Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Where do I sign up to become an official Bird of Prey?

It’s no secret that among critics and fans alike, Suicide Squad (2016) wasn’t that well received. That movie definitely had its issues and didn’t work as a whole, but there were several positive aspects that still stood out. One of which, was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Though I wasn’t exactly clamoring for another Suicide Squad movie, since the movie’s release I’ve been excitedly looking forward to the day when Robbie would reprise her role. Well, with the release of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quin) (2020) – oh my God, that title! Long, but I love it – I’ve finally gotten my wish. Oh, and there’s a quartet of other fabulous, badass DC ladies along for the ride? Fuck yes!

Screen Shot 2020-02-10 at 9.34.23 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Warner Bros. Pictures

Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn as she returns to Gotham City after breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, the Joker. There she unexpectedly teams up with Huntress, Black Canary and Detective Renee Montoya to protect Cassandra Cain, a young pickpocket. Hunting them down is Black Mask, a ruthless crime lord who wants to see the diamond that Cain stole from him returned, and each of the heroes dead.

The DCEU has been on a hot streak lately. Aquaman (2018) was an entertaining, action-filled delight, and Shazam! (2019) was a joyful breathe of fresh air that livened up an increasingly stale genre. By the way, check out my reviews for those movies here and here. Since the less than enthused reaction to Justice League (2017), it seems that DC has been committed to making fun, lighter movies that don’t rely on stories set up in previous movies. I’m totally here for it! The studio is quickly becoming known for zany, standalone movies that are wildly entertaining and Birds of Prey is no exception. You guys, I had SO MUCH FUN watching this movie.

I’m a huge fan of DC so regardless, I was excited to see this movie. But what really gave me faith that it would turn out amazing, was hearing that Christina Hodson was the screenwriter. She successfully saved the Transformers franchise (2007 – present) after writing the fantastic Bumblebee (2018) – check out my review here– and with Birds of Prey, Hodson continues to absolutely nail it. She totally understands these characters, especially Harley. Watching Looney Tunes (1930 – 1969) cartoons, smashing complex machinery until it works, playing with her hyena, beating up bad guys with a baseball bat while “Black Betty” plays…this movie is quintessentially Quinn and I ate up every second of it! Hodson’s script flawlessly captures the wacky, chaotic essence of Harley Quinn in every way imaginable. Somehow the movie manages to have all the excitement and edge of an R rating, while also maintaining a light, silly tone as well. It’s a fine, entertaining line that the movie walks perfectly. Birds of Prey is unpredictable, colourful and one of the most memorable comic book movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Really, Birds of Prey is a phenomenal action-comedy movie that just HAPPENS to star comic book characters. No one understands that better than director Cathy Yan. The movie has no shortage of thrilling action scenes and each one is executed perfectly. Seriously, each fight scene is epic to watch. Brilliantly choreographed, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching action scenes that weren’t burdened by excessive CGI, or being constantly interrupted by choppy editing. Vibrant, dynamic, and filled with practical sets, there are so many cool elements to appreciate about Birds of Prey.

As a whole, the movie is well thought out. Birds of Prey seamlessly fuses the grounded realism found in most crime-comedies with the a healthy amount of crazy superhero shenanigans as well. Together, Hodson and Yan have created one of the few comic book movies that truly feels like a cartoon come to life. I have a strong feeling that the duo will have no shortage of projects lined up for them at DC and guess what? I’ll happily see anything either of them put their name to.

In the future, I will also see anything involving any of the titular Birds of Prey. Seriously, I would die for these ladies. Yes, each is undeniably badass and so fucking cool to watch in action, but what really makes these characters shine is how well they’re written. The movie throws out the traditional hero and villain roles and instead, focuses on simply telling the stories of these interesting, diverse, well-rounded characters. Each one has unique motivations, flaws, and spirit, making this a cast of characters I’d gladly watch multiple sequels of! Additionally, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez, who play Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya respectively, embody their characters perfectly. Each one is a casting agent’s dream come true, and they make their characters feel like they stepped off the pages of a comic book and onto the big screen.

Additionally, Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina are incredible as Black Mask and Victor Zsasz respectively. Especially McGregor. Unhinged and menacing with just the right amount of wacky, McGregor’s Black Mask is like a petulant child with too much money and too many wicked interests. It’s a villain portrayal I’ve never seen before and I adored how much fun it was. Really, that’s the main takeaway from Birds of Prey: It’s a movie you will undoubtedly have fun with. At the centre of all the fun is Robbie. My God, she owns this role. Like Christopher Reeves’ Superman, her Harley Quinn is a masterful blend between actor and role. No one but Robbie could pay this role. Her infectious, boundless energy is the driving force behind this delightfully bonkers movie, and I dare you to try and resist succumbing to her charms. Look, there are plenty of DCEU movies I’m excited about, but I kind of wouldn’t be mad if they all found someway to include Robbie’s Harley Quinn. She’s just the right dosage of light and laughter that this franchise needs.

Birds of Prey is the movie I wanted Suicide Squad to be: A ragtag group of assholes teaming up to take down a small scale bad guy. Birds of Prey takes the tone, visuals, and killer soundtrack of Suicide Squad and greatly improves on each area in every way. Oh, and the story is MUCH more cohesive and interesting. Birds of Prey is an absolute winner. If nothing else, it’s helped show the world that the DC canon is full of lesser-known, amazing characters that are capable of anchoring their own movies. Although, I’m also down for more Birds of Prey sequels cause, damn, I loved this movie.

Are you a DC fan? Will you see Birds of Prey?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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