Truth and Movies

Birds of Prey

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Cathy Yan

Starring

Ewan McGregor Margot Robbie Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Anticipation.

Here we go again...

Enjoyment.

What a pleasant surprise.

In Retrospect.

If only all comic book movies felt this fun.

Margot Robbie brings anarchy and attitude to the DCEU in Cathy Yan’s pop-punk ode to womanhood.

There’s an old adage that suggests in an urban area, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. When it comes to movies, it seems you’re never more than six months away from another superhero film.

Birds of Prey is the first of five such films scheduled for release in 2020 (The New Mutants, Black Widow, Morbius and The Eternals are set to follow), and given the inauspicious origins of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in David Ayers’ woeful Suicide Squad, the prospect of a full-length outing for her motor-mouthed chaos maven wasn’t particularly appealing. It’s a relief, then, that Cathy Yan’s pop-punk ode to womanhood rights so many of the DCEU’s wrongs, trading CGI for carefully choreographed fight scenes and breathing new life into a stagnant genre.

While Marvel seem content to rest on their laurels as the titans of superhero cinema, DC’s string of flops means that necessity is the mother of invention. In handing the keys to one of their marquee characters to a relatively unknown filmmaker, Warner Bros and DC have struck gold, proving that there’s no rationale behind excluding women from these rarified spaces. To that end, kudos must go to Margot Robbie, who used her star power to secure a largely female creative team.

After breaking up with her long-term boyfriend Joker, Harley Quinn (Robbie) decides to strike out on her own, though quickly realises life’s tough for a gal on the town, particularly given the enemies she made while under the Clown Prince of Crime’s protection. With a price on her head, set by showboating psychopath Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), she’s forced to form new alliances with fellow wronged women Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Detective Renne Montoya (Rosie Perez).

So Quinn does what so many women do after a bad break-up: she cuts her hair, gets drunk, gets very messy, and lives life for herself for the first time in a long time. In Suicide Squad her whole identity revolved around her relationship with Jared Leto’s faux emo Joker, but he she’s off the leash, looking out for number one and learning some harsh life lessons about the things you can and can’t run from in the process. Dealing with trauma, abuse and the very real threat of male violence through a superhero lens, it’s the closest anyone has come to translating the Technicolour energy of actual comics onto the screen for a long time.

Unlike Suicide Squad, the entire cast seems to be having a ball: Robbie’s affinity for her character is infectious; Rosie Perez gets her best role in years as the hardboiled cop on Quinn’s tail; and Winstead is a delight as the socially awkward assassin who’s spent her whole adult life plotting revenge. The film also benefits from two first-rate villains in the form of Ewan McGregor as a delightfully unhinged trustafarian brat and Chris Messina as his bleach blonde bizarro lackey.

They make for worthy opponents to Quinn, delighting in violence for the sake of violence but crucially grounded in reality – indeed, with only one actual superpower on show, a good deal of emphasis is placed on the meticulously staged fights scenes; the pick of the bunch involving roller skates and an abandoned amusement park. (It’s likely that the film’s second unit director Chad Stahelski, one of the masterminds behind John Wick, had more than a little to do with this.)

Rather than the paint-by-numbers girl power of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey presents flawed, multi-faceted women as more than an afterthought in male-driven narratives. Quinn’s incessant narration distracts a little from the story, but otherwise this is a welcome tonic to the grimdark macho worlds of Batman v Superman and Justice League.

Published 5 Feb 2020

Tags: Cathy Yan Margot Robbie

Anticipation.

Here we go again...

Enjoyment.

What a pleasant surprise.

In Retrospect.

If only all comic book movies felt this fun.

Suggested For You

Suicide Squad

By Adam Woodward

DC’s freak show rodeo is an undercooked, cartoonish romp that reveals a great deal about modern moviemaking.

review

Quentin Tarantino and Margot Robbie on the real Sharon Tate

By Adam Woodward

The director and star of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tell the story of one of the film’s key scenes.

Justice League

By Hannah Woodhead

The latest film off the DC production line sees Batman and co team up to fight an ancient evil force, with underwhelming results.

review

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design