had me feeling like Mike Lowery at the end Bad Boys, walking out of the cinema saying “from now on THAT’S HOW YOU MAKE A COMIC BOOK MOVIE.” I want this fun to continue. I want the lunacy to linger. And I want to see these badass Birds fly once again oh so very much.