Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (4 stars)

Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie swings her metal bat and knocks it out of the park in this fun, feminist spin-off

Bounding out of the Joker's shadow, DC's Birds of Prey sees riot girl Harley Quinn snagging her rightful turn in the spotlight after blithely stealing Suicide Squad out from under, well, everyone. It's a sweary, lusciously lurid vehicle for the charismatic chatterbox, who gets ample opportunity to rock her skank-style amidst all the delicious anarchy.

After her break-up with the aforementioned 'Clown Prince of Crime' (unseen here), Ms Quinn (played, once again, by Margot Robbie, who also produces) is feeling lonesome and is all about the reinvention. Stony broke and peddling herself as a mercenary and dog walker, amongst other things, Harley is no longer under the protection of her ex, so finds old enemies queuing up to have a pop.

One such foe is rich-boy-turned-gangster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, camping it up as the epitome of white male privilege); he's after a diamond which holds the key to a fortune and is reluctantly assisted by ass-kicker and powerful warbler Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). On Roman's and Harley's trail are maverick cop Renee (Rosie Perez) and the enigmatic Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Seemingly ripped from the pages of a comic book, the film takes a leaf too from the bad girls of punk, rap and grunge, while other influences are easy to spot (Kill Bill, John Wick). However, Birds of Prey fashions them into what feels like its own scrappy schtick. Its natural home is proudly the gutter – with its alley skirmishes, Harley's grotty pad, and an escape in a stolen minivan with a dirty mattress strapped to the top. Nevertheless, Harley taking on an entire police station is dazzling – like The Raid with glitter cannons – as is a cheeky, albeit brief, rendition of 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend'.

Erin Benach's costumes are incredible, while Cathy Yan directs with consistency, momentum and aplomb. Diversely cast, it's also a film that's feminist from start to finish – women wail on the soundtrack as the ladies shake off their oppressors and deliver their smackdowns – but its messaging never feels laboured; instead, the prominent presence of the chaotic Harley ensures a near-permanent air of mischief. As played by an ebullient, brilliant Robbie, she's an antiheroine whose cheeky personality and flair for ultraviolence is wickedly irresistible.

A few more choice comic putdowns would have been nice in Christina Hodson's largely solid script and, if the plot feels a touch uninspired, the way the characters come together is so appealing it's forgivable, while the punchy, old-school approach to action is certainly appreciated. Birds of Prey may not amount to anything truly game-changing but it's still top-tier comic book stuff.

General release from Fri 7 Feb.

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Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 49min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Cathy Yan
  • Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messina, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco
  • UK release: 7 February 2020

Harley Quinn (Robbie), having broken up with the Joker, finds herself the target of old enemies. The script could have used a few more comic putdowns, but the old-school action is solid, the setting is proudly the gutter and Robbie’s brilliant, ebullient performance as the mischievous Harley ensures a consistent sense of…