** out of ****
(for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material)
Released: February 7, 2020
Runtime: 109 minutes
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina
Harley Quinn’s emancipation is a manic mess.
Birds of Prey – DC’s Suicide Squad spinoff anchored by the increasing star power of actress/producer Margot Robbie – is all attitude and artifice. That’s fun, so far as it goes, which…isn’t that far at all.
Thin, shallow, and completely obnoxious, this profane and violent spectacle of comic book camp may have more style and coherence than the disaster that spawned it, but it’s barely above that baseline.
Liberated after having ditched her toxic boyfriend Joker (Mr. J, she calls him), Harley Quinn is now more anti-hero than villain, breaking the rules and the law but for a worthy cause (i.e. saving a pick-pocketing teenage girl from Ewan McGregor’s evil crime lord).
She gets help from a few other badass chicks, all marginalized or abused by the sleazy men that inhabit every corner of Gotham City, as this #MeToo revenge fantasy serves as an origin story for its sirens.
Harley is not so much a character as a punk-styled bit of performance art, one in which Robbie is constantly mugging for the camera. She narrates throughout as director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson rely on Quinn’s Bronx-y brashness like a crutch for exposition and clarity.
Like Harley’s voiceover, the movie itself never seems to shut up, refusing to downshift to different speeds or explore any of its characters beyond their archetypal surfaces. It just keeps zooming forward like a coked-out fever dream.
These five females are here to put the POW! in empowerment, and they certainly do through impressively choreographed fight sequences (of which there are no shortage), but it’s all as indulgent as the film’s full title (i.e. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), sticking to the failed edict that more is more as it rocks through its pop art delirium.
Violent, vulgar, and proud of it, Birds of Prey is nothing more than an R-rated glitter bomb. It certainly forges its own way in the glut of comic book movies, a polar-opposite of last fall’s Joker if also mimicking the loquacity of Deadpool but with more swagger.
Thankfully Yan chooses to rely on glitz instead of tits (her movie would be hypocritical if she didn’t), but one wishes that these Birds’ brains would’ve been as crucial to their agency as their brawn.