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Review: ‘Birds of Prey’ knocks it out of the park (Includes first-hand account)

Portraying unique characters adapted from the page can be a difficult task. Consequently, even if the first attempt is only moderately good, it becomes the benchmark against which all others are compared. This is especially true for comic book personalities, where imaginations have produced distinct heroes and villains that also undergo a number of transformations over their lifetimes. But actors can have a lot of fun with these roles if they embrace the world and its rules… or lack thereof. In Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, everyone is set to have a good time.

The Joker and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) broke up — for real this time. However, as long as everyone in Gotham still thinks they’re together, she remains untouchable. But when word gets out they’re not together anymore, everyone Harley ever wronged comes out to get their pound of flesh. Unfortunately, her enemies include Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), local criminal leader and sadist, also known as Black Mask. Though they may be able to call a truce if Harley can survive long enough to recover a lost diamond for him. She’s got steep competition though since also in pursuit are Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a juvenile pickpocket.

While Suicide Squad was deemed somewhat of a disaster, there was general agreement that Robbie stole the show as the former-psychologist-turned-outrageous-criminal. Therefore, giving Harley her own vehicle was a bit of a no-brainer and another shot to redeem the DCU. However, rather than make “Daddy’s Lil’ Monster” the sole star, they opted to create a female narrative featuring several comic book characters that can potentially launch into their own spinoff. The only downside is very few characters have personalities big enough to share the spotlight with Harley Quinn — unless she lets them into her circle of light.

Once again hoping to utilize the girl power movement, the film portrays macho flexing and misogyny at every turn, and a group of women who won’t be pushed around anymore. However, written and directed by women — Christina Hodson and Cathy Yan, respectively — the depiction of these situations have a greater level sincerity over tokenism. The men in the film openly dislike women, especially those with power, and they demonstrate their distaste via lewd comments, blatant disrespect and violence. Canary is at Roman’s beck-and-call because she’s afraid of unleashing the woman-hater in him. No man is willing to believe the crossbow killer is a woman. Montoya is a joke at her precinct even though she’s the best crime solver in Gotham. Conversely, Harley is aware of her former subordination to Joker, but now she’s ready to be her own person. By the end, they each get the chance to prove they shouldn’t be underestimated since they’re more powerful than the men who kept them down.

With the film trying to tell all of these stories at once, the flow can feel a bit uneven at times. But these moments don’t last long or have a significant effect on the film. The action sequences are fast-paced and cringe-worthy as the women perform acrobatic kicks and utilize their environment to defeat their opponents. Moreover, they’re almost always fighting multiple assailants using weapons of convenience rather than guns or blades, which makes for some very creative bouts that aren’t always fatal. In addition, the almost all-female soundtrack infuses the film with energy that seems to invigorate the characters.

Harley Quinn isn’t exactly a role model anyone should look up to, but when DC’s version of Deadpool sets her mind to something, no one better get in her way. And if you’re still up for one last laugh, hang out until after the credits.

Director: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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