Standout Suicide Squad character Harley Quinn takes centre stage in this zany, female empowerment action flick, proving that often villains are as captivating as their heroic counterparts.
Even though Suicide Squad was by all accounts a highly flawed villains-take on The Avengers, there was one glittering jewel amongst all the sludge – and, to be fair, DC should be commended for thinking outside the box. The jewel in question is Harley Quinn, portrayed by Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie.
From the beginning, Birds of Prey is like a runaway freight train. Through the fragmented lens of our narrator, the narrative trajectory throws us around like a cat in a tumble dryer, as Harley struggles to deal with her breakup from the Joker. The humorous and frankly bonkers narration by Harley drives us through the first act, introducing us to her world as she is perilously thrown into danger once she announces she is no longer under the Joker’s protection. As the dark underbelly of Gotham emerges, Harley’s main enemy comes in the form of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a large crime lord whose lust for power knows no reach, and whose penchant for cutting off people’s faces is both horrifying and bizarre in equal measure.
The unusual narrative style somewhat conceals the lack of complex plot, as Harley bounces around to reveal the backstory of the new characters who we meet during the film. At particular points, we see moments occur that do not make sense, necessitating Harley going back and explaining, which is entirely in character for her lack of attention span.
The film is definitely held afloat by its stars. Robbie is simply electric as Harley Quinn, and clearly having the time of her life playing the zany and chaotic role. Supporting her is Jurnee Smollett-Bell, as Black Canary, a stoic and emotionally detached singer at Sionis’ club, who soon gets pulled into his inner circle when he promotes her to his driver, which puts her at odds with her own personal moral code. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as the supremely socially awkward and vengeful Huntress, while downtrodden police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) comes into her own once she becomes a vigilante. Joining them all together is the film’s MacGuffin, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who accidentally steals a vitally important diamond from Sionis. All of the ladies at the centre of the film bring a natural and authentic air to their roles, even when handling admittedly bizarre material.
Also captivating are the film’s villains – often an aspect that DC and Marvel films fall down on. While Sionis is still quite two-dimensional – we never quite get to grips with what his motivations are – he is lent new depths by Ewan McGregor, who simply devours every scene that he is in with his emotionally fragile and taut performance. The scenes with Sionis contained with in are incredibly uncomfortable, as the audience is continually unaware of what is going to happen next. The unpredictability makes him a frightening villain, even if he himself is somewhat unable to deal too much damage. Assisting him is his right-hand man Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who is also delightfully chaotic, though marginally less insane. While acting as Sionis’ assistant, Zsasz also behaves as somewhat of a caregiver to Sionis, especially when his emotions spiral out of control. It is this level of humanity that give what could have been completely unmemorable villains as highly compelling and enjoyable to watch.
Nicely complementing these stellar performances is the visual spectacle of the film. Gotham is given a smoky, neon sheen throughout the movie, and the visuals are consistently stunning. The third act action set, for example, is delightfully moody, shot in a fairground at nighttime. The costumes look fantastic on screen and the action sequences are acrobatic and realistic. The way that the action sequences are shot also helps with these sense, as few jump cuts are made, allowing us to appreciate the intricate choreography of the vigilantes. One particularly wonderful action sequence involves Harley Quinn storming a police station armed with a grenade launcher full of glitter bombs, creating a veritable feast for the senses.
Birds of Prey is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. Barely pausing to catch its breath, it bursts from action sequence to action sequence in the blink of an eye. While the central characters revel in the chaos, it is more of a shame that we don’t really have the adequate time to truly love the characters in the midst of the action. However, in a world of films that are too long, Birds of Prey leaves the audience wanting more, further cementing in the minds of the viewer the beguiling charisma of Harley Quinn.