Harley Quinn and Joker are over, Harley announces to Gotham City with all the subtlety of an exploding chemicals factory into which one rams a stolen truck. The place where Harleen Quinzel had pledged herself to the Clown Prince of Crime, the Jester of Genocide, her darlin’ Puddin’, goes up in multicoloured flames behind her, as she picks herself up and dusts herself off.
And just like that, she has let everyone know that Harley Quinn is no longer under Joker’s protection – leading every man, woman, gang member and cop with a grievance to come out of the woodwork to claim their pound of flesh. Among them is crime boss Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask, or a phenomenal Ewan McGregor) who’s also dealing with a problem of his own in the shape of a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who unknowingly robbed him of a very valuable diamond.
Rather than having her face sliced off by Sionis’ right-hand, Zsasz (Chris Messina), Harley kindly offers to retrieve the stone for him. To make things a little more exciting though, Sionis places a $500,000 bounty on the young girl’s head, sending Gotham’s every mercenary, criminal and bounty hunter on Harley’s trail. It’s amidst this fantastic mess, Harley Quinn, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montoya’s (Rosie Perez) paths collide and the newly-formed girl gang have little choice but to team up and defeat Black Mask and save Cass.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is as anarchic, poppy, and utterly joyful as its name and plot suggest - and then some! It’s exactly what every comic book movie ought to be: gratuitous violence, rib-cracking humour, and iconic characters going full-throttle, neatly wrapped into a stylish and impossibly colourful package.
Everything about this film, from its raucous soundtrack to its exhilarating action sequences – including some of the best fight scenes in years, courtesy of John Wick’s stunt and fight coordinators, Jonathan Eusebio and Jon Valera – is infectiously fun, imparting its audience with a very potent contact high. And sure, the film has some slight pacing issues towards the middle, and some of the characters may be teetering on the side of flat, but who the hell cares when they’re having this much fun? Forget Bombshell or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, this is the role Margot Robbie deserves an Oscar for.
Birds of Prey could easily have coasted on its entertainment factor alone and come out unscathed, yet Christina Hodson’s screenplay also lends the story real heart, exploring Harley Quinn’s attempt to find meaning in a life separate from the Joker’s, and her discovering friendship and sisterhood.
In fact, the film itself can be distilled to a celebration of women finding their voice, their drive, their independence, and each other. Cathy Yan’s creative direction imbues Birds of Prey with a sizzling feminine energy, from the smallest detail (Harley lending Black Canary a hair-tie while she’s breaking shins) to its core themes (men’s constant underestimation of its female characters), this is the gleefully brutal, irreverently feminist film the world deserves.