Oscar season is behind us, which means blockbuster season is upon us, which means – well, it’s time for the first comic book movie of the year, isn’t it?
And that would bring us neatly up to the doorstep of Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn-centric sequel to Su*cide Squ*d, directed by Cathy Yan and following Quinn after a break-up with the Joker leaves her searching for her new place in Gotham’s criminal underworld.
First and foremost, we have to talk about Harley Quinn. Because this movie is hers, front and centre; to call Robbie magnetic is an understatement, and this is probably her best performance to date. Chaotic, charismatic, unreliable, and utterly charming, this Harley is as far removed from the dullard in booty shorts that Suicide Squad foisted on to her.
In fact, Birds of Prey really wants to make sure that we understand just how far it is from the movie that came before – Quinn spends more time mourning the loss of an egg sandwich than she does that of the Joker, naming her new pet after Bruce Wayne and chopping off the sex-doll pigtails that David Ayer and company stuck on her. It seems like DC wants to forget that movie as much of the rest of us do, and frankly, I’m here for it.
Of course, Quinn is not the only major Batman canon character making an appearance in this movie: Renne Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) join Quinn on her Gotham-wide crime caper, and honestly, there isn’t a weak link in the bunch. Perez brings a particular weight and grittiness to Monotya, while Winstead has a lot of fun with the deconstruction of her silly backstory and utterly ridiculous get-up without losing the cool factor. As ensembles go, it’s hard to think of a blockbuster that has offered up one with better chemistry than this for a hell of a long time.
I mean, let’s not skimp out on the fact that this is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best villains that the DCEU has ever put forward: Ewan Mcgregor, spectacularly-attired and delightfully unconflicted, makes for an almost impossibly watchable Roman Sionis/Black Mask, camp and crass and all kinds of creepy. And God, it’s good to see a version of Victor Zsaz that actually embraces that he’s more than just a general-issue grunt: Chris Messina plays him horny for death, violence, and his boss Sionis in equal measure, and I’m so here for it.
All due credit for Cathy Yan, too, for giving Birds of Prey a distinct and totally delightful visual style. So much of this universe has seemed so grey and cluttered and drab, but this movie feels as though it comes out swinging with a R-rated adult cartoon antics; the violence swerves the John Wick-style hyper-realism, and shoots instead for bone-crunching, high-kicking, gleefully silly sequences, and this Gotham is closer to Tim Burton’s candycane nightmare version of the city than anything else. I totally adore the fact that this movie feels distinctly adult without sacrificing a sense of fun along the way – some would argue that Deadpool hit this mark already, to which I would reply, sure, but so badly.
But my favourite thing about this movie is the fact that it is about women, but not about suffering. You know? Look, I get it, a lot of womanhood is tied up in fighting back against the things that hold us down. But I’ve seen that movie already – shit, I’ve lived it – and while those are for sure stories worth telling (I mean, I’m one of the people who told them, for goodness sake), there’s something joyous about a film that takes that as read and dives into the next part of the story. Yes, Quinn suffered at the hands of a man – most of the women in this story have – but that is not what defines them. No, this is a chaotic, cartoonish, crazy crime caper that finds more for its central women to do than suffer. And for that, I think I might just fucking love it.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Doncaster Free Press)