Released: 6th February
Seen: 8th February
The 2016 Suicide Squad movie is the definition of a mixed bag. It’s currently the 4th highest-earning film in the DCEU (or whatever the hell we’re calling the batch of DC films since Man of Steel) making almost $750million worldwide which is pretty impressive… it also has a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes right now and is getting a ‘sequel’ next year that will only be bringing back 4 of the actors and has the title THE Suicide Squad which, to me, sounds like they’re masking a reboot under the cover of a sequel. One of the few things that everyone could agree on about the original Suicide Squad movie was that Margot Robbie is an absolutely amazing Harley Quinn and should probably have her own movie. The catch is, Harley Quinn is just a little too insane to be trusted to finish a story on her own and maybe she should have a little bit of backup.
I’m only typing this full title once. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is, in reality, mostly a Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) movie. Picking up shortly after a breakup with the Joker AKA Mr J, we follow Harley slowly learning that without the protection that she got for being Joker’s girlfriend she actually has a lot of enemies who would very much like to stab her in all the soft squishy places. She goes on the run and ends up being captured by the town’s biggest criminal Roman Sionis AKA Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) who only lets her go when she makes him a promise to find a special diamond of his that went missing, or more accurately was stolen by a little pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). While all this is going on, a vigilante named Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is trying to cut through a long list of people who have wronged her in her past, a police officer named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is working to build a case against Sionis and a lounge singer called Dinah Lance AKA Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) might be turning against Sionis. Did you catch all that? It’s OK if you didn’t because, at the end of the day, the movie is so fun that I don’t exactly care about the plot.
The first act of this film is all Harley Quinn and if you wanted a showcase of why Margot Robbie is one of the most incredible actresses we have today then the first act of this film is exactly that. She is a pure delight, delivering wonderful narration, great physical comedy and just destroying that fourth wall every chance she gets. It’s basically a one-woman show with a couple of extras as props and it’s so much fun. She fills the audience in on what’s happened since the last time we saw her, buys a pet hyena, eats cheese out of a spray can, the kind of things one typically does when a brutal sociopath with a penchant for Hot Topic breaks up with you for no reason (Seriously, having an entire Harley Quinn film without the Hot Topic joker is kind of awesome) and every single moment she has is incredibly delivered. She manages to hold the audience’s attention long enough that you will soon be going “Wait, wasn’t there meant to be some preying birds in this thing?”.
If you’re a big Birds of Prey fan and are expecting them to appear in this movie fully formed as you know them from the comics then I have some sad news for you. The Birds of Prey are secondary characters and this is more of an origin story, effectively introducing them to a wider audience so when we eventually have the inevitable second Birds of Prey movie where it’s all about them and them alone, we’ll know them better and they can work on getting the visual outfits the comic book fans know and love. Each of these side characters is a lot of fun, each one just a little different so the audiences can cling to a different one. Are you into badass women with a motorbike and a crossbow? We got one of them. How about a singer who can kick ass with some awesome cool hair? Yep, we have one of those two. I’m kind of partial to the canonically lesbian police officer who walks around in an “I shaved my balls for this” shirt but there is absolutely someone there for pretty much everyone to enjoy.
What’s also incredibly enjoyable is the visuals, the film is about as queer coded as you could imagine and this includes the abundance of bisexual lighting and smoke effects that seem to keep matching that same colour pallette. It’s a glorious candy-coloured confection of a film that throws around bright colours and flashy visuals that give the film a fun unique feeling that just works for it, even when it’s touching on the heavier issues like dealing with the actual issues with the Joker/Harley relationship (cos, yeah, that’s one hell of an abusive relationship and this film pretty much calls that out explicitly over and over again). That colourful visual style allows the action set pieces to shine, allowing the audience to actually see everything that’s going on because the action easily contrasts with the bright backgrounds, this is particularly notable in the big climactic end fight or in the evidence room battle where Harley Quinn gets a boost from the powers of cocaine (because, really, the best fight scenes at some point involve copious amounts of cocaine). It’s got a “Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” vibe to the visuals, except in the case of this film most of the stuff it’s throwing sticks pretty well and makes for a fairly fun time.
When I say the film’s throwing things at the wall, I mean it throws everything. Gloriously random cutaways to Marilyn Monroe-esque musical numbers, a hyena named Bruce, face peeling, a glitter shotgun, everything. They really embrace the madcap over the top comic book aesthetic and just accept that we can do pretty much anything we want because it’s a comic book movie about a crazy woman and her gal pals fighting a crime lord who cuts off faces for sport. It had fun with what it’s doing, even while handling a lot of heavy topics. This film is about female empowerment and forging unlikely friendships and it leans into that wonderfully while never forgetting that the main character is still a villain. While you’re asked to empathise with her, you’re never asked to pretend she’s totally in the right… there just happens to be a really extra bad guy on the other side so we side with her because she’s bad in a fun way. Plus, she has a glitter gun and a gun that shoots out bisexual-coloured smoke, how the hell am I not meant to want to side with her?
Birds of Prey is still one hell of a ride. Brightly coloured mayhem that takes the audience on a rollercoaster that manages to keep a lot of balls in the air and rarely lets you see how hard it actually is to pull this off. Most of the charm of this film comes from the genuinely incredible lead performance but everyone here is just killing it. It’s a really good time, proof that DC finally has everything back on track and I’m excited to see just where this all ends up going.