Director: Cathy Yan | Runtime: 1h 49mins | Comedy, Action
After the events of Suicide Squad (2016) leave Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) split from The Joker, she must fend for herself with a large target on her back. While trying to survive, she has to protect a young thief, with the help of a few other people, from eccentric criminal Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).
As successful as the DCEU has been over the years it has lacked a true voice. Granted Wonder Woman (2017) and Shazam! (2019) have been a step in the right direction, but there’s still a huge void left after the blunder of the earlier attempts. Thankfully, Birds of Prey and the Emancipation of Harley Quinn sheds any kind of residue left from Suicide Squad (2016) and brings to life a vibrant and hilarious update to the story of Harley Quinn. Using the same tonal and structural techniques of fellow superhero film Deadpool (2016), Quinn guides us through her story in distracted fashion and actually breathes new life into a world that was quickly becoming tedious.
Just like Deadpool it’s reliance falls heavily onto it’s main stars shoulders, and luckily Margot Robbie’s charisma and talent is just as impressive anyone working today. She takes the hollow shell of when she first played the character and forms it into a beautifully eccentric vigilante with vulnerability. Even past all the egg sandwich mishaps, the nonchalance and the ‘do as you please’ attitude, there is genuine fragility to the character. Her reliance on her now ex-boyfriend Joker has tarnished her image and also her ability to live independently, and this is just one of many fleshed out arcs the film has to offer.
The assembly of team has been played out enough times to know how and what will happen, but the movies narrative stays true the spontaneity of it’s main character. It’s circumstantial, a meeting of people with similar motivations. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is an integral part of the villains life, and is conflicted relentlessly to have a better life or be a better person. Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya is a no nonsense detective who is at the top of her game but is unfortunately flawed, even young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) gets a deeper story rather than be a one dimensional catalyst. Maybe the only one that probably doesn’t have enough to her is The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but it’s a part of her enigmatic appearance, and once she does reveal her intentions she becomes one of the funnier parts of the finale, as well as her frustration to being called the “Crossbow Killer”.
McGregor never steals the show but merely heightens the performance from Robbie in their shared scenes, all while seemingly have tons of fun.
Another key component that the film glamorously nails is the action, while it isn’t groundbreaking there is so much to admire in explosive vibrance. Another consistency that DCEU movies have lacked is that of great action, Aquaman (2018) is the only one to really understand it with the guidance of James Wan, and it’s Cathy Yan’s faith in the product that allows for a lot of fun, and even if you don’t see the need for the R rating it does help to give us some great moments of violence. The glittery action sequences that standout the most are Harley’s powder gun rampage in the police station, as well as the final funhouse showdown.
The wacky approach that the film has demands that it’s villain falls into the same guidelines, and Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis does just that. His camp demeanour and downright creepy approach to the people around him make for such an entertaining watch. It’s also bolstered by the fact that McGregor is universally adored, but this is another character with layers (albeit soft ones), his flamboyancy is counter-attacked by insecurity, and his false politeness is paired with an unsettling ability to dish out punishment and violence.
Granted he isn’t as fleshed out as a lot of the female characters, but that’s the point. He’s a hollow shell of the biggest and baddest people in Gotham, regularly using his power but never to the effect of people like Joker, and it becomes a strong characteristic of Sionis and his motivations. McGregor never steals the show but merely heightens the performance from Robbie in their shared scenes, all while seemingly have tons of fun. But what’s more interesting is that even though he has less depth than the women he’s fighting, it’s another man trying to silence and control the actions of the world around them, and it makes the movies motivations wonderfully justified.
Where Suicide Squad was trying too hard for it’s style, it’s a wonderful sight to see a film so in control of it’s own presentation. It’s not groundbreaking, but it isn’t trying to be. Instead it uses it’s format to give you a girl-power superhero film that never hits you over the head but continuously entertains you, and for any continual naysayers, the proof is in the pudding puddin’.