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Review: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Available on digital now and on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on the 15th of June, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is directed by Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs), from a script by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) and again stars Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad) as the former Doctor Harleen Quinzel, alongside Rosie Perez (White Men Can’t Jump), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Deathproof), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Lovecraft Country), Ella Jay Basco (Veep), Ewan Macgregor (Trainspotting) and Chris Messina (Away We Go).

After splitting up with Joker, Harley Quinn (Robbie) is heartbroken and angry and spiralling: drinking too much, cry-eating delicious rubbish, impulse buying a hyena and partying hard and rude enough to get on the wrong side of club owner slash psychotic bad guy Roman Sionosis a.k.a. Black Mask (Macgregor).

Unfortunately for Harley she soon discovers that the unspoken protection previously afforded to her by being with the Joker is no longer and Gothamites like Roman, as well at the GCPD and a selection of vigilantes, bruisers and gangsters, now see her as fair game for comeuppance.

Taking young thief Cassandra Cain (Basco) under her wing Harley teams up with Black Canary (Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Winstead) and cop Renee Montoya (Perez) to take down Black Mask and his lethal henchman Victor Zsaz (Messina) and fantabulously emancipating herself from Joker’s shadow – standing on her own two feet in fabulous outfits and hopefully finally getting to eat her breakfast sandwich.

Margot Robbie is a perfect Harley and was the one good thing *thinks about Suicide Squad for a second* was the only good thing about Suicide Squad. Wielding her star power Robbie has made a Harley Quinn movie that not only showcases her brilliant portrayal of The Cupid of Crime but also fills the cast and crew list with as much brilliant female talent as possible.

Hodson’s script is very funny and empowering, and she seems to have a genuine gift for making comic-book characters feel real enough to care for without having to resort to going grimdark Snyder-style (there’s a reason she’s been collared to write the forthcoming Flash and Batgirl movies). Harley obvs gets all the best lines and Macgregor’s Roman always feels like a real maniac constantly teetering on a sanity knife-edge and committing some properly horrifying acts that make him feel like an actually scary villain – essential when your hero is already a villain.

The rest of the Birds of Prey get predictably short-shrifted. Perez’s screwed-over alcoholic cop gets established before meeting Harley, but Black Canary and especially Huntress are sketched initially and shaded in through their continuing interactions with Quinn and the eventual banter. Without the movie being thirty minutes longer or their being Black Canary and Huntress movies first this is just the way it is and Smollett-Bell and Winstead have enough interest and charisma to make it work and their characters interest-peaking and not forgettable in spite of it.

Yan’s direction is fast and flashy and feels perfect for a Harley Quinn movie. There’s a lot of plot and characters and dramatic heavy-lifting and action setpieces and comedy to juggle but Yan does a great job – keeping you thoroughly entertained and never bored for a second. The construction of the narrative is very fractured throughout though. If you were being kind, you could spin it that this is reflective of Harley’s psyche, but it strays into confusing jumping around and back and forth too much too soon and threatens to lose even the most attentive of viewers before the fifteen-minute mark.

The brilliance of Birds of Prey though is in its star and the film powers through any and everything on the strength of Robbie’s Harley’s madcap energy and antics like her glitter rocket launcher assault on a police station that will leave you with a bigger grin on your face than Mr. J himself. The Maiden of Mischief’s first solo film might not get everything right, but is literally a million times better than Suicide Squad and leaves you excited and eager for more of The Clown Princess of Crime’s wild adventures.

Birds of Prey is a colourful, kickass comic book blast full of fun and flipping fantastic fights. Margot Robbie’s wonderful Harley finally gets the movie she deserves – she just needed to make it herself.

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is available on digital now and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on the 15th of June.

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