Movie review: Birds Of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
There are memes going around that refer to things as “chaotic good”.
In a similar vein, Birds Of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is “chaotic great”.
That title is well suited to the "extra " nature of the film.
It looked like it wouldn’t be, despite my hopes that it would hit big.
A press screening-cum-premiere just one day before general release is rarely a good sign.
But this takes a grafittied, glitter-encrusted baseball bat, swings at the superhero movie conventions and hits a home run – but not before taking a few teeth of the doubters with it.
It was clear that something was different from the off.
The first images showed that star Margot Robbie had kept the mad styling of Harley Quinn, yet, refreshingly, had not taken the simple cash grab option of returning in glittery, cheek-exposing hotpants that enticed so many to the severely poor Suicide Squad of 2016.
Since then, Robbie has been nominated for an Oscar, gained clout and assembled a spin-off for the DC Comics favourite that runs by its own – well, Robbie's – rules.
True to the character of Harley Quinn withut pandering to cheap tittilation.
Even as an NC16 movie, Birds Of Prey packs an unexpected punch. Of course there are the profanity-bombs, but then there’s the violence.
Early on, we see Harley divebomb a thug’s legs while he has his feet up. The visual snap will make you wince. One wince of many.
It becomes very apparent that director Cathy Yan is not a fan of choppy editing many directors use to disguise the lack of choreography. She has come at this with a very definite vision.
Action-wise, it's taking a leaf from breakout hits like the John Wick franchise and Indonesia’s The Raid films, the action happens before your eyes and the seams between Robbie and her stunt double are flawless.
At last, Harley Quinn looks dangerous. As she single-handedly takes out adversaries, this is the version missing from Suicide Squad. More than eye-candy. More than just the other half of Jared Leto's Lollapalooza Joker.
The camera is there and does not flinch. Every spectacular crack, smack and whack combo happens right before your eyes in the frame.
During the extraordinary fights and stunts, the camera barely looks away or shifts angle, giving everything more impact and delivering the best action seen in a superhero film for a long time.
The John Wick connection becomes more obvious with the knowledge that Yan consulted with John Wick director Chad Stahelski to bring real crunch to proceedings.
This action mixed with the bold (of course) colours invokes memories of the 1960s Batman TV show – albeit gorier.
It must have been a coin toss whether to over graphics of BAM! and WHAAAM! over the top of the violence.
And this is the most fun in a superhero-related film that’s been had.
Certainly in a DC film, which has only just recently given up its mantra of “grim and gritty”.
But even fans of Aquaman and Shazam! would have to admit that they followed a familar, plot hole-laden formula.
Birds Of Prey feels fresh while not totally jettisoning its roots. The colours are brash, and each character gets a title card.
The story is quite simple – even if it plays with chronology.
Harley Quinn soon finds out that the protection she had as the Joker’s mischievous girlfriend shielded her from a lot of angry people. So most of the Gotham underworld is after her and determined to ruin her egg sandwich.
At the same time, a diamond linked to a fortune is being chased after, bringing her into contact with bitter cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), teen pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Outside of Robbie – this is of course Harley Quinn’s film from top to toe – the other actresses still make their mark to the extent that more from them would not have gone amiss.
All of the characters are chased by aggreived louche nightclub villain Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).
He wants to be Gotham’s big crime boss and McGregor is obviously having fun in the role – even though the cartoonish nastiness tips in very disturbing scene.
But there’s plenty to take away that bitter taste.
The only downside is that if Tank Girl truly is Robbie’s next project, this incarnation owes so much to Jamie Hewlett’s character that it may well be seen as a reprise of Harley Quinn. But that's a problem for another day.
Birds Of Prey is a huge, neon-tinged, nihilistic pack of fun – for those of the right age.
Those films about boys in capes could learn a lot from this.