*MINOR spoiler alert.
I should start by saying that I am not a fan of DC movies and have never understood how anyone could be. I’m not even a fan of ANY comic book Universes, but the DC world, in my experience, has always left me feeling disappointed (remember the disaster that was Suicide Squad??? and Aquaman was only redeemed by the fact that it starred total snack Jason Momoa). So, it was with mixed feelings and VERY low expectations, that I went to see their latest offering, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn).
The sequin-studded, psychotic princess of crime, played by the talented and gorgeous Margot Robbie, is back post-break-up with the Joker, and this time it’s all about her. No longer is she overshadowed by her male Gotham counterparts. This story is all hers and for the first time, she controls the narrative. But, unlike many of Gotham’s male figures, she’s willing to share the limelight with an unlikely, rag-tag girl gang.
This new recipe cooked up by DC seems to have worked. Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern described Birds of Prey as “a richly hued, madly inventive, gleefully violent and happily slapdash contraption with a formidable female at its center,” while writer for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers, called the film “the movie the recent Charlie’s Angels remake wished it could be”.
And it’s not just the lead that’s formidable. All of the women in this new all-girl ass-kicking club have some serious axes to grind (mostly with men who have wronged them). In fact, the male characters in Gotham all seem to be good-for-nothing, aggressive, narcissistic fragile-egoed sources of trouble. Chief asshole, Ewen McGregor’s Roman Sionis, has been described as “a highly flammable ball of misogynist grease” (a role which he seems to have taken to with glee), and even the most likeable male character, Doc, betrays her trust by selling her out to her enemies because “It’s just business”.
In this world of thugs and anti-heroes, toxic masculinity is the real villain, and it’s no wonder a lot of male critics and vocal viewers (read: insecure internet trolls) are feeling a little stung. But when it comes to men, as we learn from Harley, “you gotta show ’em you’re serious. Blow something up. Shoot somebody”. In Birds of Prey, the women are getting very serious and (FINALLY) doing it for themselves.
And they’re doing it in over-the-top, WWE-type, choreographed fight scenes, which involve a lot of snapping bones and enviable feats of agility (but what DC movie would be complete without this?). Importantly, also with roller blades and paint cannons. Not only are these epic clashes fun to watch (from the safety of a cinema seat) but they also take place in some fun settings, like a dilapidated, yet colourful, abandoned funhouse and a police evidence room stocked with heaps of cocaine. It’s clear that the duo of director Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson cared about what their fight scenes looked like, rather than rely on violence and CGI to carry them.
In fact, Yan’s attention to detail extended to her portrayal of femaleness in a way that other films of the kind lack. Gone are the skimpy costumes, designed for a mostly male audience. They’ve been replaces with sequins and blurry eyeliner. Harley carries tampons in her pocket. In one fight scene Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is (understandably) struggling to fight with her hair down, and Harley offers her a hair elastic in a show of realistic and relatable feminine solidarity. This is just one of many small details that probably wouldn’t even have occurred to a male director, and it demonstrates the finesse with which Yan tackled the genre.
One sad and wrong man on twitter criticised the film by saying its makers “removed any sex appeal these characters had” in order to appeal to a more feminine audience. Well, sex appeal is subjective, but what’s NOT sexy about a bunch of babes kicking butt? ***insert fire emojis here***
The cherry on the already colourful cake, is the soundtrack. It includes tracks by some incredible women, including Halsey, Doja Cat, and Charlotte Lawrence, all of which could easily be post-break-up playlist staples. Listening to this collection of estrogen-fuelled power-jams before watching the film will only enhance the movie experience.
One criticism of Birds of Prey is that it feels like the plot is lacking in a lot of ways. What does pass for storyline outside of Harley’s failed relationship, is pretty thin and flimsy, but with Robbie and her clique kicking ass in gory, dramatic funhouse battles, plot is probably not the real reason anyone’s going to see this film anyway. Let’s be real: For many of us (women, feminists, lovers of all things exciting), we’re in it for the endearing horror-show that is Harley Quinn, the fury of scorned women, the tunes, and the glitter cannons. For the rest of us (heterosexual men who aren’t interested in women taking their own back), need I say more than “Margot Robbie”?
This movie is a wild, gleeful, glitter bomb of mess and mayhem. It’s a bundle of chaotic joy, and it’s thrilling. Add to that the empowering, pro-female theme, and Harley’s relatable personal growth after her break-up, and Birds of Prey is the fantabulous post-break-up film we didn’t know we needed.
Essential Millennial Rating: 4 out of 5 avocados.