Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn - strap in for a wild ride
4 out of 5
Right off the bat (or maybe mallet?), credit is due to Margot Robbie for Birds of Prey and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (let's just call it Birds of Prey). She had the idea of plucking probably the most popular character from 2016's Suicide Squad, giving her some back-story and setting the stage for more adventures for her and her band of misfits. Kudos to her and execs at Warner Bros. for realising that the exploration of the traditional baddies can arise in better, more complex stories than that of squeaky-clean Cal-El (Superman).
The film opens with an animated backstory narrated by the eponymous heroine played with enormous glee by Margot Robbie. I smiled when the image of the nuns appeared as part of her education. Quite quickly we learn that she and Joker, Mr. J as she calls him, have split up and the protection she enjoyed as his beau is now gone. She blows up Axis Chemicals as a demonstration that she is over him. Axis Chemicals was the place that gave birth to her character, and Mr. J's too.
We get introduced to some new characters; The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), a disgruntled cop (Rosie Perez), and Ella Jay Basco as a young girls caught up in the plot when she swallows a diamond. Said diamond is wanted by villain Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). The plot conspires to get the female gang together as they take on Sionis.
While the plot is predictable enough, that's not the point of this story. The film is about Harley Quinn, her emancipation from the shadow of Mr. J and an exploration of her psyche which, as it turns out is rather carnival-esque. Indeed the whole film has echoes of the fluorescent, day-glo Batman and Robin but used to better effect here. Does one need to know anything about the DC world? No, not really. This films stands on its own and is the better for it. It is a film with girl-power at its core. Despite sagging a bit in Act II, it is a violent kinetic film that carries a 16 rating here in Ireland. This is not one for the kids.
I think Margot Robbie and Warner Bros have discovered the value of the anti-hero. I've read many sniffy reviews that seem to miss the subversive nature of this film. I struggle to recall a film that is so dark, so immersed in a character's psyche and led by five women that is a roller-coaster of a ride. Harley is more than a match for Mr. J in terms of creating chaos but she has more purpose than just a desire to "see the world burn". She does it with more style, more colour and more glitter. It knows not to take itself too seriously either, with one character asking at one point - when did she change her shoes? The violence is more Tom & Jerry than Deadpool but is well choreographed and fun.
For director Cathay Yan, this is her first "superhero" film and she feels very comfortable directing the chaos and pin-ball nature of Harley's character. While watching Yan's direction I couldn't help but recall her fellow director, Martin Scorsese's comment that superhero films were not cinema but fairground rides. This is a fairground ride and does not try to be anything other than that. Strap in.