As “Joker” sweeps through Awards Season, scooping up a motherlode of Best Actor gold for Joaquin Phoenix, along comes the standalone story of the Clown Prince of Crime’s former female sidekick. “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” sees Margot Robbie revisit her unpredictable “Suicide Squad” character in an R-rated film that is part action, part comedy and all attitude. More in tune with the antics of “Deadpool” than the serious tone of “Joker,” “Birds of Prey” is a fourth-wall-breaking story that doesn’t feel like other superhero movies.
Picking up after the events of “Suicide Squad,” Gotham City has become a cesspool of crime. Batman has flown the coop leaving the city unprotected from the likes of crime lord Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). The baseball wielding Quinn has rid herself of her former “partner in madness,” the Joker—” I am so over clowns!” she says—and now travels with a new squad of vigilantes. “As it turns out, I wasn’t the only dame in Gotham looking for emancipation,” she says. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) come together to help Harley protect Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pickpocket who had the bad luck of coming into possession of a diamond ebcoded with a valuable secret, a secret Black Mask desperately wants. “I’m back on my feet,” Harley says, “ready to embrace the fierce goddess within.”
“Birds of Prey” is a story of survivors, of feminism, of tough women out on the town and it is the most fun DC has offered up at the movies. The stripped-down story sheds “Suicide Squad’s” nihilistic nonsense in favor of empowerment and general kick assery.
It gets off to a slow start, establishing the characters and situation, but erupts in the last third with bombastic action choreographed by director Cathy Yan and “John Wick” fight maestro Chad Stahelski. Forget the CGI finales of the Marvel Universe, this is blood-soaked up-close-and-personal stunt action with a wicked sense of humour.
Robbie has a gleeful, cheeky commitment to the character that sets the tone for the movie’s 80s new wave kaleidoscopic aesthetic. With a habit of settling disputes with a baseball bat to the groin she isn’t a role model but is unpredictable, scrappy fun to watch on screen. Ditto McGregor who actually seems to be having fun wearing Black Mask’s hyped-up wardrobe after a series of movies that have left his charisma relegated to the backroom.
“Birds of Prey” is loads of fun but manages to weave some serious ideas about not needing men to survive into the chaos. Most of all, though, it feels like a welcome antidote to the monotony of so many comic book inspired films.