AND the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. That’s a mouthful of a title. But then, it also captures the essence of the movie. Harley Quinn is one crazy broad and she’s the one narrating, so things get a little crazy. Ok… really crazy.
Ostensibly, Birds of Prey is set in the same universe as the other DC superhero movies. It’s the same Gotham, presumably, where Batfleck and Leto-Joker fight it out. Where the Suicide Squad got their roots. Where Superman fought Batman (after a visit from Metropolis which happens to now be across the river from Gotham). All of that to say, this movie might as well be in its own universe with how little it has in common with its predecessors, but that works and here’s why–
Birds of Prey is presented entirely through the lens of one Harley Quinn. You can’t really trust anything you see as the full truth, but rather the psychotic interpretation of a crazy woman. And that creates an adrenaline-fueled delight of an action movie full or colors, attitude, and pizzazz. Harley takes you through the story as it rambles out of her head — not always linear — and weaves it into the stuff of comic book legend.
Margot Robbie is truly amazing in this role. In most of her roles, really, but here she captures the complexity of Harley Quinn. A psychiatrist, a criminal, and a spurned lover. Intelligent, dastardly, and selfish. She plays Harley with the kind of crazy that’s absolutely adorable to be around, but that you’d never want to spend a weekend with. She comes best in small doses, and the movie manages that by rounding her out with a cast of characters who aren’t nearly as kooky.
Huntress, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, Cassandra Cain. They’ve all got their own agenda (most of them more grounded) and the narrative beautifully weaves them together, spending most of the movie setting these characters up on their own before the tragically short team-up at the end. The script is pretty solid, as well, giving each of the heroines (if you can call them that) complementary stories that mirror the theme of the “emancipation” in the title.
Once the girls get the band together, it’s an anarchic thrill ride of wonderfully directed action sequences, over-the-top antics, and creative use of character powers. Director Cathy Yan manages to balance character growth and action so well that the two completely blur together by the end.
I would be remiss to leave out Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. Almost as crazy as Harley, he presents a believably unpredictable foe for the group. McGregor is having too much fun in the role, but that really sums up the presentation in general — so much fun.
The movie is rated R, with a lot of swearing and some violence that just barely crosses the PG-13 line. Neither bothered me, but the wife did have to turn away a couple of times. She did appreciate, however, that the really violent stuff always came with a telegraph to let you know that you best look away if you value the stability of your stomach. That (seemingly) intentional build-up of action is a welcome addition to an R-rated film that likely will appeal to a younger crowd.
Overall, Birds of Prey is an easy recommendation for anyone who might enjoy watching swearing, violent, crazy people be completely psychotic. It’s a far cry better than most of DC’s other offerings, and proof that Harley Quinn is one of the best comic book characters ever created (well, she was actually cartoon-created, but I digress). If you think this is your type of movie, then go watch it; you’ll be glad you did!
Should you watch it? If you don’t mind the violence and swearing, absolutely
Should you take your kids? Only teenagers, and even then you’ll have to judge their stomach for such mayhem
What you should watch first: You could get away with nothing, but Suicide Squad especially would be a helpful watch, if not the entire DCEU pantheon