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Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey - Review

Birds of Prey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

MARGOT Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the best thing to emerge from Suicide Squad and now emerges from the wreckage of that anti-superhero misfire, much like Deadpool survived X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with her own star vehicle.

The result is a brash, girl powered bruiser of a blockbuster that often feels as deranged, giddy and, well, f**ked up as Harley herself, yet equally as energetic, lively and violent to boot. It’s designed to strike a feminist blow, too, delivering a heady kick in the balls to male-dominated vehicles thanks to its female director and all-girl ensemble.

But while certainly fun and consistently eye-catching, Cathy Yan’s movie – based on a script from Christina Hodson (of Bumblebee fame) – often finds itself caught trying too hard or, worse, pandering to the kind of sexist clichés its supposed to be avoiding.

And part of the problem lies in the creative decision to have allowed its central group of women to have endured some kind of violent trauma or violation that set them on their course for revenge. As empowered as they become, their back stories make them victims (something the likes of Iron Man, Captain America or The Falcon never really had to endure).

The film’s violence, too, wraps up some pretty heinous acts in a comic book revelry, tapping into Deadpool territory yet sometimes leaving an unpleasant taste. The main villain’s penchant for face peeling, for instance, feels needlessly sadistic, while the film’s over-eagerness to threaten violence against both women and children is actually quite troubling if you have chance to actually stop and think about it.

And yet, there is also much to enjoy in the film, not least – once again – the central performance by Robbie, who clearly revels in the opportunity to wallow in Quinn’s own movie.

Hence, while the plot teases the creation of a girl troupe called Birds of Prey, this is first and foremost Quinn’s story, post-Joker split. Desperate to stand on her own and prove her doubters wrong, Quinn nevertheless finds herself a target for just about everyone she has ever wronged… including gangster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who has designs on controlling the whole of Gotham and owning everyone in it.

When Quinn is tasked with recovering a revered diamond from a child thief named Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), she is eventually forced to team up with singer Dinah (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), vigilante Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to save the lives of everyone involved.

The ensuing tale unfolds from the perspective of Quinn, who narrates with suitable glee, sometimes splitting the narrative to go back on herself and fill in any blanks. It’s a tricksy plot device, somewhat derivative of Deadpool, that actually masks a fairly straight-forward tale.

Birds of Prey

But then Yan – with a little help from John Wick director Chad Stahelski – is more interested in style than substance and floods the screen with outrageous action set pieces and cool soundtrack moments. It’s a film that gets increasingly high on its own excess, revelling in its female protagonists ability to deliver ball-busting takedowns to any male who gets in their way.

And if you’re prepared to go along for the ride, then you’ll probably have a good time. For there is something infectious in Harley Quinn’s edgy energy.

But be prepared to be a little disappointed too. For while Quinn rightfully steals the show, her dominance comes at the expense of the likes of Smollett-Bell and Winstead, the latter of whom boasts a Kill Bill-style backstory that should have warranted a little more screen-time. Instead, she feels like more of a punchline.

McGregor’s sadistic Sionis also fails to impress with the actor feeling mis-cast, leaving Chris Messina’s second-in-command to provide a more chilling and convincing nemesis.

Enter with all this in mind, therefore, and Birds of Prey is an uneven yet entertaining offering that still does enough to ensure that Quinn gets another chance to shine. The cinematic comic book world feels richer for having her anarchic spirit in it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 49mins
UK Release Date: February 7, 2020