'Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey' is a Glittery, Kaleidoscopic Break-Up Flick of Wacky Proportions

As it seems, breaking up is, in fact, hard to do — but it's also a hell of a lot of fun

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click to enlarge Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn - Claudette Barius/DC Comics
Claudette Barius/DC Comics
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

The recently-renamed Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey stars Margot Robbie as the titular chaotic, evil, egg-sandwich-loving, Brooklyn-accent-speaking, bat-wielding ex-psychiatrist. Only this time, she’s not sidelined as the Joker’s lover/partner-in-mayhem.

In fact, this sort-of sequel to DC’s Suicide Squad eschews the presence of Mr. J (played by Jared Leto) completely.  And she’s way better off without him. Recently emancipated from the abusive relationship that has — up to this point in film — defined her, Birds of Prey kicks off with a wise-cracking and brief animated sequence that gives viewers a recap of Quinn’s origin story, how her tumultuous relationship ended and what’s she up to now. A few standout details: She voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016, has a pet hyena named Bruce (yes, after that Bruce), picked up roller derby and (partially) chopped off her pigtails a la Jo March. 

Delirious, glitter-filled, vibrant and over-the-top, this narrated comic-book flick rides near the same lane as Deadpool and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If you crave a messy and wild romp, Birds of Prey — written by Christina Hodson and directed by Cathy Yan — fits the bill in kaleidoscopic-style. 

For the movie’s first half, Quinn is on the run from a host of people — from cops to villains to everyday folks she has wronged — who hope to exact their revenge on her now that she is without the Joker. That includes Roman “Black Mask” Sionis, played with smarmy, cartoonish delight by Ewan McGregor. A sadistic crime lord and club owner with a creepy fixation on masks — to the point of peeling his victim’s faces off — Sionis strikes a deal to spare Quinn’s life if she tracks down a diamond containing account numbers to the fortune of the Bertinelli crime family, who were massacred years prior. 

Here’s the hitch: An orphaned, pick-pocketing girl, Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), stole the rock and, well, swallowed it whole. Once Quinn locates her, the pair form a sisterly bond, albeit a weird one. Because Sionis plans to kill Quinn off anyway, he has sent every bounty hunter in Gotham on the same chase. 

It’s a bloodbath of epic proportions with sounds of cracked necks, split spines and gunshots ringing out at a quick-fire pace. The violence comes so rapidly that the film itself veers on nihilistic. But Quinn isn’t all on her lonesome. The movie ties in three other women, aka the “Birds of Prey”: Helena “Huntress” Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a badass all-black-wearing assassin hellbent on securing vengeance for her massacred family; Dinah “Black Canary” Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), an ex-employee of Sionis with a killer singing voice; and Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a cop on the case who keeps getting (wrongfully) passed up for a promotion. 

Squishing women together can come off as ham-fisting the concept of being a #GirlBoss. (Remember when Marvel inexplicably brought all the female heroes together during Endgame’s final fight scene?) That’s not so much the case here, where the unlikely group comes together out of a need for survival. Their ultimate weaving together is one of catharsis — these are all distinctly-rendered women who are claiming their own territory after having been defined in one way or another by higher-up men. 

It’s not perfect. And it isn’t necessarily a shining beacon of feminist glory. But it doesn’t try to be either. 

Dosed in satire, their quirky formation is simply a hell of a ride. The final scenes unleash wild, colorful havoc. Pink and blue smoke fill the air. Mid-punch, Quinn asks Black Canary if she wants a hair tie (#relatable.) There are glitter bombs and a car chase with Quinn on roller skates and Huntress on a motorcycle. Unlike the late-2000s Dark Knight movies and the recent Joaquin Phoenix-starring Joker, Gotham in Birds of Prey is not a wasteland of grey hues but rather a poppy, slicked-back and splashy (and still crime-ridden and corrupt) city. Refreshingly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. 

As Quinn, Robbie slips into the comic character with untamed, manic flair. Speculation aside on its box office performance, Birds of Prey is akin to attending a carnival: wacky, good ol' entertainment. Just sit back and let yourself sink into madness. As it seems, breaking up is, in fact, hard to do — but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. (Rated R) (In theaters) Grade: B

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