My first thought after seeing Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey? There hasn’t been a more bloody, crazy or inventive action sequence set to ‘Black Betty’ since Ryan Reynolds used Home Depot tools to obliterate bad guys in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. After 2016’s Suicide Squad felt like it had that ‘almost’ factor that was viciously pruned by that pesky PG-13 rating it’s so refreshing and fun to see R rated DC comic book shenanigans launch across the screen.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is by now not only an iconic character but a force of nature in itself and a stampeding cultural talisman that could go in the collective time capsule to burst out like a confetti adorned jack in the box for future generations. After being dumped by The Joker, she sets out into Gotham City’s underworld to make a name for herself and blow up all kinds of shit along the way. Eventually her path crosses with that of east end crime boss Roman ‘Black Mask’ Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and sadistic mass murderer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who have their sights set on a diamond birthed from mob royalty that a sassy little pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) has gotten her hands on. Cue the involvement of hardcore GCPD Detective Renee Montoya, smoky voiced songstress Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and crossbow slangin’ vigilante Helena ‘Huntress’ Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
This works well mostly thanks to costume designer Erin Benach, the fight and stunt choreography, eclectic soundtrack, bubblegum gothic production design and a few key performances, namely McGregor and naturally Robbie. It isn’t the most, shall we say, densely plotted outing, but it doesn’t really need to be and the fun is in watching these badass chicks from various backgrounds and emotional states take down one of the sickest, most despicable villains in DC cinema lore. I’m used to a graver Sionis in the comics but McGregor turns this guy into a deadpan, nasty, angry pile of spoiled brat sadism and flamboyant, violent behaviour whether he’s brutally humiliating a poor female patron at his gaudy nightclub, peeling the faces of his victims like banana skins or prancing around in all manner or fancy suits like a loony toon. Robbie gets to go full tilt bonkers as Quinn and once again the R rated material just helps this vision along so nicely, I really hope we’re passed this tiresome thing of limiting comic book films to PG-13 and capping off the chaos just short of actual gritty, crowd pleasing mayhem. Snyder almost managed it in his director’s cut of Batman Vs. Superman, David Ayer came so close before being shit down hard and robbed of final cut on Suicide Squad (which I still love no matter what) but Yan has somehow gotten the green light here and makes the most of it. There are a ton of beautifully designed, bone n’ blood filled fight sequences including Harley’s epic one woman siege on a GCPD precinct complete with glitter guns and mass bodily harm inflicted by the beloved hammer, a rip snortin’ motorbike roller derby rolls royce chase and a crazy awesome climax set in Gotham’s super spooky Amusement Mile that looks like Coney Island’s worst nightmare. Interestingly the one performance that’s most down to earth is Bell as Canary, who is still a badass but feels the most human, the most weary and irked in the presence of evil, she really grounds the whole thing just the right amount it needs, which isn’t much but a welcome touch. I’m pumped to see what comes next for Robbie’s Harley and this deliriously colourful, creatively inspired vision of Gotham and its worst.