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Birds of Prey is a raucous girls’ night out

 

BIRDS OF PREY
directed by Cathy Yan

A Harley Quinn action flick with a feminist sensibility ticks a lot of boxes.

For a big, ballsy blow-em-up DC comic-book blockbuster, Birds of Prey gets a lot of things right. For starters, its five main characters are all women, and not once do any of them have to rely on a man – super, batty or otherwise – to get her out of a sticky situation. It’s also written, directed and produced by women, and this fervent feminist sensibility comes through almost unadulterated.

Admittedly, in the character’s backstory, Harley Quinn – a sensational Margot Robbie – becomes the chaotic and slightly ruined woman she is because a man did her wrong. That man was Gotham’s Joker, whom she calls “Mr J” and who doesn’t appear in the film, which is a sequel to, and improvement on, 2016’s all-villain Suicide Squad. (Robbie’s Harley and Joaquin Phoenix’s more recent Joker exist in different movie universes.) Once she’s torn off the “J” necklace and blown up a power plant, Harley feels much better and gets on with her own life.

The plot – written by Christina Hodson, whose Transformers’ spin-off Bumblebee shows she can do bombastic – is almost as much of a hot mess as its heroine, leaping back and forth on the timeline of Harley’s recovery. It’s not immediately clear what Harley’s focus is, but some mischievously violent pranks catch the eye of a slimy Ewan McGregor as the sadistic nightclub owner who’s out for revenge now the Joker won’t pop up to save her. As our delightfully ditsy heroine fights off a miscellany of other aggrieved (mainly) men from Gotham’s underworld, shooting them with glitter bombs and paintballs, a team of superwomen materialise to help her out.

This sequel stands alone as a thoroughly entertaining two hours of exuberant fun, thanks to terrific performances by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s “Huntress”, the breakthrough chutzpah of 13-year-old Ella Jay Basco as a feisty orphan, and a welcome return from TV for Rosie Perez. The casting is also delightfully diverse, in ethnicity and age, and the film’s Chinese-American director, Cathy Yan, proves she can deliver an action flick like the best of male counterparts.

Although it does go on a bit as it heads towards its explosive climax, Birds of Prey is definitely the raucous girls’ night out you’re looking for.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★1/2

Video: Roadshow Films NZ

This article was first published in the February 22, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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