Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker broke up so now she’s striking out on her own. Trouble is her relationship with Joker made her immune in the criminal underworld and now a bunch of bad guys are out to kill her. Chief among them is Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Meanwhile, a Gotham police detective named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a singer and vigilante named Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and an assassin named Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also try to make headway and find justice in a man’s world. Their lives collide when a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) steals a diamond from Roman.
From its opening animation sequence, ‘Birds of Prey’ is full of flash, colour and vibrant energy. It is an explosion of neon and glitter, jam-packed with kick-ass action that truly is "fantabulous". As with DC’s previous successes ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Aquaman’, ‘Birds of Prey’ marks a real effort at bringing this well-worn genre into new territory. It’s not always perfect but for the majority, ‘Birds of Prey’ works. It’s exciting and it's unpredictable (the latter quality being something you rarely associate with superhero movies let alone movies generally).
The fighting aesthetic is gymnastic, athletic, and full of hard punches. These women beat the shit out of men, and out of each other. The movie isn’t afraid to be violent either – early on, there’s an interrogation in which Black Mask peels off his victims’ faces. Elsewhere, there are some great humorous scenes, such as one involving an egg sandwich, and there’s a random musical sequence featuring the Marilyn Monroe number ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’.
What director Cathy Yan does so cleverly is utilise comic book aesthetics, for example, in the use of intertitles, and hopping from one event to another (expect plenty of flashbacks) as you’d see in comic panels, but she brings her own stamp too. She’s made a different kind of superhero movie that’s visionary and beguiling. There’s a shoot-up in a police station involving beanbags, coloured powder, and glitter bombs (Harley really likes glitter, so expect a lot). It’s gorgeous to look at with a hot mess of a narrative that recalls ‘Deadpool 2’. It feels like the movie ‘Suicide Squad’ wanted to be.
As for the acting, Perez is excellent, but the show does slow down when we overstay our time with Black Canary. The pacing vastly improves though every time we return to Harley Quinn, a role which Margot Robbie was born for. Winstead’s part is surprisingly small, but she makes her screen time work, adorably awkward as her character is. The film celebrates madness, and women, and mad women (in every sense of the word).
‘Birds of Prey’ can feel like a bunch of shit being hurled at the wall. But the thing is, a lot of it sticks, and you’re not left with a brown-coloured wall but a pretty, sparkly, bedazzled one.