“Birds of Prey” Empowers Its Female Characters with R-rated Mayhem
You can take Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, and Charlie’s Angels and invite them all to a Goop candle party because for unencumbered, unadulterated ass-kicking, nothing’s going to beat the ladies of Birds of Prey. The four women and one teen girl who make up the squad in this latest DC Comics big-screen adaptation aren’t taking names or prisoners, or chewing bubble gum. Instead, they’re cleaning up the streets of Gotham, giving John Wick a run for his money, and putting the R in raucous. This R-rated adaptation mixes the nastiness of Joker with the camaraderie of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It’s a hoot, albeit one that’s very violent.
Margot Robbie deservedly shot to stardom with her turn as Harley Quinn in 2016’s Suicide Squad. This time out, the character has shed her bad boyfriend past with the Joker as she wants to put her criminal past behind her. Standing on her own two platform-shoed feet isn’t going to be easy though, especially since Harley has a penchant for making enemies, shoplifting everything from fanny-packs to groceries, and ordering her pet hyena to eat a pet-store owner for lunch. Robbie plays the former Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s sociopathy with a twinkle in her eyes and a knowing smirk, ensuring that no matter how horrible Harley is, she’s always amusing.
It also helps that Christina Hodson’s script surrounds Harley with far-worse miscreants, including Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis. He’s the extroverted club owner angling to take over Gotham’s underworld and Harley already has a bad history with him. She’s caused havoc in his club, broke his driver’s legs, and ended up inadvertently helping teen thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) run off with a precious diamond he’s nabbed. Sionis wants to peel off Harley’s face, as he’s shown doing to other enemies, but he gives her until nightfall to retrieve the hot rock. And, just to make things interesting, he’s placed a bounty on Cassandra’s scalp to give Harley extra obstacles.
Amongst the others churned into the mix are dozens of thugs, as well as Rosie Perez’s intrepid detective Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth’s Winstead’s vengeance-seeking Huntress, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s cool club singer Black Canary. These three will eventually join Harley and Cassandra to stave off all comers, but the plot zigs and zags before getting them all into the same room, er carnival funhouse, in the third act.
The labyrinth plot and layers of flashbacks that follow the set-up are really just an excuse to showcase Harley and her cohorts kicking the butts of a lot of awful men. Director Cathy Yan is clearly having a ball showcasing the action and she wisely takes a page from the John Wick playbook by letting us see the brawls in long takes. It looks like the stars, Robbie in particular, are doing most of their own stunt work. That’s especially impressive during a third act chase scene that finds Robbie on roller skates battling thugs in a couple of speeding cars. All her I, Tonya training pays off handsomely here.
Yan also throws in a lot of over-the-top naughtiness, from F-bombs to squirting wounds to cartoonish freeze-frames. The Birds of Prey source material by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Chuck Dixon wasn’t half as loony, but their serious female empowerment story remains front and center even here. Of course, the film shows off plenty of tight pants, bustiers, and high heels too to please the fanboys, but Yan never traffics in nudity. Harley even wears a T-shirt over her crop top the majority of the time. No “male gaze” here.
The women all register strongly in their roles, with Winstead an especially droll delight snidely quipping away while shooting villains in the throat with her crossbow. Smollett-Bell is able to throw down as well as Robbie in most of her action sequences and she tosses out mean, side-eyes too. It’s great to see Perez onscreen again in a big role as well. Occasionally, her wig gets in the way, but she gives the material her all. Basco’s dialogue has way too much profanity to it, but at least she tries to make each dirty word funny. (Not that she’s going to give Ryan Reynolds a run for his Deadpool money any time soon.)
Chris Messina is clearly enjoying getting the chance to play an utterly vile character as Sionis’ head henchman. McGregor is having fun too, though he looks a touch boy-next-door still, even with dyed black hair. And Robbie tops her previous outing, adding more nuance to the role. The layers of crazy she exhibits, as well as the pathos, would play well even in a more serious Joker-esque film, but she knows how to keep it from becoming too maudlin. Instead, she adds comic zest to any scene, even those where she’s getting her butt kicked.
It’s funny that DC has had so much difficulty with their male superheroes as of late when their female action stars positively thrive. Both Harley and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman should yield multiple sequels in their respective franchises, and on TV, Melissa Benoist continues to kill it, earning her Supergirl series a sixth season. Perhaps the greatest sign of female empowerment is that they can now fight, curse, maim, and kill as well as the boys do onscreen. I’m not sure what that says about our society, but it sure makes for some nasty fun at the Cineplex.
Catch the trailer for Birds Of Prey below:
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