Birds of Prey movie review: A sprightly superhero film

Shalini Langer
birds of prey movie review

Birds of Prey movie review: Writer Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan do very well to keep it surprisingly simple and yet sprightly.

Birds of Prey movie cast: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnie Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Bosco
Birds of Prey movie director: Cathy Yan
Birds of Prey movie rating: 3.5 stars

A PhD in hot pants. That precisely sums up Birds of Prey, a gush of fresh, exuberant, unweighted air after Joker, whose newly dumped ex, Harley Quinn, has her own ‘coming out’ here. The film’s title goes on to add, in brackets, that it is about ‘The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’. But, it is not just emancipation, it is emancipation on her own terms. And you would be wrong making any kind of assumptions about that.

The wonderful Robbie reprises her role as Quinn from Suicide Squad, in as many candy colours and riots of pinks and greens. Joker, never seen but almost too frequently invoked, has broken up with her, for the final time, and she decides to venture out on her own. The problem is that means half of Gotham with grievances against her is after her. That includes Roman Sionis (a delectable McGregor) who fashions himself as the new Gotham Godfather. There is a diamond, the key to a fortune, an angry heiress, a singer with a killer voice, and a child pickpocket who finds herself caught up in all this.

Writer Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan do very well to keep it surprisingly simple and sprightly. In a rip-off from Kill Bill, the various characters are introduced with subtitles, including what they may hold against Quinn.

As the women mentioned above (played with panache and effortless cool by almost all, but especially Winstead) eventually hang together, almost all of their actions subvert not just the men who have done all this before — which it does — but also the world that these men inhabit. The one where diamonds hide codes in their atomic structures, where men go with sidekicks to shootouts, where men have other men looking after them, where men surround themselves with masks, and where men live in giant empty homes, surrounded with “their things”.

When the women get into those shoes — and much prettier ones too — they don’t fit any stereotypes. They operate alone, they can “find time for a shoe change in the middle of a fight” (noticed only by a fellow woman fighter), they carry around spare hair ties, they ask around for ‘who has the kid’, they kick ass in tight leather pants, they wear bullet proof vests which accommodate the fact that they, well, have breasts, and when they come home, they relax with feel-good food and cartoons on TV.

Robbie, who stuns with how she can go from mania to tragedy in the blink of an eye, doesn’t really need the help of all that colour and wide-lipped grin to get your attention. We can leave that to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker.

However, the film lowers the manic energy as the other characters move in, establishing an easy chemistry, and allowing them real space despite the sheer power of Robbie. They are the birds of prey, long dismissed as “little birds” by the men around them.

In a scene, Quinn also lets it drop that one of the grudges Soinis holds against her is that she voted Bernie. Would the real Quinn, in the fictional Gotham, do that? Maybe even Bernie Sanders, the surprise front-runner in this inexplicable US presidential election, won’t be able to clearly answer that one — either way. Or, is it that only in a mad world like the one Quinn inhabits, where she uses her PhD in psychology for some pop analysis, and where the unhinged logic of Joker could be seen as a cry for socialism, that a Sanders could be future President and Donald Trump a serving one? Birds of Prey may indeed be more intelligent than it seems.