After the lacklustre Suicide Squad, the unlikely possibility of a sequel practically prevented the DC Universe from expanding its characters outside of the Justice League. However, Warner Bros announced that it would be making a spin-off that focuses on Harley Quinn – the Joker’s on/off lover that has been propelled into the A-list of the comic book world. Four years later, Birds of Prey (and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was born.
The film follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fresh from her breakup with the Joker and revelling in her newfound independence – only to find that it has made her Gotham’s biggest target. In order to save herself from crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), she offers to ‘procure’ young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). When she realises his true motives, she ultimately joins forces with singer Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), vengeful assassin Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to protect her.
At the moment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the midst of setting itself up for a new saga and fans are calling for not only stronger female roles but also increased diversity in the genre so Birds of Prey comes at an opportune moment for comic book films. Its somewhat bold statement is reinforced with the hiring of Bumblebee screenwriter Christina Hodson and Cathy Yan, which makes her the first Asian female director to take on a superhero film. Altogether, the project sets the stage for DCEU’s answer to Captain Marvel.
When we first see Quinn, she is uncharacteristically lost without her ‘puddin’. After a cathartic act of vandalism, she quickly realises that her behaviour has consequences and without the Joker’s protection, she is seen as an easy target – an impression that she is quick to disprove. This highlights an underlying theme within the narrative to prove that women don’t need a man to survive, especially as the bad guys are mostly guys. This message of empowerment extends to the disheartened Montoya and even young Cain, whose light fingers inadvertently puts a price on her head. In addition, there is a lack of ego among the group so they are all quickly united and focused on taking down Sionis, whose narcasstic nature is exacerbated by his privileged background.
Where Justice League and Suicide Squad are inconsistent in tone, Birds of Prey asks ‘why so serious?’ and visually embraces the chaos caused by the newly emancipated Quinn through its fast pace and Han’s creative direction. Hodson also does a great job of developing each of the character’s individual quests for justice, while the male characters are left to rely on intimidation and their physicality to make a mark.
With a permanent smile on her face, Robbie ups her portrayal as Quinn to deliver a no-holds-barred performance. She and Perez easily dominate the film with their respective fights on both sides of the law, while the underused Smollett-Bell and Winstead respectively bring sass and badass-quirkiness to the table. One of the film’s biggest surprises comes from McGregor, whose mercurial performance as Sionis leaves you guessing whether he is actually a crime lord or just a spoilt child.
Overall, Birds of Prey further dispels the assumption that superhero/comic book films are “just for guys” as it offers fun and action with a serious message at its core. To those who (still) think that women can’t do superheroes, the joke’s on you.
Birds Of Prey is on general released in the UK from Friday the 7th of February.