Margot Robbie is everywhere. This weekend at the cinema, somebody with a lot of time on his hands could see her in three separate films — “Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood,” “Bombshell” and her latest, “Birds of Prey” — like she’s some sort of blond Burt Reynolds.
And to that I say: more, more, more! The Australian actress is such a pleasure to watch, bringing uncommon joy and vivacity to every role she plays, be it a shoeless Sharon Tate or that rogue in rouge, Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend.
Make that ex-girlfriend. At the beginning of “Birds of Prey,” we learn that Harley and the Clown Prince, Gotham’s fiercest villain, have split up. And without his formidable protection, an army of past enemies — including Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask — come after her, while she’s joined on the run by Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her illegal pet hyena.
The Rolodex of baddies kicks off a running gag in which every time one arrives, a dossier pops up on-screen listing their name and “grievance.” One is simply an eggplant emoji. “Birds of Prey” is filled with clever bits like that, and really is the funniest comic book film since the first “Deadpool” from 2016. And, like the Ryan Reynolds Marvel flick, this DC Films joint is rated R.
For the most part, however, there’s not too much swearing or violence that exceeds other films in the genre. But Christina Hodson’s script sure loves a crude joke. Rosie Perez, as a detective on the hunt for Harley, wears an unexplained T-shirt that reads “I shaved my b–ls for this?” Gets a laugh every time.
So does Robbie. Her high-energy Quinn has a harsh New York — er, Gotham — accent, and we’re told in a cartoon prelude that she was born Harleen Quinzel. Oh, and she’s also the proud holder of a Ph.D. Who knows if any of that’s true, though? Harley fibs with abandon and would betray a close friend with a smile. Like Arthur Fleck in “Joker,” Harley is not exactly a main character for little kids to look up to.
But director Cathy Yan’s film isn’t aiming for the usual heroics. “Birds of Prey” moves at a breakneck pace with a dry, totally unsentimental sense of humor, and it never gets caught up in cliched morals or weighty lessons. The movie also has a punky, washed-out look and harks back to a lot of long-gone pop culture: Harley looks like a No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani, and her run-down fun-house lair is a dead ringer for the villain’s hunting ground in “The Man With the Golden Gun.”
Marvel Studios, lorded over by Kevin Feige, prizes consistency above all else. Its 23 movies are mostly middle-of-the-road, big-budget spectacles, aesthetically generic enough to enable easy crossovers, like Tony Stark appearing in roughly half of them. DC, on the other hand, takes big risks and gives gutsy filmmakers more control over the look and content. That hurt the studio with a string of early duds, but it hits its stride with “Wonder Woman,” “Shazam!” and now “Birds of Prey.”
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