Birds of Prey review Margot Robbie Ella Jay Basco Jurnee Smollett-Bell Mary Elizabeth Winstead Rosie Perez

Year: 2020
Director(s): Cathy Yan
Writer(s): Cristina Hodson
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Color, 109 mins

Synopsis: After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. (Source)

While the folks at Marvel are great at what they do, they’ve long underserved the women in their roster. Meanwhile, Birds of Prey continues to carve out a niche that compliments Wonder Woman in a great way. With an ensemble of colorful characters, eye-popping set pieces, and a story about self-worth, director Cathy Yan has delivered a loud, infectious action film that continues to push DC’s women to the front. It’s an explosive cocktail of empowerment, energy and broken bones stitched together by a crushing soundtrack. Considering Harley Quinn’s one-dimensional origins, Yan’s film feels like a reclamation of sorts. Margot Robbie shines, leading an wild cast on a caper that hits hard and fast. 

After a split with The Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) announces her breakup with a literal bang. Tired of being seen as an appendage, Harley is ready for the world to see her for who she is. This unwittingly puts a target on her head. Most of the city are looking to clear out some competition. As a parade of thugs close in on Harley, she goes after Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pickpocket in possession of a mob family’s priceless diamond. Also looking for the diamond, is Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), a crime lord looking to assert his dominance. Along her journey, Harley unwittingly teams up with an assassin named The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a deadly singer called Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and wronged detective named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). Together, these women make a disparate stand to take what’s theirs. 

At the film’s core, this is a story about breaking free from toxic relationships and shady pasts. It’s a cathartic rebel yell. The gender politics are always present but refreshing rather than preachy. This lines everything with a sense of purpose that’s empowering and earned, especially considering the fierce ensemble. Instantly, Harley feels liberated from her cringeworthy, male-gazed introduction in Suicide Squad. She asserts her agency and stands on her own wit and resourcefulness. In addition, things rarely take a moment to slow down, as on-screen graphics, breathlessly choreographed action and a curation of anthemic songs create an endless parade of sound and fury. Yan’s penchant for style and humor is perfectly matched to her characters. She really highlights their individuality overall, allowing each character to own the stage in their own ways. 

Birds of Prey review Margot Robbie Ella Jay Basco

In terms of the cast, this thing is stacked. At the top, Margot Robbie’s Harley feels new. For all intents and purposes, she’s been given a chance to really start over, and Robbie’s excitement and energy are the film’s backbone. In truth, though, the film does thrive through its eclectic performances. No one feels superfluous even if some are given more to do than others. Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain is a delight, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Elizabeth Winstead and Rosie Perez all attack their characters with a bit of self awareness and sincerity, showing off various forms of femininity and strength. On the flip side, Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina are perfect villains. The film appropriately makes them formidable enough as they draw a balance between theatricality and menace.  

As an action movie, Birds of Prey has no problem soaring over its contemporaries. It’s a film that goes beyond the bare minimum, evoking a strong sense of female camaraderie while delivering dazzling action that commands our attention. This film has something to say, but also has fun saying it in the most infectious way. With Wonder Woman and now this, DC has found a powerful foundation, should they choose to dig depper. Coming from the derivative and also almost cloyingly grim Joker (the Joaquin Phoenix one), Yan has ushered in vivid possibilities while leaving us wanting more.