By Andrea Thompson
Make no mistake. “Birds of Prey” is impressive for what it does in an environment that openly doesn’t consider women like them worthy of their time, choosing to lavish awards and recognition on white male rage in a cartoonishly rigged system. Don’t like it? Well, level the playing field.
The movie kicks off with casually acknowledging Harley’s (Margot Robbie) queerness, then mentioning that she and The Joker have parted ways. In a completely mutual fashion of course. Quinn is handling it about as healthily as you’d expect, sitting on the couch bawling, eating junk food, and throwing sharp objects at an image of her ex. But it’s not until she gets the bright idea to get some catharsis by blowing up the factory where she made her psychotic status official that her troubles really start, given that it broadcasts her breakup to the world.
Warner Bros. Entertainment
Turns out, pretending she was still with the The Joker had one benefit – it freed her from any consequences for her…misdeeds, let’s call them. Now her immunity is gone, and there’s a whole lot of people coming out of the woodwork to exact revenge, one of them being Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, hamming it up and having a blast), a psychotic misogynist if there ever was one. Not that his hatred is limited to women, even if he does enjoy peeling off their faces and forcing them to strip and dance for laughing next to him when he’s in a mood. No, he’s the kind of self-pitying, toxic man-child who whines about how crappy he has it, then gleefully eviscerates anyone unfortunate enough to become a target the next.
In other words? You can’t exactly blame Harley for deciding to work with Roman at first by agreeing to track down Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young orphan and pickpocket who stole Roman’s very own uncut gem, a diamond which contains the key to a deceased crime family’s massive fortune. Too bad Cassandra had the bright idea to swallow it, which eventually brings the wrath of Roman and his massive army of bad guys. Thankfully but not exactly shockingly, by this time Harley and Cassandra have bonded, mostly because Cassandra likes her apartment and has never even heard of her ex. Let the ass-kicking commence!
And what ass-kicking, delivered in a glittery blaze of glory, where the clothes are as fabulous as they are practical, even life-saving. Kudos must also go to the stunt and fight coordinators, because these are some of the best fights I’ve ever seen in a film – exciting enough for today’s overstimulated audiences, yet realistic enough to look, well, realistic. There’s none of the false chivalry crap of “Suicide Squad,” where the so-called bad guys are somehow righteous enough to declare that women and children are off-limits when it comes to violence. “Birds of Prey” knows better, that women are the ones who are often the most targeted in a toxic environment dominated by equally toxic men.
Warner Bros. Entertainment
In such a world, what really brings Harley and her makeshift crew together is their gender, which automatically marks them as outsiders in a system that casually discards them, legal or not. When they all team up, they’re basically protecting Cassandra from their own histories. Here’s hoping their competition takes a few notes. “Birds of Prey” isn’t just female-fronted, it’s actually diverse, and even makes commonplace what Disney mostly spends a few seconds on and pretends it’s progress. Even if the story is rather thin, you’ll want to keep coming back to it, if only because it might just have one of 2020’s best movie moments.