‘Birds of Prey’ review: Harley Quinn ditches the Joker in DC’s most violent comic book movie yet

Bloody brawls, gory action and brutal fist fights – who needs Mr J?

What do you do when you’re going through a break-up? Flop down on the couch with a tub of ice cream the size of your head and squirt Easy Cheese straight from the canister into your mouth? Chop off your hair with a pair of kitchen scissors in an act of emotional defiance? Go and get ridiculously drunk then have a meltdown in the middle of a bar? Harley Quinn does all of the above, but as you might expect from someone who owns a pet hyaena, she also goes much, much further. Like crashing a stolen lorry into Ace Chemicals – the chemical factory with much significance to her past relationship with a certain mad clown – and setting off a rainbow of colourful explosions across Gotham’s skyline.

Margot Robbie’s energetic anti-heroine is getting over The Joker, or Mr J as she still semi-affectionately calls him. She’s angry and feeling rejected – a destructive combination for any newly single person, let alone someone who’s used to running riot around the city with the fearsome reputation of her ex to protect her. But, as Harley Quinn soon discovers, now she’s freshly liberated from that green-haired villain, the local lowlifes have absolutely no problem with coming to exact revenge upon her.

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Her biggest problem comes in the form of eccentric mobster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and his switchblade-happy right hand man Victor Zsasz (an almost unrecognisable Chris Messina). When they finally catch up with her, they deliver an ultimatum – get back the diamond that was stolen from Zsasz or face the consequences. It seems simple enough – 12-year-old pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) swiped the gem and is currently in a cell at Gotham Police Department. But Sionis wants reassurance that he’ll be reunited with his missing valuables and lets every terrifying baddie in the city’s underbelly know they’ll receive a handsome reward if they get them back together.

Birds of Prey review
Ewan McGregor plays villain Roman SIonis in ‘Birds of Prey’. Credit: Warner Bros.

And so a simple task becomes altogether more difficult as Sionis’ actions cue up the battle scenes for the rest of the film. Harley and Cassandra join forces, the young thief taking on an assistant’s role while the former psychologist kicks ass, handing her a lighter here and tossing explosives at a car tailing them there. It’s a foreshadowing of the crew Harley forms – the ‘Birds Of Prey’ – along the way, including club singer and Sionis’ driver with a conscious Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), grudge-driven crossbow ace Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and brilliant cop who is constantly overlooked in favour of her male colleagues Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). They’re a bunch of personalities you wouldn’t naturally put together but, with Cassandra’s fate in their hands, their unlikely alliance is quickly cemented.

Female empowerment is a big moneymaker in pop culture right now so a Harley Quinn spin-off was inevitable really. But Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) doesn’t feel like a cheap, hollow bid to rake in some of those bucks. Robbie herself serves as one of the film’s producers, and it’s shot through with subtle feminist messages as our unpredictable lead experiences her own awakening.

Birds of Prey review
Harley Quinn sets out on her own at the start of ‘Birds of Prey’. Credit: Warner Bros.

“Do you know what a harlequin is?” She asks Dinah the night they first meet at Sionis’ club, the Black Mask. “A harlequin’s role is to serve. It’s nothing without a master. And no one gives two shits who we are beyond that.” By the end, though, she’s embraced her own power and lost that residual need for a man. “I’m the one they should be scared of – not you, not Mr J,” she yells, gun ready to blast mobsters’ bodies. “Because I’m Harley frickin’ Quinn!”

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Birds Of Prey might not be DC’s first female-led comic book movie, but it certainly is its goriest and most violent. If bloody brawls and faces being sliced off on camera are good enough for the boys, they’re most definitely good enough for the women too. Most of all, Birds Of Prey is riotous fun, peppered with moments of warmth and light amidst the brutality, and a breakneck race for survival with some of Gotham’s most badass broads.

Details

  • Director: Cathy Yan
  • Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor
  • Release date: 7 February 2020
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