Harley, action shine in gleeful “Birds of Prey” movie

Courtesy+of+geekalerts.com

Courtesy of geekalerts.com

Alex Holmes

What else did you expect from a movie with the word ‘fantabulous’ in its title? “Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” is not a great film by any means, but it’s a fun, energetic, joyous, and, yes, fantabulous romp. The plot is more coherent and inventive than most superhero affairs, the villain less dull, and the action far superior. Simply put, “Birds of Prey” is a pretty great time.

The titular Quinn, played with equal parts ferocity and buoyancy by the talented Margot Robbie, carries most of the film on her shoulders. We pick up a little bit after the last movie she was featured in, 2017’s “Suicide Squad”. Though casual viewers, have no fear: there’s a clever animated sequence that opens the film to update us on her exploits, the most recent of which is her break-up with longtime psychopathic boyfriend The Joker.

From the title alone, we know exactly how her character arc is going to play out, yet that doesn’t rob it of any of its power. For a movie that features plenty of broken bones (thanks to an R rating), lots of silly antics, and a more-or-less evil heroine, Harley’s character is surprisingly heartfelt. She just got out of a toxic relationship, but she’s not entirely over him. It’s a classic set-up with defiantly unclassy characters. In fact, that’s pretty much the core story in the film. The rest of the drama comes from a lost diamond and a smattering of other potentially-great characters (Renee Montoya, Dinah Lance, and Helena Bertinelli) who are mostly sidelined in favor of Quinn. I’m not complaining.

Despite its barebones structure, or, more accurately, because of it, “Birds of Prey” doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ewan McGregor’s Very Villainous Roman Sionis, AKA ‘Black Mask’ has a practically nonexistent backstory (as Harley herself so eloquently points out: he’s not very ‘complex’), but that’s kind of the point. McGregor is so hilariously over-the-top that you don’t even care. He’s having a good time, and so are you. 

The best parts of the movie happen during sequences where you get the feeling that anything can happen. This is a movie that feels so loose, free, and rambunctious that you can’t help but get swept up in the colorful action, snappy freeze frames, and unrelenting performance by Robbie. Sequences that combine all three of those elements, like an early chase revolving around a breakfast sandwich, a sprinkler-soaked prison bash, and even the funhouse-set finale (an superhero finally that ISN’T exhausting!) prove themselves some of the most kinetic in all of DC’s catalogue, and even most of Marvel’s. Chad Stahelski, the stuntman behind the “John Wick” movies, was hired to direct many of the action scenes, so that’s a major reason they feel so smooth, creative, and well-constructed. 

As for the rest of the team behind the camera, it’s certainly a step in the right direction that a film whose central cast is composed of mostly women and that features more than one badass woman was written and directed by women. Christina Hodson penned the script, while Cathy Yan directed. This is by no means an exceptionally written and directed film, but it’s a lot more creative than most superhero blockbusters. It’s also much more cohesive and contained, with a refreshing finale that doesn’t center on the saving of the world, but the coming-together of five women. It’s miles better than its predecessor, “Suicide Squad”. 

While Yan and co. have room for improvement, “Birds of Prey” is truly a fun time at the movies: nothing more, and nothing less. And that’s all it’s trying to be.