Cathy Yan’s sparkly superhero blockbuster works to entertain, but something about it isn’t quite right.
⭐ ⭐ ½
I am going to plead the First Amendment of the United States constitution by proxy, because I foresee indignation and furrowed brows at what I’m about to say. Birds of Prey is a fun, buoyant action movie, with lots of colours, vulgarities and impressive stunts. But in its efforts to uplift the role of women in blockbuster entertainment, it somehow feels it necessary to prop them on the backs, shoulders, faces, groins and mangled corpses of men. This is essentially a movie where a posse of spunky chicks beat up on dudes for two hours.
I know I’m wading in dangerous waters here, but let’s face it – there is healthy feminism and toxic feminism, and I doubt true gender equality crusaders would watch a movie like Birds of Prey and feel vindicated. If they do, well, good on them. There is a scene where Harley Quinn storms through a police station to rescue a young girl, and every single cop who tries to stop her is male. Come on. She tears through them like tissue paper. Later, she fights off criminals, bounty hunters and a small army, and I challenge you to count the women.
There is not a single personable, honest man in the entire story. They’re either sleazy douchebags who try to humiliate and take advantage of girls, corrupt police captains who exploit their female officers by stealing their promotions, or they’re the villain, whose sole character trait seems to be flagrant misogyny. There is one good man I can recall. An elderly Chinese restaurant owner. But even he… oh, never mind.
Anyway, the plot. Harley (Margot Robbie) is finally free of her paramour, the Joker, and is trying to go straight. We meet nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who is after a 30-carat diamond said to be engraved with the passcodes to Gotham’s biggest fortune.
Through developments too complicated to explain, the diamond ends up in the intestinal tract of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the young girl from the police station. This sets up a situation where every main character wants Cassandra disembowelled. Her pursuers include Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Roman’s prized lounge act; Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), Roman’s enforcer; Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a lanky badass with a crossbow; and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a disgraced detective determined to bring Harley down.
It’s a wacky plot that ticks all the necessary boxes and supplies our average daily intake of mindless action. Robbie, in the central role, is cute and quirky and looks to be having a good time, mainly because she has to. The real surprise is McGregor, who slips into Roman’s slimy shoes with a kind of gleeful malice the screenplay doesn’t provide, ironically stealing the show.
Look, Birds of Prey has an agenda and is unafraid to say so. If you want feisty, skilful women doing things in action movies previously reserved for macho men, you’d love this. Personally, I preferred Wonder Woman (2017). She was thrust into a world dominated by men and proved she could be powerful and independent without having to belittle them. She understood the strength of mutual respect.
Birds of Prey is available in Australian cinemas from 6 February 2020
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films