Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Cathy Yan
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Rating: 15
Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor, Steven Williams, Dana Lee, François Chau

Despite being a financial success and an Oscar winner, 2016's Suicide Squad isn't fondly remembered, by and large. At the very least, audiences can agree that Margot Robbie was the best part, to the point she's been given her own starring feature. Thank goodness those in charge saw fit to do so, as Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn is a fitting vehicle for the talented actress, and a great showcase for the characters potential.

After splitting up with The Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) finds herself at a new stage of her life, unsure of who she is outside of her ex. When mobster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) puts a target out on young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Harley sets out to take down the crime lord, teaming up with the vengeance seeking Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), lounge singer Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).

While the title is primarily focused on the group, there's a reason for the extra long subtitle which was added on. This is mainly Harley Quinn's story, centred around her change of circumstances, and a determination not to be defined by the man she's long been synonymous with. She never makes any excuses for her actions, breaking bones and murdering, refusing to play by the rules set out by more heroic characters. Whatever the story requires, be it moments of emotional vulnerability, adoring her pet hyena named Bruce, or Looney Tunes style slapstick, Margot Robbie perfectly captures it with a live wire performance. She's having a blast in the role, and because it's so infectious, so are we.

Harley also serves as narrator to the story, telling it in her own distinctive way (although, comparisons to Deadpool are certainly arriving). She takes a scattershot approach to this, and while it's part of the fun, it can also feel like a lacklustre excuse for early bouts of messiness. Christina Hodson's script has the timeline initially bouncing back and forth, which feels needlessly convoluted, and unfortunately leads to messy introductions for the remaining characters.

It isn't until the third act when we see the eponymous gang join forces, which is a shame, as each moment they share together is a joy to behold. Even with the shortest moments of shared screen-time, these differing characters bounce off one-another so very well, and we're left to treasure each moment they spend in each others company. It especially helps how each characters feels vital to the story, in their own way, and comes alive in the most exceptional of ways.

From Kindergarten Cop to Deadpool 2, a tried and tested film device is to have a tough character bond with a young kid who needs their help, and by jove, it certainly works here. After stealing a valuable diamond, Cassandra Cain has a contract placed upon her head, and Harley takes it upon herself to protect her from danger. Ella Jay Basco wonderfully captures how appropriately shocked she is to be in such a scenario, while admiring her new protector.

It's wonderful to see Rosie Perez return to mainstream films, as she portrays detective Renee Montoya. Building a case against Roman Sionis, she's driven to see the brutal crime-lord taken down, while seeing her colleague taking credit for her accomplishments. Her paths cross with Dinah Lance, a club singer for Roman who tries to stay disconnected from the rest of the world, but finds her heart too big to stay that way. Possibly the highlight of the cast, Jurnee Smollett-Bell is so electric in the role, and has a great set of pipes to boot. Last but not least, Mary Elizabeth Winstead portrays Huntress, a crossbow wielder on a mission of revenge. She sadly gets the least screen-time of the group, but makes every moment on-screen count. The character takes her vigilante role so seriously, to the point she stealthily becomes the source of comedy gold.

On the antagonistic side of things, Chris Messina lingers in the mind as serial killer, and henchman, Victor Zsasz. Acting with a clear relish for every kill he commits, and happily stirring the pot whenever he can, your skin crawls whenever he appears on-screen. His boss, Roman Sionis, is an entitled narcissist who grew up a rich kid, and positioned himself as a brutal mob boss in Gotham City. It's fun to see him fly off the handle, but despite Ewan McGregor's best efforts, he unfortunately lacks menace.

While this may not be her feature debut, it's the first film released by director Cathy Yan. Despite premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, Dead Pigs has yet to be released, but on the basis of this, I eagerly await that films eventual release. Yan has a wonderful directorial style, as scenes roar with life among the candy coloured aesthetic. She isn't afraid to let scenes linger, allowing for action sequences to play out, as opposed to needlessly cutting away, while making these scenes her own. Be it Harley getting a boost from an accidental narcotic intake, a funfair setting which makes the most of its surroundings, or a fight to preserve an egg sandwich, Yan's personality shines through what could've been cookie cutter action scenes. But at it's core, this is a film about not being defined by who you're in a relationship with, which is a message deserving to be depicted more often, and serves as wonderful counter-programming for typical Valentines Day fodder.