Justice League Birds of Prey
And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Birds of Prey
dir Cathy Yan
scr Christina Hodson
prd Margot Robbie, Sue Kroll, Bryan Unkeless
with Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Bojana Novakovic, Dana Lee, Steven Williams, Francois Chau
release US/UK 7.Feb.20
20/US Warner 1h49

mcgregor messina wong
See also
Suicide Squad (2016) The Suicide Squad (2021)

perez, winstead, basco, robbie and smollett-bell
Skilful filmmaking elevates this far above the last cinematic outing for Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Not does the direction never objectify scantily clad women, but the screenplay touches on issues of female empowerment in ways that are genuinely insightful. The women in this film may be oppressed, but they're never victims. So their actions take on more important meaning, even as the movie retains a bonkers comic-book style.
After finally breaking up with the Joker, Harley (Robbie) is trying to show that she's her own woman, but no one takes her seriously. To prove herself, she decides to track down an important diamond pick-pocketed by the teen Cassandra (Basco) from a swaggering club owner Roman (McGregor) and his snaky henchman Victor (Messina). But she keeps running into people who want to kill her, as well as women who are on their own fierce quests, including annoyed Detective Renee (Perez), cross-bow wielding Helena (Winstead) and Roman's driver Dinah (Smolett-Bell), whose voice shatters glass.
Everything centres around a perhaps unhelpful message (never trust anyone, especially a man), but writer Hodson and director Yan add continual surprises, maintaining a female perspective even in some outrageously crazed action sequences. The expertly staged fight choreography is both witty and coherent, while also developing the characters. And the film cleverly depicts girl power without ever drifting into a leery male gaze. (Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel struggled with this; Suicide Squad didn't even try.)

Robbie's Harley still has over-the-top physicality, using her coquettish voice to provide wink-nudge meta-commentary. But there's also emotional depth this time, with pointed glimpses of her brainy past as a psychologist. This makes her yearning for independence resonate in surprising ways even as the plot spirals into mayhem. Her connections with the surrounding cast are complex and messy, as they should be, never settling for the expected cliches. In smaller roles, the surrounding actresses find the same depth of meaning.

Opposite them, McGregor and Messina play hilariously arrogant men who think they hold the power simply because they're men. As if. This would be more powerful if there was one trustworthy man on-screen, and also if the violence leaned further into Harley's glitter bombs than her bone-crunching brutality. This is the only aspect in which a man's touch is apparent, perhaps through studio interference. Otherwise, this is a surprising blast of fresh air in a genre that deserves to be run by women.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Feb.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall