Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) ★★★★

By definition, a harlequin is a comedic entertainer meant to serve both the public and their master. And as Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) explains, without a master, they're nothing. This is how Harley sees herself for the first half of Birds of Prey.

Director Cathy Yan's action-packed entry into the DC Extended Universe is Harley's story, post-breakup from her master, the Joker, with whom she felt protected and invincible. But she quickly discovers that she never needed him, bouncing back from heartbreak and showing the citizens of Gotham City that she's the most ballsy — and perhaps, scary — villain they've ever seen. After all, if men are allowed to be feared, why can't she? What follows is the introduction to Harley Quinn that Suicide Squad wasn't, a tale about a sisterhood brought together through catharsis and healing.

The plot isn't the most original; the bad guys are after a diamond that contains the location of an even greater treasure, but Harley and her new allies must protect it. Simple enough, but this isn't a film to be watched for its storyline. Instead, we watch to see what crazy scheme Harley will come up with next. But while Robbie is sensational as the movie's titular ticking time bomb full of glitter — the Clown Queen of Crime — also effectively displaying how vulnerable Harley can be, screenwriter Christina Hodson's back-and-forth storytelling and her reliance on narrative flashbacks kills the film's momentum.

Despite this, viewers will feel like they're at a carnival tilt-a-whirl, surrounded by the flashy glow of its colorful lights and fist-pumping songs by the likes of Pat Benatar and Kesha. It's exhilarating and liberating, much like the emancipation sought by all the women in the movie, from Harley herself to veteran detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Meanwhile, most of the film's comedy comes from Ewan McGregor's performance as Black Mask, whose misogyny lends itself to some of its most difficult scenes to watch; yet, the character's egotism and narcissism are so over-the-top that it's hilarious.

Not only does the movie assemble an impeccable cast of old and new faces, but it also has some of the best, most inventive fight sequences. The fight choreography is stylish and precise, but Birds of Prey doesn't celebrate perfection. Rather, this is a celebration of women in their most real and flawed form, badass and unencumbered by the need to impress anyone — especially men.

Review for The Reel Roundup

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