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Bad Ass Women Give Comic Book Films A Shot Of Adrenaline In “Birds Of Prey”

The more DC and Warner Bros moves away from their original idea for a shared comic book universe (seen at its nadir by Suicide Squad), the better off they seem. This week, they release Birds of Prey (officially known as Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a brash and undeniably fun flick that indulges in chaos, girl power, and pure pop silliness. The more it leans into the craziness, the better off it is. It’s only when this veers closer to your garden variety superhero type tale that it runs into trouble. Luckily, that’s only a sporadic issue here. Powered by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, this is likely to make a killing at the box office.

The film is a spinoff from Suicide Squad, following the adventures of Harley Quinn (Robbie) after she breaks up with the Joker. Turns out, most of Gotham City wants her dead, and without Joker’s protection, she’s fair game. At the top of the list is gangster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), also known as Black Mask. Along with his enforcer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), he largely runs Gotham. Especially when Harley gets involved with a girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who has something Roman desires, he unleashes hell to get them both. As Harley evades capture, she comes into the circle of Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who goes by the name Black Canary, and assassin Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who likes to be known as Huntress. They all hate Roman, they all need the girl for one reason or another, and to survive, they’ll have to stick together. There, the Birds of Prey are born. Cathy Yan directs a screenplay by Christina Hodson, with a score by Daniel Pemberton and cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Supporting players include Ali Wong, among others.

Margot Robbie is one of the main selling points here, and for good reason. An energetic performance that builds on what she did as the one saving grace of Suicide Squad, she’s a full blown star here. Embracing the mania of the character leads to some really fun moments, especially involving her pet hyena, as well as her love of a breakfast sandwich. Likewise, the line deliveries by Mary Elizabeth Winstead are a riot. Scribe Christina Hodson makes each character unique and vibrant, while director Cathy Yan does the same with the look of the flick. Together, they brings a female lens to a male dominated genre, breathing some new life into it. Admittedly, it’s all a bit shallow, but it’s colorful and easily enjoyable, which supersedes some of the narrative flaws. Plus, there’s never a good reason given why Joker would (almost completely) be absent from the proceedings, let alone Batman. There’s a definite failing there that keeps this from being a fuller adventure.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is colorful and ridiculous, mostly to its benefit. The aforementioned Robbie and Winstead stand out in a cast that sometimes feels like they’re each in a different movie (especially Ewan McGregor, who’s having a ball but is on a totally separate wavelength). The movie is too long and drags in the middle, but it’s a good amount of fun overall. The manic energy that Yan and Hodson infuse the film with is beneficial, since it’s largely nonsense, story wise. The comedy and the fight choreography are the most successful, as well as the interesting visuals (kudos to DP Libatique, one of the best in the industry)/breaking of the fourth wall. That’s where the movie is on the strongest ground.

This weekend, one of the year’s better efforts opens in the lively Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Robbie fans and those who dig the character will be in for a treat. While it may not reach the heights of some other comic book efforts, it’s largely a blast and brings a much needed female perspective to the genre. Give it a look and you’ll almost certainly have a really good time at the movies…

Be sure to check out Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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