Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020): ‘Another Solid Addition To The DCEU’

by | 7 Feb 2020

Photo: Claudette Barius / Warner Bros. © 2020

When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Black Mask, puts a target on a young girl. Harley Quinn teams up with Huntress, Black Canary and Detective Renee Montoya to stop him.

Amongst the DCEU’s earlier films was 2016’s Suicide Squad. Back when they were trying to emulate the MCU and have all their films interconnected, it was a very messy experience. The studio just wouldn’t let it stand on its own. Feeling like they were using it to setup various other movies, it resulted in an incoherent story which didn’t always make a lot of sense. However, it wasn’t all bad, and one of the film’s few redeeming qualities was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Bringing a lot of fun, she was one of the elements that made Suicide Squad watchable.

Recently, the DCEU seems to have found their groove with a string of successes. Instalments like Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018) and Shazam! (2019) have shown a shift in focus. Producing stand-alone movies instead of a giant narratively connected franchise. Now, with this newer and seemingly better model, they’re bringing back Robbie as Harley Quinn and giving her own movie, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020)

*This is an external link to IMDB and will open in a new tab.

Set after the events of Suicide Squad, the story follows Harley after a disastrous break-up from the Joker. Without his protection, she becomes a target for all the people she’s wronged or conned over the years. This includes crime boss Roman Sionis, aka, Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Outnumbered and outgunned, she forms an unlikely alliance with three other ostracized women. Assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), super-powered Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and the underappreciated Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). They must now learn to work together to battle Sionis and also protect street orphan Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco).

As a spin-off, this is definitely a vast improvement when compared to Suicide Squad. Relatively new director Cathy Yan injects loads of energy into this movie. Never a static moment, there’s always something going on with plenty of fun to be had. What’s more, Yan knows what kind of film this is. Unlike its predecessor, there’s no conflict of tone or identity confusion. No attempt to be dark and gritty, as well as entertainingly comedic at the same time. Clearly placed in the latter category, its chief aim is to entertain and give audiences a good time.

‘That’s not to say the story is completely devoid of depth.’

The stakes are kept very small, and refreshingly, there’s no world ending catastrophe driving the whole narrative. More personal, it’s main interest is in exploring Harley’s journey of self-discovery. Her trying to regain some kind of independent identity outside of her toxic relationship with the Joker. It’s that rare comic book movie from a female perspective. And it doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of what it can be like for a woman living in a male dominated world.

Yan is able to show the brutality of this world by having permission to go fully R-rated. Funny and entertaining as it is, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is a bloody and violent experience. Bones are broken, families massacred, and everyone freely curses to their hearts content. This is definitely not family friendly, but neither should it be. It works because Yan is allowed the freedom to let this film be what it needs to be.

‘Consequently, when it comes to the action, all that brutal violence doesn’t have to be hidden with choppy editing.’

The choreography is brilliantly executed, and we actually witness the graphic results of every blow. On top of that, apart from Black Canary’s low-key superpower, there’s no god-like abilities on display here. Mostly down to the fighting skills of each main character, there’s no overuse of CGI or special effects. Despite the heightened world, it keeps all the carnage grounded and not just a blinding laser show. Furthermore, the set pieces come thick and fast, with rarely a dull moment in sight.

Although technically a team-up movie, this is obviously Harley’s story, and Robbie steals every scene she’s in. Undeniably having a lot of fun, the passion she brings is infectious. By adding more complexity to her character, Robbie is also able to show a depth that was lacking in her previous incarnation. She also brings out Harley’s maternal side by pairing her with Cassandra for a lot of the runtime. having a great chemistry, it shows a softer side to Harley while never undermining her unpredictable insanity.

External Links

  • Directed by: Cathy Yan*.
  • Cinematography: Matthew Libatique.
  • Film Editing: Evan Schiff. Jay Cassidy.
  • Music: Daniel Pemberton.
  • Written by: Christina Hodson.

*This external link to IMDB will open in a new window.

Due to that emphasis on Harley, the rest of the female cast aren’t served as well. Smollett-Bell and Winstead are good but feel thumbed in. They’re both given flimsy and clichéd backstories and exist purely so they can eventually join forces with Harley. Same goes for Perez’s Detective Montoya, who is literally described as a cheesy cop from an Eighties TV show. McGregor looks like his relishing playing the narcissistic and unhinged Sionis. But he’s written solely as a plot device to propel the protagonist on her journey.

‘Regardless of these character flaws, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is a commendable movie.’

Driven by a great sense of fun and Robbie’s performance, it’s a great way of reintroducing her back into this world. Combined with strong female characters, excellently grounded action and a solid stand-alone story, it’s another worthy addition to the DCEU.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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