By JoAnne Hyde
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? BIRDS OF PREY (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya’s paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
In the Warner Bros. Pictures film, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, alongside Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress; Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary; Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya; Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz; and Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis. Newcomer Ella Jay Basco also stars as Cassandra “Cass” Cain in her feature film debut.
Birds of Prey delivers a joy ride through the twisted mind of DC Comics character Harley Quinn, splendidly played by Margot Robbie. Robbie’s portrayal of Quinn was easily the best thing about the less-than-wonderful Suicide Squad, so I was psyched to see the character get the spotlight in her own film.
I wasn’t disappointed!
Director Cathy Yan brings Harley Quinn to the forefront in a series of capers that seem like a girls’ night out on steroids! But hey — you didn’t come to see this film for subtlety and deep thoughts!
The film begins with an animated history of Harley Quinn’s life and transformation into a villain up to the point when she and The Joker break up and she decides to go it alone. She moves into a dump above a Chinese restaurant and buys a pet Hyena. A host of people want her dead, and now that she’s not under The Joker’s protection, it’s open season on her.
She runs afoul of psychotic and flamboyant villain Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), also known as Black Mask, and his demented side-kick Victor Zsasz, eerily played by Chris Messina. Seems that just about everyone is looking for a young teenager, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who’s stolen a valuable diamond containing concealed information about Gotham City’s wealthy and powerful. Harley sets out to find her for Roman if he agrees not to kill her.
Her unabashedly vigorous approach to her search brings her into the sights of Gotham PD detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who has her own problems with authority. The history of the diamond reveals another potential ally, Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). When a singer in Roman’s club, Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) saves a very drunk Harley from one of the many goons chasing her, the two characters develop a kind of reluctant admiration for one another.
Black Canary turns out to have a hidden superpower that is revealed later in the film. At any rate, this character earns the title of the biggest badass in the film in my opinion!
The way these four female characters come together to protect Cassandra and the explanation for the film’s title is revealed in the final third of the narrative. There’s an obvious tease for sequels, and, in fact, a trilogy has been rumored.
Margot Robbie has made Harley Quinn her own. I can’t imagine any other actress playing the part. Robbie possesses such an expressive face and brings Harley Quinn’s sassiness, mania, and yes, her vulnerability, so effectively to the screen. She is known for doing many of her own stunts, and believe me, there are some very impressive ones in Birds of Prey.
The film’s various settings were artfully presented. I think my favorite came near the end — Founder’s Pier. The resolution of the narrative is set up on a crumbling pier, encased in fog and darkness, decorated by silhouetted statues of most of the DC villains. In comparison with the various garishly-lit, artificially cheery, scenes that dominate the film, the pier sets the correct tone for the unfolding of the inevitable outcome. It’s not all fun and games, so this setting really mattered in this very humorous film.
I do have a few complaints. First of all, Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask is sort of a tepid villain. Chris Messina was much more menacing as the side-kick. For an evil mastermind, the performance comes off as a bit too effete. Yeah, he’s really mean and everything, but the mask itself is pretty lame and not well integrated into the narrative.
Rosie Perez’s character is made unnecessarily unappealing for no reason that I could see. Mary Elizabeth’s Huntress is supposed to be such a well-trained assassin with quite a daunting appearance, so why would the writer and director decide to give her lines and some actions that made her seem, well, silly? And finally, why didn’t they use the hyena more effectively? He would have made a very entertaining weapon had he been used for a bit of action instead of a comedy prop for Harley Quinn.
My complaints didn’t really damage the over-all narrative for me. I loved Birds of Prey! However, it’s rated R for a reason. Don’t take the kiddos — or your mom unless she’s really cool! – Jo Hyde