Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, also known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), may just be DC’s answer to Deadpool — pure unapologetic R-rated action entertainment.
Much like Deadpool after his terrible portrayal in X-Men, Harley Quinn’s iconically maniacal character is finally done justice in Birds of Prey after her overly sexualized, one-dimensional introduction in Suicide Squad. This movie really is an emancipation for Harley Quinn because, put in the limelight, her irreverent persona, portrayed amazingly by Margot Robbie, shines throughout the movie (spoilers ahead).
The movie begins with Harley struggling to cope with her breakup with the Joker — dealing not only with the heartbreak, but also a loss of identity, because after all, Harley Quinn was born after Dr. Harleen Quinzel, MD, PhD, fell crazy in love with her psychiatric patient, the Joker. She then helped him break out of Arkham Asylum, and then jumped in a vat of toxic chemicals to prove her love for him (all of which is explained in a short animated montage that she narrates early on in the story, because origin stories are so last decade).
Without the protection of being Joker’s girlfriend, Harley has a huge target on her back with every person she ever wronged (and there are many of them) seeking retribution, including the movie’s villain, Black Mask (played by Ewan McGregor), the only one of them who successfully captures her.
Black Mask himself is a bit unstable, in the fashion of a bored, entitled, rich man-child: He makes unreasonable requests solely for his entertainment, is quick to throw tantrums whenever they are not met and constantly needs his henchman/“BFF”, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) to babysit him. Though comical in his exaggeration, McGregor is able to still make his character’s whimsical actions dangerous and keep the stakes of losing to him high until the end.
His main object of fancy in this movie is the “Bertinelli diamond” which supposedly has the whereabouts of all of Gotham’s Mafia family’s wealth.
In search of this diamond, he places a bounty on whoever brings him teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who unknowingly swipes the diamond from Zsasz, releasing Harley Quinn on the condition she finds the girl and retrieves the diamond.
The quest for this diamond is what sets up the plot of the entire movie, and this is where the rest of the “birds” in Birds of Prey come in. Enter Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), former singer at Black Mask’s club, and now driver, who is attempting to save her neighbor Cassandra from Black Mask’s brutality.
The movie does a great job of portraying all of these characters. Cassandra Cain’s character is endearing yet amusing with her slick pickpocketing skills and childish enthusiasm. All the women are strong (badass) fighters, but with very different characters and motivations, and each of them stands out individually and holds their own on the screen, with none of them coming off as the weak link.
Their final coming together at the climax of the film, after having had varying forms of passing relationships with each other, is wonderfully done, and their banding together not for one another but to save the girl, is an earnest, heartwarming moment amid the ridiculous action of the movie.
This ridiculous action though is the most enjoyable part of the film — the fight scene choreography is great every time. A large part of Harley Quinn’s independence is established by these actions scenes when she has to fight and defend herself against large groups of attackers and she does so with ease, with nothing but a bat and her surroundings.
Her fighting style itself very strongly mimics her own character — it’s whimsical, colorful, unpredictable and so very fun to watch. It’s intense and effective but never brutal, and her resourcefulness indicates her intelligence. Her rapidly spewed mentions of psychoanalysis under stress is also a great touch to her character, and her use of her smarts in a fight further strengthens her character’s spine.
However, no fight scene tops the final climactic action sequence at the end of the movie which takes place in the most Harley Quinn of Harley Quinn destinations – a house of illusions in an abandoned amusement park. This is where all the heroes unite and fight Black Mask’s army in one of the most entertaining and exciting fight sequences ever seen.
I give much credit to director Cathy Yan for adeptly utilizing the absurdity of the setting — the illusions, the colors, the moving parts of the attraction — while continuously jumping from character to character in this intensely fast paced, very long, and truly bonkers scene. I would honestly recommend watching this movie in the theaters even just for the final action-packed 15 or so minutes of the movie, to properly experience the visual vibrancy and head-turning pace of these scenes.
However, I can guarantee this movie has more to offer than just its action — this includes Harley Quinn’s witty, psychotic, yet kind character that pays its dues to one of DC’s most iconic and interesting characters; a powerful, multidimensional, all-female ensemble of renegade superheroes; and most of all, a banging night of entertainment.
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey may not be a serious Oscar nominee; it’s no Parasite or Marriage Story, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, thrilling few hours away from the books with a group of fantabulous friends.