REVIEW: ‘Birds of Prey’ (2020) is a Powerhouse of Women Telling Their Own Stories.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“This refreshingly feisty script from Hodon leaves you forgetting that The Joker was ever in the picture.”

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) punches hard. Fists of pent up frustration fly with no regret as she takes on Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his Gotham goons. Harley narrates her story; having just split up with The Joker “for good”, she backtracks and introduces characters as and when she feels like it. Between tattooing her thigh, cutting her hair and looking after her pet hyena, Harley’s time is dedicated to reasserting her place in Gotham city.

“I’m Harley motherfucking Quinn”

Harley Quinn leaning on the counter, her brunch sandwich in front of her
Warner Bros.

Birds of Prey, or if you want to be more accurate: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), deserves every word of praise it receives. The DC Extended Universe welcomes Birds of Preywith Harley at the front and centre; she is everything you want her to be, need her to be, and more.

Joining forces with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Harley builds an all-women team thatis spectacularly formidable. There is never a dull moment. Harley oscillates between an intelligently aggressive fighter and an intuitively caring woman, one does not existwithout the other. Christina Hodon’s excellent script promises Harley a true chance at redefining herself.

Harley also loves an expletive! She never mutters or apologies for her language, sheis a chaotic force that is instantly engaging. Her violence comes in strong waves that make you thankful you’re sat down. Fight sequences are incredibly impressive with intense choreography that is marvelling.

There are also important questions and issues that come to the surface without ever being explicitly voiced. There is the realigning of what it means to be protected by a man and how thin that line between protection and ownership is. A topic that Harley repeatedly finds herself battling, it is this complex psychological backing to her character that is fascinating. The insight to her is clearer than her companions, with her childhood rejection and awful male relationships playing a part in her strength of mind and body, perfectly illustrated when her response to “I underestimated you,” is: “I’m used to it.”

This refreshingly feisty script from Hodon leaves you forgetting that The Joker was ever in the picture. Hodon’s script is an embrace of the unruly power that femininity harbours. Put differently, this is a film created by women that allows women to really exist in this fictional city. Scenes such as Huntress practicing her “do you know who Iam?” line in the bathroom mirror bare an exposed realness. The collaboration between Hodon and director Cathy Yan never leaves you questioning the power of these women.

the formed girl gang looking at Harley Quinn for direction
Warner Bros.

One moment in particular lasts a matter of seconds and yet is so prominent. It is a very simple action: Harley hands Black Canary a hairband right in the middle of a fight sequence. Black Canary never misses a beat in kicking as she ties back her hair. Birds of Prey doesn’t linger on the moment, it passes by as quick as these women’s impressive high-kicks and yet it is so telling about the innate sisterhood between these women. The hairband comes to define more than practicality, it is a token of solidarity that refuses to shy away from their femininity.

Oh! Did I mention – there’s a brief musical number? McGregor reprises his role in Moulin Rouge with a rendition of ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ fitting in seamlessly. The soundtrack as a whole is incredible, with original songs alongside the likes of ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ remastered but feeling as though it was made for this film. The “killer vocals” of Black Canary deliver a moving tribute of ‘ThisIs A Man’s World’, a song that defines the context of Gotham. The masculine associations of the city are picked apart in Birds of Prey with the power of women rising to the surface.

The grit of Gotham gets stuck in your lungs; breathing in this world is a mouthful of smoke, addictive from the first inhale. Swooping through backstreets, Yan’s directorial touch unearths a side to this city that needed to be explored. Now putting it on the map, this collection of women must earn their spot, having to prove themselves in the most extreme of situations. It is Harley herself that reminds them revenge is not the catharsis they seek, only the first step in rebuilding. This will likely not be the last time we will be seeing Harley, or these vigilantes, at the heart of Gotham’s underworld.

Dir: Cathy Yan.

Prod: Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless, Sue Kroll.

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez.

Release Date: 7th February 2020