Harley Quinn is Better Off Jokerless in Birds of Prey

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is going through a bad break up. She just got out of a toxic relationship with Gotham’s infamous psychopath, the Joker, but isn’t quite ready to move on. She hasn’t even told anyone they’ve broken up.

In all fairness, dating the cackling maniac had its benefits, namely keeping all the other violent thugs with a grudge against Harley from doing any harm to her lest they face the wrath of her sadistic boyfriend.

Shit hits the fan when they learn he’s now an ex-boyfriend and it’s open season on unprotected Harley. Crooks come out of the woodwork with grievances and a litany of weapons thirsty for vengeance. Turns out Harley’s pretty capable of protecting herself as she makes quick work of all her attackers. One gentlemen comes to a particularly gruesome end when he ends up being fed to her pet hyena. His brother, seeking revenge, doesn’t fare much better.

Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn as she gets mixed up with crime lord Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), someone with a nasty habit of peeling off his enemies’ faces, and the titular birds – Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a deadpan, cross-bow wielding anti-hero who can’t seem to get anyone to take her name seriously; Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), a super-powered singer who can kill people by screaming very loud; and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a cop straight out of a crime procedural with a drinking problem to boot.

They’re all after a diamond that’s fallen into the hands of a pick-pocketing child, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). That’s it really. The plot’s pretty thin and struggles to build narrative momentum because Harley, in Deadpool style, fourth-wall breaking voice-over, keeps cutting into the action to rewind and introduce someone’s mini-origin story before getting on with it again.

Cathy Yan makes up for this by giving the film plenty of attitude. Birds of Prey takes on Harley’s personality as she kicks ass to a bopping soundtrack, following in the footsteps of Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad by ditching the operatic melodies that used to accompany comic book epics for an upbeat mix of tunes you could rave to. The music nearly steals the show with the movie at risk of becoming an illustrated mixtape.

It’s an eye popping illustration nonetheless as Yan overlays the Gotham that once again graces our screens with a Harley filter, throwing in exploding clouds of pink and purple over the grey, crime-ridden streets and having Harley shoot people with what appears to be glitter and confetti at one point for extra flavour.

It’s hard to tell who’s having more fun, Robbie as the twisted, childlike Harley or McGregor as the gleefully sinister Black Mask, but both are a blast to watch. DC have course corrected worlds away from the dour tones of Snyder’s pompous Batman v Superman and Justice League as well as the critical failure that was Suicide Squad and are just letting the fans enjoy themselves.

While the film adopts Deadpool’s irreverent tone and indulges in plenty of gristly humour, it’s not lacking in heart. It’s a generous, even wholesome, serving of girl power over a twisted, cruel backdrop. Gotham’s a mean, old world and girls just got to stick together.

The ladies team up and bicker, throwing back and forth snappy one-liners near the end for a showdown that, unfortunately, feels anti-climatic. The loose plot only carries the film so far as it peters out towards the end and fails to stick the landing. It’s a rush but a forgettable one.

Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here and even an empowering message to take home. The movie touches on the trauma men can inflict on women in abusive relationships and affirms that they can find strength in one another. It’s impressive how this sincerity seeps through all the silliness but the message is clear. Don’t stay with abusive men when there’s a sisterhood to turn to for support.

Harley Queen doesn’t need any man. She can hold her own movie.

Birds of Prey is in cinemas February 7.

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