Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Harley Quinn has been one of the most popular DC Comics anti-heroes of the last twenty years, and for good reason. She went from an abused spouse who served her partner thanks to years of mental abuse, gas lighting and Stockholm Syndrome, to someone who cast off the shadow of the Joker to carve out her own niche. Harley Quinn should be an easy adaptation but DC and Warner haven’t quite mastered it yet. After stealing the show in “Suicide Squad,” she steals the show again in “Birds of Prey” but still never quite comes out unscathed thanks to what is an imperfect and brutally flawed, albeit balls to the wall entertaining action movie.

Set after “Suicide Squad,” Harley Quinn had made her peace with being dumped by her partner the Joker. Now seeking to move on to her own life of crime, she’s now being sought out by Gotham’s criminal elite, all of whom want her dead now that she’s not under the Joker’s protection. Harley comes across another outcast, Cassandra who swallows a priceless diamond that is being sought after by crime boss The Black Skull. Now on the run with Cassandra, Harley decides to take her under the wing as they’re pursued by the Gotham underworld, and three especially angry female warriors known as Black Canary, Huntress, and ex-cop Renee Montoya.

“Birds of Prey” tries very hard to be the DCEU’s version of “Deadpool” and for the most part it works. It’s a fun, pulpy, ultra violent cartoon that pits its focus on Harley Quinn and her quest for redemption, and some sense of normality in her life. Sadly, it’s a quest she’s not sure she even wants, as she loves being a rotten criminal and doing whatever she can to piss off the authorities. While “Birds of Prey” didn’t exactly launch a new brand of the DCEU or take the world by storm, I had a great time with it warts and all. Nine times out of ten I was having a blast watching Harley Quinn wreak havoc, while screenwriter Christina Hodson composes a zany narrative that felt like a mix of “Pulp Fiction,” “Lone Wolf and Cub,” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”

Margot Robbie just seems to have a great time as Harley once again. This time she’s given more free room to approach the finer nuances of the character. “Birds of Prey” spends time exploring the more appealing and interesting ideas of Quinn and consistently paints her in shades of grey. When it comes to making the hard choices, or the rotten ones, she’ll opt for the latter, and Robbie wins us over to Quinn’s side every single time. Quinn is such a powerful character and this is accentuated by the excellent acrobatics, and marvelous choreography that’s put on stage. If anything what hinders “Birds of Prey” ultimately is that it tries to be both a Harley Quinn movie and a Birds of Prey origin movie about the team’s quest for vengeance.

Writer Hodson can never seem to make it work as the film ultimately feels like two halves of one film sewn together without much justification. In any consolation, the supporting cast is excellent with Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead giving bang up performances, as well as Jurnee-Smollet Bell as the equally tonally gray protagonist Black Canary. Ewan McGregor also chews the scenery as crime lord Black Mask. While “Birds of Prey” definitely sputters to the finish line with its disjointed pacing, it’s a damn good time with some dazzling fight scenes, dark humor, and a banner turn by Robbie.