Leave your comic book expectations at the door as Margot Robbie returns in the title role of Harley Quinn to introduce the world to some more Gotham heroes. This time around Harley is more true to the comics character and with a MA rating this time around, it opens up the DC Universe to Deadpool level language, violence and blood spurting gore that the world of Gotham needs. The film is helmed by director Cathy Yan as her second film, and while there are some pacing and story issues, the film triumphs as it is the most adult entry in the series that doesn’t need to go super dark to get that across. The talented cast all bring their A game that combine with a stellar soundtrack and colourful visuals to deliver one of DC’s best Gotham based films to date.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has recently broken up from the Joker (who doesn’t appear in the film) Relishing in her new found freedom, things hit a snag when Gotham finds out about the break up, all bets are off and half the city wants Quinn dead. In particular one villain Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is demanding he be the one to kill Quinn. As part of the bargaining tool Harley must track down pick pocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who has stolen a diamond that Roman wants. Along for the ride to protect Cain are Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell).
The film’s setting of Gotham does look different from the city hinted at in previous DCEU films, and while the dark and grime still remains, the nature of Harley injects the film with some much needed colour. While we have seen the city before many, many times in films over the years, this time around it feels like a living, breathing world thanks to the large roster of characters and the interactions they have with the residents who populate the city. Seeing Harley’s favourite hangover egg sandwich place and her favourite Chinese joint, really gives the film a grounded feel, something that Shazam started.
The incredible amount of talent in front of and behind the camera is astonishing. It is hard to list all of the great performances as there are so many. Robbie shines as Quinn, finally free of her Suicide Squad PG-ness and let loose to be the bad-ass wannabe villain fans of the comics were missing from the previous film. Newcomers Winstead and Perez bring some great balance to the film with nuance performances. Basco is completely adorkable as Cain and her chemistry with Robbie carries the film. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is the key to this movie, her cool, sexy and damaged Dinah Lance is completely mesmerising. Her scene of singing “It’s A Man’s World” is breathtaking and her take on the character is a breath of fresh air after the plethora of versions we have seen on the small screen over the last few years in the Arrowverse. Smollett-Bell’s Lance is contained with her using her full powers in the final moments of the film which allow her to showcase her fighting skills rounding out the character, perfect for a back story.
A big part of a comic book movie is the villain, or in this case villains. Chris Messina plays Victor Zsaz, in this version of the character he is a henchman who seems to have a close and personal relationship with the main villain Black Mask. McGregor shines as the unhinged crime lord who goes from psychotic madman to singing, dancing fun guy the next minute. His relationship with Zsaz appears to be very intimate showing the first possibly gay couple in the DCEU.
Robbie at the top of her game at the moment, she had had a strong if hit films, an oscar nomination and now a starring role that she also produced and worked on through her production company. It is great to see an unhinged version of the character close to the comic book one that is allowed to be crazy to her full potential without the stifling of a PG rating.
Visually the film is incredible, working on a very small budget, under 100 million, things are contained, quite contained and this isn’t a big thing. There is no over-reliance on CGI with pratical effects and stunt fighting used to their full advantage. The fight scenes are among the best of any comic book film in recent memory, in fact I would go so far as to say in any action film recently since Mission Impossible : Fallout. There is a fight scene in a prison where fire alarms are going off and water is pouring down that is incredible to watch. The best is saved to last with a crazy fighting sequence in Joker’s abandoned Funhouse that will be memorable for years to come.
The only big let down with this film is the pacing and the direction. There are some scenes that do let it down tremendously. There are highs where you really start to get into it and enjoy it and then are suddenly ripped away till Harley comes back to lift it up. This could be down to the in-experience of Yan or possible studio interference. It could also be down to the writing from Christina Hodson who penned Bumblebee (which suffered from similar issues!) It isn’t a big thing but it was definitely noticeable on the first viewing.
While the film doesn’t have any particular to any other films (there are a couple of nods to Suicide Squad and Captain Boomerang, see if you can spot them!) the film never paints the characters on screen as heroes. There is definitely a darker vibe at play here. While it is definitely not suitable for younger viewers, fans of the characters will love their adaption to the big screen all told through the lens of hilarious Harley who doesn’t hold back. Birds Of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn is one of DCEU’s best and bold entries and should be seen on the big screen.
Editors note – If you are waiting on a end credits scene, just so you know there isn’t one, but there is a HILARIOUS voice over that fans should definitely stick around for.
Birds Of Prey & The Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn is showing in cinemas today.