Review: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Birds of Prey is a movie I have wanted to see for a very, very long time. I think we are way overdue for an action movie led by a female cast and I’m thrilled that it is as good as it ought to be. The film has a scrappy, can-do vibe populated by vivid characters who are very well cast. The action scenes, and there are plenty, are a lot of fun and I didn’t really feel like there was a wasted moment. I love this movie.

Margot Robbie returns as the Joker’s ex-flame Harley Quinn who, after breaking up with her psychotic boyfriend, discovers the only reason nobody tried to kill her before was because of fear of the Joker’s reprisals. Now that she is on her own, she finds she has a huge target on her back. Ewan MacGregor plays crime boss Ramon Sionis, aka Black Mask, who is especially interested in killing Quinn until she makes a deal to get him a diamond he is anxious to possess but has been stolen by street thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Also in the mix are Rosie Perez as Detective Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Valerie Bertinelli/Huntress and Jurnee Smollet-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary, plus Chris Messina in a surprising turn as Sionis’ sadistic henchman, Mr. Zsasz.

The storyline, narrated by Harley Quinn, jumps back and forth in time, breaking up a straightforward McGuffin-hunt into entertaining sections that give each character enough backstory for us to actually care about them and understand their motivations (a rare thing in superhero movies). Christina Hodson’s script is very ably brought to life by Cathy Yan’s direction and the actors are all great. I thought everyone was terrific in their roles, especially MacGregor who threatens to steal every scene he is in. Jurnee Smollet-Bell was a real discovery here for me; I thought she did a great job with Dinah Lance/Black Canary. I also loved Mary Elizabeth Winstead and her super-seriousness which everyone makes fun of.

This movie, along with Joker, Shazam! and Wonder Woman, is a great example of why I prefer DC to Marvel. DC has had more than their share of missteps, but I appreciate the unpredictability of their movies over the tedious formula used over and over by Marvel. Birds of Prey is definitely for mature audiences, not only for the frequent salty language but also the bone-crunching and bloody violence on display. It also treats its sexual politics with a knowingly serious but deftly light touch, which I really appreciated.

Birds of Prey is the first movie of 2020 I was seriously looking forward to and it did not disappoint. The production design is colourful yet gritty, the characters well-served by a good script and great casting and the action is a lot of fun to watch. I found myself laughing more than I expected and, although it does get a bit silly in places, it’s no different from other films in the superhero genre in that regard. I never felt insulted by what I was watching and I will certainly be seeing it again.



Harley Quinn #50

Harley Quinn #50

I was delighted with the 50th issue of Harley Quinn, a double-sized issue with a boatload of guest artists working from a script by Sam Humphries. It’s fun, it’s wild and it has an unexpectedly sweet center that made me catch my breath at the end.

The story is a hoot, with Harley being chased by Jonni DC – Continuity Cop for constantly breaking continuity, resulting in chaos everywhere. Meanwhile, Harley is on a quest to find a way to bring her mom back after she turned vanished in a cloud of flower petals.

I loved the irreverent tone of the story, which is a mainstay of the comic in general. I just think it’s funny that Jonni DC – Continuity Cop is even a character but she’s used to great comic effect here. The central event of Harley’s mom disappearing and the subsequent effort to bring her back has a really heart-warming ring to it that ends beautifully, a sweetness that plays well off the comedy all around it.

I also loved the art. I read comics primarily for the art and you get a great variety of visual styles when you have over a dozen artists on the book at the same time. John Timms is the series regular and does the introductory pages, but as Jonni DC pursues our heroine through shifting universes each one gets a distinct spin from the guest artist assigned to those pages. It’s a wild ride and a lot of fun to see the device of multiple artists used so effectively.

Great issue. I loved it so much I bought an extra copy and sent it to my sister.