When Suicide Squad came out in 2016, the best and breakout part of it was easily Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. The beloved villain-turned-antihero was finally in live-action form, and she was everything audiences had hoped for. Plenty of fans, however, wondered what Robbie could do if she weren’t trapped in a bad script and, beyond that, written and directed by a woman.
This weekend, they’ll have their chance to see that “What if?” scenario playing out in front of them when Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) hits screens. Written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee), directed by Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) and executive produced by Robbie herself, the movie is a madcap adventure that stuffed full of kaleidoscope action. Harley Quinn is now recently broken up with Joker, and broken up about it, but sticking to her guns this time. Without his protection, however, she has a target on her back from, uh, well…everyone. In the middle of Harley’s breakup story, multiple storylines all coalesce around the famed Bertinelli diamond: Villain Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) wants it to build his criminal empire. Young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) has pickpocketed it. Harley must track down Cassandra and find it while keeping Roman from killing the girl. Dinah Drake/Black Canary is reluctantly working for Roman and is also sent to find the diamond and Cassandra. Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) doesn’t give a single damn about the diamond; she just wants revenge and is pointed in Roman’s direction. And Detective Renee Montoya honestly just wants to arrest all of them and take another swig from her flask. In order to survive the sadistic Black Mask and stay alive, the women need to get their dysfunction to function together and join forces to save the girl and stay alive.
So, does Birds of Prey redeem Harley for Suicide Squad? Is it as violent and riotous as befits the Gotham City Siren and now Bird of Prey? Read on for three reasons this movie is everything you want from Harley Quinn and her girl gang.
1. Dynamic, Inventive Action That Rivals ‘John Wick’
Don’t let the heavily edited trailers fool you: This movie isn’t just fun costumes and martinis. Harley and her crew kick large amounts of ass, and the action is never boring. If there’s one major gripe I have with plenty of comic book films, it’s that the hand-to-hand combat is too often cookie-cutter. It’s either choreographed by excellent fighters with little sense of cinematic flair, or shot with workmanlike practicality, or edited in quick bursts to hide the fact the actor isn’t really convincing when they throw a punch.
But, after overcoming an admittedly uneven start thanks to the non-chronological storytelling and narrative ping-pong action, Birds of Prey gets inventive as hell with its action, particularly Harley Quinn – after all, she’s both a trained gymnast and a little unhinged. Her scenes should be as dynamic and unpredictable as Harley herself. And they are. Harley is acrobatic when she fights, often using her baseball bat like Captain America uses his shield, bouncing it off the ground and slinging it around. A Fun Gun stuffed full of non-lethal glitter bombs and smoke help Harley clear out a building in one scene, knocked-out bodies flipping in slow-motion bursts of pinks and purples or being blown backward in billowing coils of reds and yellows. Harley keep the party going even when she’s swinging a mallet at someone’s head. Full credit to fight choreographer Jon Valera and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio.
As for the other Birds, they’re almost as fun to watch, particularly Black Canary, who uses her long legs to her advantage (and no, I won’t spoil for you whether or not she unleashes the Canary Cry) with plenty of spin kicks and takedowns, a natural athlete who has kept her light under a bushel. Huntress, the assassin, may not get as up close and personal as the others, normally relying on her excellent crossbow – but when she does, particularly in the climactic funhouse brawl, it’s a thing of beauty to watch, with her showing off her uncanny balance. They’re all great, but this is unquestionably Harley Quinn’s movie, and her action sequences show it.
2. Give Margot Robbie Control Of This Branch Of The DCEU Already
This might have been Harley Quinn’s movie to own, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a sequel that expands on the stories of the other Birds. Robbie famously fought to get Birds of Prey made for five years, and in the meantime, has gained more creative and executive control in the DCEU as her star has risen. She already took full control of this project and, with it already having been announced and her professed desire to make it happen, it’s all but inevitable Robbie will make Gotham City Sirens a reality and take on an EP role there, too.
And she should. Robbie has shown she truly gets the weirdness of Harley in all her quirks and insecurities. What’s more, she’s fully embraced so many of the other darker, stranger characters of the DC pantheon. Her portrayal of Harley Quinn is vicious and sweet, showing Harley’s deep loneliness and vulnerabilities, not afraid to lean hard into the character’s co-dependency issues. Rather than making Harley seem weak, it makes her all the more relatable. But make no mistake, the former psychologist is usually smarter than anyone in the room, calculating and reading people even when absolutely hammered drunk. The little harlequin will draw blood when she needs, both literally and figuratively. It’s an engaging, excellent performance from Robbie that will, as always, go completely unnoticed by awards voter types. Her consolation prize should be getting control of the weird wing of the DCEU. It’s genuinely exciting to think of where she could take it.
3. Ewan McGregor As Black Mask Is Chef’s Kiss Good
Ewan McGregor is truly a gift. He’s an actor who is just quietly good in everything he does, and so flexible in his considerable range. He’s having a bit of a renaissance as of late, appearing as haunted alcoholic Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep, announcing his return as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a new series, and now Birds of Prey.
As Black Mask, he’s unlike villains we’ve seen before, playing Roman Sionis with camp and flair, but smartly never leaning into moustache-twirling cheese. The Scottish actor uses his natural charm and comedic timing to suck you in before turning on the menace and reminding you – oh, right – he’s the villain of the movie. If Harley Quinn is a firecracker, then Roman is a ticking time bomb, a tightly-wound mess of anxieties, OCD, control issues and explosive anger. He’s a cruel sadist who doesn’t mind watching his right hand, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) peeling off people’s faces but comes undone at the sight of a snot bubble. He’ll humiliate a woman in front of a club full of people for a perceived slight and then gush over his shrunken head collection, a crime lord prone to squealing “Ew!” when he sees something unpleasant but doesn’t blink twice when ordering his man to gut a young girl like a deer being dressed during hunting season. Some of the film’s best lines and largest laughs come from McGregor’s delivery of certain bits of dialogue.
What I’m saying is, please keep putting Ewan McGregor in things. All the things. Everything.
In summary, Birds of Prey is a damned good time at the theater, with inventive fights and stunts, hyperactive action, and an excellent cast surrounding Robbie, who kills it as Harley. Parents be forewarned, however: It does have an R rating and, like Deadpool, it earns every bit of that R, mostly in the form of the number of f-bombs dropped, but also quite a bit of violence.
Birds of Prey is in theaters this Friday. Get tickets here.