Review: ‘Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey’

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Photo//DC Entertainment/Warner Bros

SPOILERS! If you read beyond this point, the joke is on you.

I am going to preface this by saying that it takes a significant amount of energy for me to buy souvenir cups at the movie theater. Half the time they won’t give you a third refill, the designs are usually just the promotional poster, and if I wanted to buy a poster I would get something bigger than a 20oz. They sometimes have popcorn buckets too, but everyone with good sense about them knows that they cost on average around $8000 (not really, but might as well). This was the mindset I had about Marvel, “Harry Potter”, and even “Star Wars,” which is amazing because it is legitimately my lifeblood.

I had this exact mindset when going into “Birds of Prey.” The press for it, while suitable for any average comic book movie, was extremely confusing. The trailers left you wondering if there was an actual plot that you could connect to another movie, which is sadly the state that Marvel tends to leave you in with comic book movies: the insatiable need to make things connect. But anyways, I went in, bought popcorn only because my bank account is on E, and went in to the inhumanely comfortable recliners in the IMAX. Immediately after the end credits rolled, I walked straight out of the theater, feverishly took out my wallet, and purchased the collectors cup, filling it with a tall, cool glass of coke, and walking out of the theater with a chalice raised in victory in my hands.

“Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” is, perhaps, the best comic book movie I’ve seen. This is a tall claim, especially with the two billion dollar price tag of “Avengers: Endgame” looming over every future blockbuster director’s head. Everyone wants to make the next “Endgame,” in some shape or another, and DCEU has had a track record of dropping the corporate and narrative ball with their movies. “Wonderwoman,” “Aquaman,” and “Shazam,” while relatively good films, couldn’t carry the other cer-plunks that “Justice League,” “Batman V. Superman,” and “Suicide Squad” left in their wake. “Shazam” was one of the best movies of last year, but saw no real marketing and sunk the film’s otherwise strong box office viability, even with how obscure the character is to general audiences. But “Birds of Prey” takes “Suicide Squad’s” standout character, Harley Quinn, and puts her in a place that feels good, and encourages a different direction that the franchise can take with the right push.

The film is directed by Cathy Yan and produced by Harleen Quinzel herself, and stars Margot Robbie (coming off Oscar nominations for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”).

This film follows Harley after a break up with the Joker (in the most comically destructive version of a breakup text by blowing up the place they first got together at from “Suicide Squad”), trying to escape the mob of mobsters, mob affiliates, taxi drivers, Frida-Kahlo look alikes, and the bevy of other people that want to have her killed. She wants to emancipate herself from Joker and from the people that want her dead, and so in some way or another, she enlists the help of Black Mask, played by “Star Wars” vet Ewan McGregor, a psychopathic and campy version of an Al Pacino type of organized crime in Gotham.

In return, however, she has to get him a diamond engraved with bank account numbers from a mafia family with enough money to have control of the entire city, which was conveniently pickpocketed from one of his guys (and eaten in the event of capture by the police) by Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a disillusioned orphan making her living by stealing from the rich and giving to herself (a good cause, I am sure). Dinah Lance, or the Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett), works for Black Mask, and has to assist Black Mask’s henchman Zsasz (Chris Messina) to find the diamond, along with ex-cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) trying to prove herself to a man who took credit for her achievements in the force, and the rogue assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead), trying to murder those who killed her family, the owners of the diamond.

Long story short and without going on a tangent, this movie was fantastic. It has an undeniable female production that doesn’t overpower the movie and make any overarching statements that overstay their welcome. The acting, the script, everything reads as powerful and purposeful. The performance standouts include Jurnee Smolett and Margot Robbie, both offering new and yet simultaneously comic book accurate performances. Ewan McGregor also stood out, but along with the rest of the men in this movie seem particularly one sided, which works to the film’s advantage, because their rather tacky and campy misogynist treatment to the Birds of Prey (and Harley) makes it that much sweeter when they go down in flames.

Of course, it isn’t all that serious, because with the R-rating and sort of Deadpool-esque humor, you tend to be able to have fun and not take it insanely serious when watching the movie. This is probably the strongest aspect of the movie: its humor. Hardcore comic book fans may find themselves typing on their keyboard furiously about how Black Mask was a little de-mystified in this iteration of the character under the comment section of an unrelated Warner Bros. tweet, but it’s hard to get mad at it when the rest of the time of the movie carries this so well.

While Harley herself isn’t a Bird, she flies along with them and the team’s chemistry is undeniable. This carries into the action and art direction, which is colorful, practical (hardly any CGI) and creative unlike anything I’ve seen in a movie. Each of them has a part to play in what I would like to call “delightfully pedestrian” action sequences. This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but they work to make the film more authentic. Along with the character arcs, which all have to do with breaking off from previous ties and becoming something that they can be proud of, and kicking ass along the way. Some of them, like Huntress, feel a little bit half baked and more compelling on the surface, but it wasn’t too important looking back at it.

One of the best movies I’ve seen in awhile, “Birds of Prey” is set to officially be released Feb. 7, and is probably one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2020.