By BROOKE AUBIN
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
When the DC Extended Universe released Suicide Squad in 2016, audiences were pumped to see a comic book movie about the bad guys. With the market saturated with the likes of Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s beloved heroes Batman and Superman, Suicide Squad offered a refreshing change. Sadly, however, the movie was panned by critics and audiences alike.
On the contrary, the one thing that was almost universally well-received in Suicide Squad was Margot Robbie’s performance as the Joker’s lovable (but crazy) partner-in-crime, Harley Quinn. Audiences were more excited to see more of Harley Quinn than they were to see the rest of the Suicide Squad. So, Robbie herself brought the idea of Birds of Prey to Warner Bros. during the production of Suicide Squad. And, for myself and audiences across the nation, it was a brilliant move.
Robbie wanted to produce an “R-rated girl gang film including Harley, because I was like, ‘Harley needs friends.’” Birds of Prey tells of a few of DC Comics’ coolest female characters. Acting alongside Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, and Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain. The villain of the story is not the Birds of Prey but rather Black Mask, a brutal, ultra-hateable crime lord played by Ewan McGregor.
Birds of Prey starts with a very charming/disturbing animation detailing Harley Quinn’s early years; from her broken childhood, to her days getting her PhD, up to her relationship with The Joker. Now, as we know from the trailers, Harley and The Joker have broken up, and she’s torn about it. Who wouldn’t be? The Joker gave her an identity, and now, she’s alone. But, she realizes that now she can be her own person, and starts to form a new identity.
Harley’s post-breakup experiences echo reality: the quintessential post-breakup haircut, eating ice cream straight from the pint, and crying on the couch. She soon gets back on her feet after blowing up the factory where she and Joker made it official, and chases her true loves, which are her new dog (named Bruce, after Bruce Wayne) and breakfast sandwiches. However, she quickly realizes that without the immunity that Joker provided, there’s nothing stopping her from being pursued by the dozens of people in Gotham that want her dead for various reasons.
The one man who definitely wants Harley dead is the terrifying, rich, sexist egomaniac that is Roman Sionis. He wants her gone for a number of reasons comically run across the screen upon his introduction, including breaking his driver’s legs, once saying “expresso,” and voting for Bernie Sanders. Sionis, aka The Black Mask, is a terrifying villain. He has a penchant for peeling off the faces of his victims, intimidating the citizens of Gotham with his sheer power and money, and objectifying women, to name a few things. In some ways, Sionis is one of the more realistic villains we’ve seen in comic book movies, and that’s what makes him truly terrifying.
The rest of the cast is incredibly diverse, with women of color making up the majority of Harley’s girl gang and the LGBTQ community being represented in the main characters. It’s one of the many things the film has going for it, but it does have its downfalls. One of the main things I wish we saw more of was the fascinating Huntress. We do get a quick backstory on her via a narration by Harley, but she doesn’t occupy much of the movie otherwise. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an incredibly gifted actress, and it’s a shame we don’t see more of her. When she does appear onscreen, it’s during some of the coolest fight sequences I’ve seen in a comic book movie, but I wish she had had more screen time beyond fight scenes.
Speaking of fight scenes, there is one scene near the end of the film during which Huntress, Black Canary, Harley Quinn, and Renee Montoya protect Cassandra Cain from being captured by Sionis’ gang of masked murderers. It’s an incredibly well choreographed scene, and it had a moment that was extremely realistic. During the fight, Black Canary is seen pushing her flying hair out of her face, frustrated that it’s getting in the way of beating up bad guys. So, helpful as ever, Harley quickly offers her a hair tie. This small moment brought me so much joy. It has always confused me how women in action movies rarely tie up their long hair, because long hair would definitely get in the way of fighting. Birds of Prey amends that, and I appreciated it so much.
All in all, it was refreshing to see a superhero film with a gang of super cool, super tough women who support each other and take down overpowered, misogynistic, egocentric jerks. It was so satisfying to see Harley Quinn go from a bit of eye-candy in Suicide Squad to being the leader of a very hardcore vigilante group in Birds of Prey. Though there could have been some things better about the movie, it was a lot of fun, and I would highly recommend seeing it.