"I'm Harley Fucking Quinn!"
Helmed by Cathy Yan, Birds of the Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn marks the first time a superhero film has been directed by an Asian American. Following Harley’s breakup with the Joker and her search for agency, there is immediately no denying Birds of Prey is made by women for women. That being said, the film is a fun, action-packed thrill ride that all can enjoy.
As an audience, you immediately find yourself standing with Harley as she attempts to navigate the chaos of Gotham without the Joker’s protection. Along the way, Harley meets, fights against, and joins forces with notable characters from the DC Universe like Dinah Lance a.k.a. The Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
Their stories connect over the search of a diamond wanted by Birds of Prey’s main villain, Black Mask, played by the thoroughly entertaining Ewan McGregor. On that hunt is also famous Batman villain Victor Zsasz, who is brilliantly played by Chris Messina.
While Birds of Prey is filled with excellent performances all around, it’s Margot Robbie’s return to the character of Harley Quinn that absolutely steals the show. She perfectly captures the eccentric, violent, and intelligent nature of Harley and proves every step of the way why she doesn’t need the Joker. In fact, it becomes more and more evident throughout the film that it is, in fact, the Joker that needs Harley.
From her furious fight sequences to her hilarious hi-jinx and psychoanalytic studies, she is not only entertaining but every bit the Harley we know and love from the comics.
"Psychologically speaking, vengeance rarely brings the catharsis we hope for." - Harley Quinn
Seeing Harley as a three-dimensional character whose past, almost Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with the Joker as just an origin story is very refreshing as a woman. The film finds its stride in its feminist themes of agency, self-acceptance, ownership, and controlling one’s narrative. The female-led cast of characters is not only diverse but also relatable. Post-break-up Harley is hilarious, yet true.
But the feminism extends beyond the characters. Just take a look at the soundtrack (Halsey and Saweetie are just a couple of names on an awesome tracklist), female direction, subversion of the male gaze via cinematography, and costume design.
As you may remember, Harley’s appearance in 2016’s Suicide Squad was over-sexualized. All of the tattoos that filled her body almost served as a type of branding, marking her as Joker’s property. Look no further than the collar around her neck. Costuming, like anything else in film, is intentional. Margot Robbie noted in multiple interviews regarding the film that many portions of the outfit (the gold bangles for one) were uncomfortable, and that she “hated them.”
In fact, the costume was ultimately detrimental as she was an ornamental sidekick waiting for the Joker to swoop in and rescue her rather than the powerhouse villain we all know she is.
All of the costumes in Birds of Prey not only fit the characters and their narratives, but were comfortable, age-appropriate, and still allowed the characters to be attractive or sexy in a natural way. A fan-favorite moment is the fight scene within Amusement Mile where Black Canary’s hair keeps getting in her face as she fights Black Mask’s goons. Harley comes to help and nonchalantly hands her a hair tie.
This calls out every action/superhero film where a female character is fighting, running, etc. with her hair down for the entire film. It’s realistic and relatable and shows that the filmmakers get it. Harley cuts her hair, changes her tattoos, her whole outfit, and her outlook. She no longer belongs to someone, she is someone.
Finally, the film promises more to come for Harley and Gotham. With Birds of Prey making its budget back during its opening weekend, rivaling the success of films like Ford vs. Ferrari, it looks like the Harley trilogy is on its way. Robbie has already expressed interest in wanting Poison Ivy to appear, romantically or not, and is excited to bring their chemistry to the screen.
Birds of Prey is the kick-ass, fun action movie that the DCEU has sorely needed, and the beginning of the Harley era we deserve. It’s campy, chaotic, and everything we could expect of Harley’s emancipation. Some may argue that the film isn’t anything too special, but for women, it’s a breath of fresh air. Men get 80 films like this a decade, we get one, and boy did it deliver. 5 out of 5 breakfast sandwiches.