Egg and bacon sandwiches, glitter bombs, hyena’s and mallets, it’s all here in “Birds Of Prey and The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn”. Much like “Suicide Squad”, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn steals the show and completely owns it, in a role she was born to play. While the first hour is a tremendous blast of fun, it looses steam once the “Birds Of Prey” show up. Everyone in the supporting cast are uninteresting and a complete bore, except for Margot Robbie and a brilliant villain turn by Ewan McGregor. It’s a visual feast, filled with screen popping sets and costumes, terrifically choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes in a slick, stylish and wickedly funny R rated crime comedy.
Australian actress Margot Robbie broke out into American audiences as a cast member on the short lived ABC tv series “Pan Am”, which ran for only fourteen episodes. Her big breakout didn’t happen until 2013 in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant comedy “The Wolf Of Wall Street”. Her appearance was jaw dropping to say the least and no surprise the world fell in love with Margot Robbie. Since then she has starred in more than thirteen films and has become America’s newest “IT” girl.
In 2016’s “Suicide Squad”, Margot got the role of a lifetime playing DC comics character Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, PhD (known best as Harley Quinn). An Arkham Asylum psychologist who falls in love with the clown prince of crime (known best as The Joker) and becomes his accomplice and on-again, off-again girlfriend. That was the last time we saw Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn on the big screen, she was stuck in the muck of the mess that was David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad”.
Both Jared Leto’s Joker and Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn was actually the primary reasons, the relatively tame “Suicide Squad” even worked. Margot Robbie is so good in the role of Harley Quinn, because she is Harley freaking Quinn! Robbie embodies the role much like Hugh Jackman did with Wolverine or Christopher Reeve as Superman. She is part of an elite group of actors who seriously could not have been more perfect for the roles. Robbie gets to prove that once again in director Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”.
Or as they should have just called it from the start “The Harley Quinn Movie”. Infact “Birds Of Prey” (and that ridiculously long title) opened to such abysmal numbers on it’s opening weekend, debuting to the worse numbers DC films has had since 2010’s “Jonah Hex”. With the terrible opening weekend Warner Bros is now changing the films title and all marketing to the less confusing “Harley Quinn: Birds Of Prey”. Not sure if changing the title this late into the game will do anything for the film, but at least they are finally being true to themselves and calling it what it is.
Whatever Warner Bros decides to call it, “Birds Of Prey” is a bone cracking visual feast, filled with screen popping sets and costumes, terrifically choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes in a slick, stylish and wickedly funny R-rated crime comedy. So that is the first hour…while the next forty minutes isn’t really all that different from “Suicide Squad”. It feels like it looses steam once the other “Birds Of Prey” show up, as I felt everyone in the supporting cast are uninteresting and a complete bore. Even though it’s still a better film and it’s certainly more colorful and a lot more fun with a strong female point of view.
“Birds Of Prey” begins when Harley has just been dumped by the Joker, whom she often refers to as “Mr. J” or “Puddin”. She is devastated, and so much so that she declares the news by blowing up Ace Chemicals, the place where she truly became Harley Quinn. Unfortunately for her, she has made a ton of enemies along the way as Joker’s gal. Now that they are no longer together, he isn’t there to protect her from a ton of folks who have past grievances that want her dead.
One such man is the slimy face removing nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), along with his psycho henchmen Victor (played by Chris Messina in a far out of his wheelhouse). In the middle of all of this is a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who manages to lift a very special diamond off of Victor. Knowing what Roman would do to Cass, Harley teams up with the young girl in an attempt to get the diamond herself. However, as Roman and his crew get more desperate, Harley and Cass seek the help of Gotham Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Roman’s nightclub “songbird” Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), and a mysterious woman in black known as “The Crossbow Killer”, or The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
There’s really not much of a plot here. It’s a everybody is in pursuit of a classic MacGuffin plot, in this case a diamond etched with the microscopic access code to a wealthy family’s entire, zillion-dollar fortune. The pursuit of that diamond is an excuse for us to meet a comic book universe of crazy characters.
Margot Robbie does the “Deadpool” approach, not so much in breaking the fourth wall sense, but through telling her origin story she uses a combo of narration and animation, starting off the official movie with her basically being thrown out on the street. She handles the break-up like any normal person would, a lot of tears, a new haircut, eating herself into a food coma, buying a pet hyena, y’know how those bad break-ups goes? Margot Robbie turns in a much richer and funnier and layered performance as Harley this time around. As it turns out once Harley was free of the controlling Mr. J, she got a lot more interesting, a lot more complex, and a lot more likable.
When it comes to the “Birds Of Prey” themselves, they bring the movie down a bit and found them uninteresting and boring. Even though it’s a treat to see Rosie Perez in a big movie again. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets to do some funny deadpan comedy as people constantly call her the wrong name or calls her crossbow a bow & arrow, to where she replies: “It’s not a bow and arrow! I’m not 12 years old!”. While the filmmakers focus on Harley, the film doesn’t fully allow for the supporting characters to get the chance to make as huge of an impression as they could have.
Aside from Margot Robbie, it’s Ewan McGregor who truly shines. Fresh off his leading role in Stephen Kings “Doctor Sleep”, he is clearly enjoying playing a baddie. His character Roman Sioris wears black eyeshadow, flashy ensemble outfits and has clearly seen John Travolta and Nicolas Cage’s “Face/Off” too many times as he will literally slice off an adversary’s face.
McGregor’s Roman Sioris is also introduced as the Black Mask, but he doesn’t actually become the Black Mask villain for another 75 minutes, and it’s never really understood why he wears a mask. Sioris is one of the best and most charismatic villains in either a Marvel or DC film. McGregor brings flamboyance, brutality, and a scoop full of insane charm to the role. Every single time he’s on screen you just can’t take your eyes off of him.
There are inside jokes, easter eggs and movie references aplenty. At one point, Harley sees a Wanted poster in the police station for a certain supervillain and says, “Hey I know that guy!”. She even names her pet hyena Bruce, after “That hunky Wayne guy”.
“Birds Of Prey” earns it’s R-rating as the violence is brutal, sadistic, and clashes well with the overall cartoonish tone. Although once again the song choices are spot on as action sequences are set to covers and/or originals of songs such as: “Black Betty”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and of course it wouldn’t be a female ensemble with out Heart’s “Barracuda”.
There are some brilliant sequences such as the “Terminator”-esque police station siege sequence with Harley Quinn fighting her way or shooting up a police station with a bean bag gun full of glitter. Even a chase sequence in which she tries desperately to save the one thing in life she still cares for…a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. I’ll tell you, that I was never craving food more in my life than I was at that moment for Harley’s egg sandwich. Not since Jon Faverau’s “Chef” or “Bradley Cooper’s “Burnt”, has food been filmed so beautifully like a moving artwork.
Writer Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee”) knows if you’re going to make a movie from Harley Quinn’s fractured personality, this is how you do it. While it doesn’t all come together perfectly, the gamble pays off and gives us a real fun two hour ride, with a killer first hour. Margot brings so much energy and charm to Harley, that it’s nearly impossible to resist her, the film and that killer egg sandwich.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)