REVIEW: ‘Birds of Prey’ is a high-energy delight of female empowerment

Margot Robbie shines in new comic book adaptation that finally lets the female characters have some anarchic fun.

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Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in "Birds of Prey." The film marks the second time Robbie has portrayed the character after 2016's "Suicide Squad. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Bradley Hinkson

At this point, it feels like every other week we’ve got a new comic book film coming out and it can get exhausting after a while. 

So you have to give a lot of credit to “Birds Of Prey” for being able to stand out among the rest.

“Birds of Prey ” sets itself apart from the other films in the DC Extended Cinematic Universe with fiery energy and a strong sense of female empowerment. It’s a film that feels very frenetic and unapologetically messy.

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has decided to dump The Joker (Jared Leto as Sir Not Appearing in This Film) and start a brand new life. Unfortunately for her, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) wants her for his own. 

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As soon as the film starts, “Birds of Prey”cuts itself off from previous DC movies. When Harley cuts off all ties with the Joker, it feels like the film is explicitly telling the audience that it’s setting itself apart from other films that have come before it.

She gets to tell the story how she wants to tell it. This does lead the film to be a bit messy in terms of its narrative structure but it fits with Quinn’s character. It’s frenetic and all over the place but so is Quinn.

Director Cathy Yan injects the whole film with Quinn’s manic attitude. It’s heavily stylized and moves at a quick pace. Yan seems to want to make this as enjoyable of a time as she possibly can.

It also helps that she is able to direct some very impressive action sequences. Though  it’s sad to watch an action movie and be surprised when it has well-choreographed, well-edited fight scenes. .

I think we’ve grown too accustomed to comic book films having CGI heavy action scenes, so just the sight of actual fight choreography can feel refreshing.

The real star of the film is Robbie. She is committed to the role and it’s obvious that she cares so much about Quinn as a character and wants to give her the love she deserves.

McGregor as Sionis is having as much fun as Robbie. He’s extremely flamboyant and devours the scenery. He’s able to take a very routine, and kind of bland, villain and make something memorable out of him. 

Him and Chris Messina, who plays Sionis’ henchman Victor Zsasz, share a great chemistry together which has led to many conversations about the two of them either being in a relationship or just more queer coding. But for a film that already has characters who are queer–Quinn and Renee Montaya–I find it easy to believe that these two are in some sort of relationship.

But what I think helps “Birds of Prey” really stand out is how it handles its themes of female empowerment and agency. I feel like some recent female-led blockbusters have missed the real importance of the representation and diversity that these kinds of films have been desperately needing. 

There seems to be more of a focus on looking progressive rather than actually doing it, that it’s easier to have all your female characters pose for the camera and pretend you destroyed sexism by having female characters simply exist.

First off, none of them are sexualized. A lot of rightful criticism was given to “Suicide Squad” and how much of the male gaze was thrown on Quinn. But now, with Yan behind the camera, there is none of that. 

Writer Christina Hodson writes these characters as women who have had their lives messed up by men they’ve come across. When they come together in the end, it doesn’t feel like some forced, fake progressiveness. It feels like women coming together based on their own shared experiences. 

There’s a great quick moment during a fight scene in the third act where Quinn gives Black Canary a hair tie so her hair stops getting in the way while she fights. It’s in that little moment where you get the sense that there is something genuine to these women coming together. 

“Birds of Prey” isn’t the first female led comic film to come out in recent years. But it’s the first to not be so confined by some of the standard and bland aesthetics of them. The women aren’t just there to pose in their superhero outfits and give heroic speeches. 

They get to be wild, raunchy and break a couple of dudes’ legs with a mallet.