Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Harley Quinn: Birds Of Prey
Review Date: 2/16/20
Director: Cathy Yan
Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

It's been a long time coming, but after Margot Robbie stole the show in "Suicide Squad" (2016), DC was wise enough to give Harley Quinn her own movie. The challenge, of course, is how do you take a character like Harley, whose only super power seems to be the tenacious ability to thrive and survive on dumb luck alone, and create a captivating and coherent story for her? Another challenge is how to reconcile all of Harley's various incarnations and histories, which are all across the board. The film adheres most closely to Jimmy Palmiotti's "Rebirth" interpretation, who has ditched The Joker for good and makes a living doing who knows what. Unfortunately, the one benefit of dating Gotham City's most notoriously psychotic madman is that no one dared to touch her, and when news of their breakup gets out, every creep in town wants her dead - or worse. In true Harley style, a ridiculous set of circumstances surrounding a stolen diamond brings together Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) to take down a crazy and power-mad villain named Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).

Director Cathy Yan has fun with the material and the film crackles with kinetic energy, inspired lunacy, bright colors, and a raucous soundtrack. However, not everything works, and the all-too-real horrors of Sionis and the sadistic Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) bring the movie down and create an irreconcilable disconnect with the rest of the film. The film is at its best when it's kooky and irreverent, but its attempts to tread in "Deadpool" (2016) territory fall short because of Harley's innate vulnerability of being merely mortal. Additionally, the disjointed narrative reflects Harley's overactive scattered brain, which tends to disrupt the pacing and makes you question her reliability as a narrator. Still, a movie like this isn't meant to be taken overly seriously, and it wisely tries to focus its energies on girl power camaraderie and the outrageously fun action that dominates the film's second half. The action scenes are exciting and surprisingly hard-hitting, with Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (and their doubles) pulling off some very impressive stunt work.

Margot Robbie is, in a word, fantabulous. She's utterly brilliant and the amount of energy and dedication she brings to the project is nothing short of amazing. While it's fair to say that she carries the majority of the film, you can't discount the contributions of the strong supporting cast. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is wonderful as the sexy and seductive Black Canary, who's also surprisingly athletic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Huntress is delightfully unhinged, which gives Harley a run for her money in the crazy department. Her character could have gone too dark and serious and followed the Batman vigilante arc, but they instead decided to give her an endearing goofiness that fits in well with the rest of the disparate team dynamic. Apart from Ewan McGregor's toxic and unpleasant Roman Sionis, the only character I had issues with was Rosie Perez's Renee Montoya. Having mostly seen her in "Batman: The Animated Series," I'd always envisioned her as a young rookie beat cop, and not a veteran detective. Perez does a fine job with the role, but it was constantly at odds with my expectations. Overall, if you're looking for a fun and zany female empowerment film and can forgive some of the film's narrative foibles, "Birds Of Prey" is one hell of an enjoyable ride, and I'm looking forward to seeing what mayhem "Gotham City Sirens" is planning to offer.