BIRDS OF PREY -- A-
In addition to being written and directed by women, BOP pays homage to two of my all-time favorite movies -- Kill Bill and Charlie’s Angels (‘00) -- so yeah, I’m totally down with this.
Succeeding all too well where the 2019 Charlie’s Angels so miserably failed, this brightly-hued thrill ride is driven by several truly kick-ass action sequences and the star power and acting chops of its producer, Academy Award-nominee Margot Robbie, who plays Harley Quinn. A psychiatrist who fell hard for her patient The Joker, we first met this DC comics antihero in 2016’s Suicide Squad, where her cheeky humor and love for large wooden weapons pretty much blew the other villains off the screen. Now finally, Quinn gets her own movie, and Robbie takes full advantage of center stage, fleshing out her quirky character to great effect.
Writer Christina Hodson’s voice-over and time-hopping story structure keep things moving, after an admittedly slow-ish start that finds Quinn moping over her breakup with “Mr. J” and causing havoc at a nightclub owned by vicious crime lord Roman Sionis. On her way back to her full femme-powered game, Harley finds -- and loses -- the perfect egg sandwich, which puts her in the crosshairs of a put-upon cop played by Rosie Perez, who happens to have arrested a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain, who happens to have stolen a diamond sought after by said crime lord.
Along the way, she crosses paths with Sionis’ singer-reluctant henchwoman Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary), played with an appealing toughness by Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood, Underground), and vengeful mob daughter The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Fargo), who favors a cross-bow gun as a weapon.
Harley breaks the kid out of jail in a series of second-act fight scenes that’re as beautifully choreographed and propulsive as any in moviedom. Refreshingly, at least at the beginning, Quinn uses beanbag bullets and paint canisters to blast her way into the precinct, making for a literally colorful and non-lethal entrance. And as she continues to face pursuers, she shows off some truly impressive gymnastics-like moves, that owe more than a debt to both The Bride and The Angels.
There’s more Kill Bill-esque action during the climactic battle when the ladies (finally) team up for a fight a seemingly endless Crazy 88-style stream of Sionis’ henchmen inside an abandoned fun house (is there any other kind?). That leads to a big-budget car chase, with Quinn on roller skates and The Huntress on a motorcycle and more amazing stuntwork. It’s all very colorful, larger than life and over the top, like a comic book come to life -- which is the overriding aesthetic, after all. Director Cathy Yan nails it.
And BOP doesn’t hit you over the head with its feminism, either. It just happens to be a film driven by strong female characters. No big deal, as it should be. It is really refreshing, though, to see said characters complimenting and supporting the hell out of each other. Girl power rules!
It’s not a perfect movie by any means. The male performances aren’t great -- there are less-than-memorable baddie turns from Ewan MacGregor and Chris Messina (The Mindy Show), who gets less impressive with every role. The lack of a worthy adversary definitely downgrades this effort -- why couldn’t Roman have had his heart broken by Quinn or why isn’t he a villain with some special comic-book power instead of just putting on some S&M-like leather mask once or twice?
Plus, The Birds of Prey take way too long to come together as a team, and Harley’s relationship with her landlord, the only positive one she seems to maintain, is given short shrift.
But, it is thrilling to see a writing-directing-producing-actor team of women delivering a thoroughly entertaining superhero movie. Can’t wait for a sequel where the Birds of Prey are together, kicking ass as a team all the way through. Meanwhile, please support this worthy effort at the box office.