By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
After receiving mixed critical and public reactions to some of their films, particularly Suicide Squad, Warner Bros’s DCEU has gone into clean-up/rebuilding mode. This new strategy hopes to capitalize on the strengths of their otherwise problematic previous entries and build on them without completely ignoring and rebooting their universe. So, it is only fitting that Birds of Prey should serve as a redemption story for one of its beloved characters–the incomparable Harley Quinn.
A major high point of Suicide Squad is the delightfully insane, but entertaining character Harley Quinn. And it is Margot Robbie’s uncanny take on the character that that really made the character stand out. Writer Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan have concocted a delightfully raucous treat of a movie that delivers just what the DCEU needs. And that is a colorful and action-packed comic vehicle that allows the amazing Harley Quinn to shine brightly.
Robbie thankfully reprises her role as former psychologist-turned-crazy criminal Harleen Quinzel. Some time has passed since audiences last saw Harley, and she’s pretty much had enough of her paramour Joker. At the beginning of the film, Quinn is dealing with the recent breakup and is lost and confused about how she should proceed with her new life. As fate would have it, one last act of defiance lands her in trouble with the law once again.
To further complicate matters, her separation from Joker inspires some of her past enemies to seek vengeance. While attempting to evade her enemies and any law enforcement hot on her trail, Harley crosses paths with local street pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a precocious and street smart teen whose latest pocket acquisition happens to be a widely sought after diamond. Desperate for survival, Cassandra reluctantly seeks Harley’s help. And because they seem to have the same enemies, Harley feels she has no choice, but to help the young girl. In doing so, Harley has an ulterior motive, though. She hopes to safely take the diamond from Cassandra and deliver it to the man who wants it most–a psychotic and egomaniacal criminal named Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).
With Birds of Prey, Cathy Yan and Christina Hodson have developed and made a thrilling and uproariously funny comic book movie that is sure to please both comic fanatics and casual audiences alike. Like Marvel’s Deadpool, Harley Quinn and her newly discovered friends don’t hold back when it comes to violence and profanity. It is a very R-rated affair that is not at all intended for young children, but is subversively entertaining for teens and grownups. The story isn’t all that deep and complex, but still empowering as it deals with women struggling for their own self worth.
In addition to Robbie’s Harley, the film stars Jurney Smollett-Bell as Dinah Laurel Lance, aka Black Canary. Lance has had a tough life on the poorer side of Gotham, but has managed to use a naturally gifted singing voice to make.a living. When she gets a job working for Roman Sionis, she has a morality conflict that inspires her to fight back. Other female characters facing adversity include The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Police Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). All of these actors perform well in their roles and bring a wonderful mix of badassery, vulnerability and humor to their characters.
But, in all honesty, this really is Harley’s golden moment and Margot Robbie once again delivers a fantastic performance. It is her character and her performance which makes this movie truly great. Also deserving of high praise is Ewan McGregor, who goes enjoyably wild as Black Mask. I also rather enjoyed the acting of Chris Messina who stars as Roman’s assassin Victor Zsaasz.
So, after a few misfires, and some welcome comebacks, the DCEU is on a winning streak. Though their previous recent entries are more family friendly, perhaps it was time for DC to take a page from Marvel and deliver a wild, R-rated ride for teens and adults to enjoy. I only hope that this movie catches more attention than its built-in core audience of comic fans, because I would love to see more entertaining adventures with Margot Robbie in the top billing.