An unapologetically, fun-as-hell, comic book movie fronted by mostly women.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
The last film that I really enjoyed, that involved an all-women cast was—you guessed it—The Powerpuff Girls Movie circa 2002. They kicked ass, embraced their femininity without compromise and each of the girls possessed her own personality that made them more real than the women portrayed at the time. It was a feminist film that wasn't explicit about its feminism.
Giving The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a run for the longest title, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) retains those elements that I witnessed from the Powderpuff Girls Movie long ago. It's gleefully wild and comfortable in its chaos. Keeping with the spirit of that saying that 'well-behaved women seldom make history', the women in Birds of Prey delight in bucking the system.
I can't think of anyone who can embody the role of Harley Quinn than Margot Robbie. Wide-eyed and possessing an easy smile, the baby doll-voice Harley revels in her psychosis without it being too over-the-top about it. She emotes (even for her coveted breakfast) and knows how to take a punch and deliver it too.
The supporting cast of Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell); Helena Bertinelli aka t̶h̶e̶ ̶C̶r̶o̶s̶s̶b̶o̶w̶ ̶K̶i̶l̶l̶e̶r̶ Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead); Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) have their time to shine. They aren't throwaway characters with paper-thin backstories; these are women who were wrong by the men in their lives and, are in their own ways, are trying to find their own respective independences.
The villains are equally memorable: Ewan McGregor really chews the scenery with Roman. Openly misogynistic and vainglorious, Roman is such a ham and a heel, it's very easy for you to imagine grievous harm on him. Chris Messina is almost unrecognisable as Victor Zsasz. He's scummy, a sycophant to Roman and ready with the stabbing. There's a sort of off-kilter chemistry between the two men as emboldens each other's depravation.
Robbie spent three years trying to develop an 'R-rated girl gang film' and knew that the film's success needed a female director at the helm. Enter Cathay Yan, fresh off from her film, Dead Pigs. Yan knows how to shoot an action scene. Unlike the wire-fu shenanigans in 2000's Charlie's Angels, the fight scenes are down and dirty with a touch of the balletic.
After a slew of 'mehs', DC Comics is slowly building confidence with Aquaman and Shazam. Levity is needed; the whole dark and brooding formula only works on the Batman franchise. Birds of Prey is a crowd-pleaser. One that Yan and Christina Hodson's script produce to give us as a film about girl power and, more importantly, one that stands in its own spotlight, without the star power of a male comic book hero or actors.
What we didn't like
Given how much backstory is revealed for most of the women, Huntress isn't fleshed out as I liked it to be. Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character appears sporadically at the start but when she is officially introduced, there wasn't enough screen time for development. A pity as it feels like Huntress, while formidable in battle, is a bit of a basketcase when it comes to social situations.
But maybe it's because the group gets together in the third act of the film. It feels late, given the dynamics among the women.
What to look out for
The soundtrack to the movie is all sung and played by females and female-led bands. And, I might be wrong here, but there are subtle visuals that reference the members of Birds of Prey (ie, Tweety Bird [a canary] appears on TV in Harley Quinn's homebase).
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is out now in theatres.