Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn isn’t a title I can be bothered to type in full whenever I mention it in this review. I went with low expectations, but am pleased to report that I enjoyed it a lot more than anticipated. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but it is for the most part a satisfyingly lurid, anarchic, colourful concoction of mindless violence, bad taste, and anti-heroic comic book mayhem.
A spin-off from the largely dismissed Suicide Squad (which I also didn’t think was as terrible as most made out), Birds of Prey focuses on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and her misadventures following a break-up with the Joker. She finds herself clashing with villainous Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor on splendidly villainous form), drawn into a complicated web involving a stolen diamond, and a disparate group of other female characters in their own revenge/emancipation arcs.
The build-up to the inevitable team-up/showdown is rather laboured by over-extended, slightly irritating sub-Tarantino non-linear jiggery-pokery, but once said finale arrives, it is a lot of gleefully violent, if predictable, fun. Director Cathy Yan stages some well choreographed crunchy fights and action scenes, and performances are strong – not just from Robbie and McGregor but also the rest of the cast. I particularly enjoyed Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s take on Black Canary.
Birds of Prey isn’t a particularly serious examination of female emancipation and empowerment, but there is just enough subtext amid the mayhem to provide a germ of thought. The most effective moment in this respect is a telling line when Harley is taunted that she can’t stand alone without someone like the Joker protecting her. She responds that such protection amounts to fear, and is therefore no protection at all. It’s not particularly profound, but it rings true.
In summary, engaging characters elevate this a little above average, making Birds of Prey well worth a watch for connoisseurs of comic book antiheroes, despite its flaws.
UK Certificate: 15
US Certificate: R
Content warnings: Violence, swearing.