Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020)

“It was time for Gotham to meet the new Harley Quinn.”

Ever the true New Yorker (or, in this comic inspired setting, the quintessential Gothamite), Harley Quinn (a dynamite Margot Robbie) just wants to ease her hangover with her favorite bodega’s greasy bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. But after recently splitting from The Joker and no longer under his protection, she now has half the city seeing red, the streets full of goons out for her head. That’s the basic foundation of Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (now the title after the superfluous original was scrapped following slightly disappointing opening weekend numbers) and the movie extrapolates on that setup with spirited, creative, sheer madness. What an intentional funhouse of a film.

Birds of Prey of is a whole lot of movie, full of so much backstory and history, and because of Harley’s chaotic nature the picture never takes obvious directions. Alleyways seem to be its preferred route. Quite fitting given the seedy backdrop and sleazy characters, especially crime boss Roman Sionis (a delightfully deranged Ewan McGregor), with whom Harley cuts a deal to save her neck. She must track down and deliver a rare diamond to Sionis, but the problem is that it’s in the possession of a person who’ll challenge Harley’s batty brain and Grinch sized heart to do some growing.

Christina Hodson’s script does derail here and there, yet it seems to do so knowingly, like a train switching tracks at the very last second time and time again. And that’s helped by the confidence shown from director Cathy Yan in her first – and certainly not last – bid budget feature. Take one sequence in particular. Harley infiltrates a jail with her riot control gun shooting bags full of colored smoke and confetti, searching for young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who has the diamond. The sprinkler system goes off, the cells are unlocked, madness ensues and – at one point, quite literally – the action gets coked out of its mind. It’s like Flashdance‘s famous montage and waterfall moment infused with fisticuffs, leg kicks, and the remarkably original stunt coordination featured throughout. That the title track to that iconic moment is “Maniac” can only be described as a chef’s kiss in the context of this film.

Not only does Birds of Prey have a wicked sense of humor, it’s also a vibrantly entertaining action film with a surprising level of heart on display during a final act that deftly balances all three. That’s where we see these unique birds come together as a murder of crows. The trained assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) shocks with the violence she unleashes with her crossbow. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a belittled detective with a badass attitude, shoots and beats her opponents with a nightstick. Dinah Lance becomes Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell in a true action star turn), whose kicks and punches do damage before unleashing a voice that can literally kill. They’re are a ragtag bunch of powerful, diverse women who team up to battle the patriarchy, and I seriously hope they get the deserved greenlight for a sequel. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey easily ranks among the best and brightest of the DCEU thus far.

“I’m building something special.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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