By John H. Foote
Margot Robbie was the finest thing in the awful Warner Brothers film Suicide Squad (2016) as the kooky, violent, positively insane Harley Quinn, moll to Joker. Robbie absolutely blew everyone off the screen in the film with her wisecracking nutbar out to conquer everyone in her way. Each scene she was in seemed to be electrically charged by the young actress, who took the character and dominated the film. From the first moments we encounter her, like a gymnast in her cell, bewitiching the guards with her beauty and sex appeal, through the dressing scene to the beat of Eminem’s Without You, as she wriggles her way into an ultra tight outfit, to her final scene, back in her cell with bunny slippers, her espresso machine, content until rescued by her man, Mr. J (Jared Leto), or “puddin'”.
Harley and Joker did not go off happily into the sunset, oh no, at the beginning of this film they have broken up, he has kicked her out, leaving her emotionally broken, seriously pissed off, and hunted by the rest of the villains in Gotham who are more than a bit bothered she seemed to coast on the coattails of the Joker, and was always a big problem for them. Now without the protection of Mr. J, Harley finds herself vulnerable to some very bad people.
That is how Cathy Yan’s big action film Birds of Prey opens, and given the charisma of Robbie, I was in. She is a dazzling talent, both great actor and genuine movie star, with a million watt smile and eyebrows that dance up and down according to the mood. Now let me be clear, it is a stupid movie, but damn it was fun watching these gorgeous woman kick the collective asses of those who are out to get them. And again, Robbie is a delight as Harley, bad to the bone and loving every second of it.
But when the nastier bad guys (and Harley is a bad guy) come gunning for her and she is no longer under the Joker’s protection, she has to figure out a plan. As tough a cookie as Harley might be, there are a few others just as rough and tumble as she is. Among them are Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), tiny criminal mastermind Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a different sort of cop, Montoya (Rosie Perez). The group discovers it is in their best interests to join forces against Gotham’s top bad guy, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) an insane criminal with an even nuttier henchman, Zsasz (Chris Messina) each actor obviously having a blast as the bad guys, Messina knowing he might never get a chance like this again. McGregor all but cackles with glee each time he pulls off something diabolical, and though wildly over the top, he was fun to watch, his energy infectious.
But in the end the film is about, if it is about anything it is girl empowerment. Together the ladies are a glittery, colourful force of nature, much more powerful together than on their own. With their burst of colur clothing, hair ties, boots, and crazy hair, they are terrific to watch in the films huge action sequences, giving their all to make each exciting.
The performances are better than the script would normally allow with only Winstead feeling off, as though she felt she was in a different film. She is a wonderful actress, as her work in television’s Fargo proved, the long limbed lady can dominate a scene when in the mood to do so. Here, whatever she was doing just did not work. But that is a minor quibble.
Basco steals every scene she is in, a tiny mastermind who loves every second of her as a bad guy and the attentions of the others. It was nice to see Rosie Perez doing something interesting, and Smollett-Bell is solid.
Anyone hoping for a cameo from Jared Leto, forget it. There is no chance, after his behaviour on Suicide Squad that Warner Brothers would have him on a film set again. They get around this by using a double shot from behind, and it is really all we need.
McGregor is wonderful as a full scale bug eyes lunatic, going so far over the top as he ever has before and it looks like ghreat fund. He seems to be having the same sort of fun Jack Nicholson had playing the devil In The Witches of Eastwick (1987). Always underplaying his characters it was actually refreshing to see him go so far out on a limb.
And Robbie, who also produced this film and put together the all female team to bring the picture to the screen, is excellent, again as Harley Quinn. She owns the screen whenever on it, and as she is in nearly every frame of this film, that is a lot of high power charisma at work. After knocking out audiences in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) she has gone on to two Academy Award nominations for her work in I, Tonya (2017) and this past year in Bombshell (2019). In addition she was the heart and soul of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) portraying the ssweet soul Sharon Tate. Brilliant here, her star continues to rise because she elevates this film to a level much higher than it deserves.
Thoroughly entertaining, in fact as entertaining as it is implausible, you will have a good time. The dark influence of Joker (2019) is on every frame.
And then forget about the movie minutes after seeing it. The movie…Robbie is quite unforgettable.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.