Birds of Prey isn’t the first R-rated superhero movie, but it is the first one written and directed by women, and the first to center on an all-female superhero team. Director Cathy Yan, writer Christina Hodson, and producer/star Margot Robbie have put together a madcap romp filled with badass women, some of the best action we’ve seen in recent superhero film history, and a whole lot of cute but crude character-based comedy.
Two of its core characters are nothing short of brilliant. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is easily the best onscreen Black Canary that DC/WB has ever created. Her singing, fighting, and emotional substance create a killer representation of Dinah Lance (and she looks great in fishnets, too). Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is the film’s secret weapon, with her grim outlook—inspired by childhood trauma—rendering both gritty heroism and great deadpan comedy.
But Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is inarguably the movie’s star. Centering Harley in a Birds of Prey movie might rub some fans the wrong way, but it’s hard to deny just how hilarious and magnetic Robbie is in the role (and how much easier the underdog film was to have greenlit with her at its heart).
We find our heroine at a crossroads in her life; after breaking up with the Joker, she discovers that the immunity she once enjoyed as his partner has dissipated. She’s unable to do anything without an After Hours-style endless supply of goons, bad guys, assassins, and aggrieved enemies hunting her around every corner.
Yan’s vision for Gotham includes a grimy technicolor dreamworld interspersed with cute cartoons and filled with an attitude that befits the badass women who inhabit it. While Harley tries to rediscover herself without the Joker, she butts heads with Ewan McGregor’s campy, misogynistic sadist Roman Sionis and his right-hand man Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). Roman and Victor are just entertaining and menacing enough to be great foils, but don’t distract heavily from the women at the center of this bonkers entry into the DCEU canon.
A fun element of Birds of Prey is its soft connection to the larger DC universe. I’d love to see Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya—a whip-smart parody/homage of ’80s cop characters—take on the Question in the wider DC world, just like her comic book counterpart has done. Ella Jay Basco also breaks out as Cass Cain, whose style and street smarts feel like spiritual representations of the comics character even though they’re wildly different than the background, attitude, and abilities detailed in the source material.
Aside from the core cast, the biggest and best part of Birds of Prey is the action. Yan made the brilliant choice of adding John Wick‘s Chad Stahelski as Second Unit Director, and he stacks the movie with impressive practical action and stunt sequences that the Avengers could only dream of. Yan and Stahelski do an excellent job of crafting set pieces and sequences that feel tonally barmy and fun while still packing an impact that’s befitting of the R rating. Yan’s eye combined with Hodson’s script mean that these action-heavy moments also offer up some character beats and riffs distinctive for their authenticity to the way women fight, live, and speak.
Birds of Prey is some of the most fun I’ve had at the cinema for a long time. Though the film may have taken some notes from the likes of Pulp Fiction and Deadpool, Yan, Hodson, and their cast deliver something that feels fresh, and really entertaining. Whether you’re intrigued by its groundbreaking cast and crew, the R-rated action, or just because you love comic book movies, you’ll likely be very happy with what you find. I was pleasantly surprised just how much I enjoyed the bizarro world of the Birds of Prey, and thrilled at the prospect of it continuing long after this adventure ends.
Featured Image: Warner Bros.