“Birds of Prey:” a lively, vibrant and action-filled ride

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios

Harley Quinn is the anti-hero we need, but definitely do not deserve right now. After the garbage fire that was “Suicide Squad,” I was reluctant to see this film, but I was pleasantly surprised by “Birds of Prey.” 

The film follows the delightfully psychopathic Harley Quinn on her journey to “emancipation” after her breakup with the Joker, who is thankfully absent from this film. She is a partying anarchist who is almost completely alone in the world. Played perfectly by the Academy Award nominated Margot Robbie, Harley is the woman we love to hate. And so does the rest of Gotham City, as title cards conveniently show us who’s after Harley and why.

Robbie is not the only showstopper in the movie. There’s the powerful Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who has a “killer voice” and killer moves; the cop that is still stuck in an 80s movie, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez); the awkward Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a trained assassin with skills like Beatrix Kiddo; and the 13-year-old pickpocket, Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), who they all need to protect when she steals a diamond from the villain. The film sets up each character individually and then ultimately brings them together in a brilliant way. 

Ewan McGregor plays an overly stereotypical bad-guy, Roman Sionis. McGregor and the writers never quite decide whether the character wants to be comic or sadistic, and it just doesn’t work.

The screenplay by Christina Hodson is good overall. However, some lines were out of place and simply fell flat. Some supposedly comedic scenes were instead very uncomfortable, and Basco’s lines as Cassandra, in particular, are bland and unbelievable. 

Despite its flaws, the story at its core is a powerful celebration of its strong, capable women, and shows how they can lift each other up where the men in the film consistently let them down. Each character gets her own story and develops beautifully over the course of the film until the final epic conclusion. 

The pacing in this film is exciting and keeps you on your toes, as we jump around the timeline, always assisted by the narration of Harley Quinn. While narration, in general, can sometimes be annoying and often takes viewers out of the film, here it just makes sense for the character, and even saved the movie after one completely out of place and confusing moment near the end.

Director Cathy Yan’s vision for this film is clear and precise, and she never deviates from it, blending crazy action with compelling characters and storylines. Yan, along with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, took a different (and better) approach to the way HQ and the other “birds of prey” were portrayed. 

In “Suicide Squad,” director David Ayer was entirely too focused on Robbie’s body, and made her into a sexualized object, in customary action-movie fashion. Rest assured, this sexualization is completely absent from “Birds of Prey.” None of the women are sexualized, only celebrated. 

In addition, Libatique’s cinematography enhances the enjoyment of the film. It relies heavily on various pinks and purples, with a cotton candy aesthetic that matches the characters and the tone of the film. 

Yan is the first (but certainly not last) female, Asian-American director of a superhero movie. She has cited Jackie Chan as an inspiration for the fight scenes in this movie, and it shows. As someone who has seen every single Marvel movie, I found it refreshing to see fight scenes so carefully choreographed and calculated. 

Where Marvel tends to go for big action sequences between pretty much every character in the movie, “Birds of Prey” shows smaller fight scenes that make it easier to see what’s going on. The accompanying all-female soundtrack only makes these fights more invigorating.

This entire film is a triumph for women. Even the title, which uses the derogatory term “bird” for women, flips the table and turns it into something empowering. And although the subtitle suggests the emancipation of only one Harley Quinn, each and every woman finds liberation over the course of the film. With countless male-centered superhero movies, “Birds of Prey” is a long-awaited breath of fresh air. 

In the wise words of Halsey, “Who needs a Y with this many X’s?”

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