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Review: 'Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)' (2020) Dir. Cathy Yan

Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco and Ewan McGregor


The DC universe expands with the return of Harley Quin and her new Birds Of Prey taking on Gotham City's underworld...

After her relationship with the Joker ends, criminal Harley Quinn (Robbie) adjusts to life in Gotham City. She encounters numerous colourful characters including nightclub singer Dinah Lance (Smollet-Bell) and crime lord Roman Sionis (McGregor).

Sionis is hunting for a diamond that will give him secret account numbers to unlock the fortunes of a deceased crime family. Lance, crossbow killer Huntress (Winstead), pick-pocket Cassandra (Basco) and GCPD Detective Renee Montoya (Perez) all have links to the diamond, and are a threat.

When Harley sees a chance to get protection from Sionis, she offers to find the diamond. But Harley discovers that those Sionis wants dead are ones who can offer her a new lease of life. It’s up to Harley which path she takes – one of meaningless revenge or one of worthwhile opportunity…

After the luke-warm reception of ‘Suicide Sqaud’ but soon over-shadowed by the greater successes of ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Joker’, DC is back with a sequel/spin-off allowing fan favourite Harley Quinn to develop her standing in Gotham City and introduce a new era of bad-ass female antiheroes; the Birds Of Prey. 

The infectious Margot Robbie owns her role in comparison to such others like Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man or Christopher Reeve as Superman, More akin to the true comic-book and cartoons she evolved from, here she giggles, gurns and gleefully smashes, crashes and sparkles her way through a 4th wall breaking film that is nothing but sheer entertainment.

Harley Quinn is brought to life more than ever and given much more chance to shine away from the Joker's shadow in 'Suicide Squad'.

Whether Harley is grinning emerging from blue and red smoke during an assault on a police station, roller-skating in front of, on top of and behind a speeding car or recreating ‘Lady And The Tramp’ with a pet hyena called Bruce, you’re going to find it hard to deny this is a quality slice of perfectly cast acted and well presented – if a little initially sloppy – DC material with Queen Quinn at the helm. Forget the darkness of ‘Joker’, the childhood fun of ‘Shazam!’ or the grand mess of ‘Justice League’, director Cathy Yan shows sisters can do it for themselves in a primarily man’s world when it comes to bringing comic book (anti)heroes to life.

A stellar cast of ladies fill the roster of characters not afraid to bend or break the law to their own advantage, but not without merit or clear motive. Some could benefit from more development and more of a glimpse into their backstory, but that’s not to say they aren’t individually entertaining and likeable. Smollet-Bell, Perez, Basco, Winstead and Robbie make up our titular birds, and all showcase huge talent in bringing their characters to life. There is an equal mix of pathos, heart and humour to them, especially Smollet-Bell’s singer Black Canary and Winstead as the vengeful Huntress; as dangerous on a motorbike as she is with a crossbow.

Matthew Libatique showcases some wonderful cinematography, fusing live-action with a hint of comic-book vibrancy. Colours burst from the screen as natural as ever, and when Harley lets loose with the glitter and smoke bombs at the GCPD, it could be something ripped right from the pages. A toe-tapping soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton and the excitement of what we see on screen is matched in perfect anarchic harmony thanks to one Chad Stahelski, director of the ‘John Wick’ franchise who choreographed the action sequences. And it shows.

With the action relentless when it takes off, you also have a frame filled with movement and stunt work, all playing out like violent ballet. In one standout fight between the Birds and a gang of thugs inside a funhouse, we see and hear everything, and even when we focus on one of the girls, two more and in the background kicking, punching and rolling. Stahelski lets us see everything without disorientating us, and he keeps it real with near no CGI enhancement and trickery.

It’s this blend of direction from Yan and the support of a talented crew that make this foul-mouthed, violent and fun journey to Gotham worth it. A strong cast bring new and old characters to life, none more so than Ewan McGregor having too much fun as the handsomely callous Sionis.

While the initial pacing stumbles, jumping back and forward a little too much in an overly complicated recap of multiple stories and timelines, it soon finds the way forward.

For whatever issues it has at the start, Robbie makes it entertaining and full of wicked humour with her perfect performance, proving she is really at the top of her game.

'Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn' is a DC Film production

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