‘Birds of Prey’ is empowering, vibrant depiction of Harley Quinn

Illustration of Birds of Prey characters
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

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Grade: 4.0/5.0 

Although 2016’s “Suicide Squad” disappointed many DC fans, there seemed to be one aspect of the film that was able to garner positive reactions from viewers: the characterization and portrayal of Harley Quinn. Considering the countless number of films depicting the psyche of her male accomplice Joker, Harley’s own solo film has been long overdue. Although “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is initially messy in its structure, the film nevertheless manages to create an empowering and energetic narrative that highlights the beloved character with perfectly suited whimsy. 

“Birds of Prey” follows Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after she and the Joker have ended their messy and tumultuous relationship. Dealing with her newfound independence and lack of protection from the psychotic villain, Harley soon finds herself dealing with new threats. With the confidently misogynistic and villainous Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) on the rise, Harley joins forces with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to save Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from danger. 

 Opening with eccentric animated sequences, “Birds of Prey” immediately thrusts viewers into the chaos of Harley’s world. Committing to director Cathy Yan’s unique creative decisions, the film begins with a mix of narrative structures that makes it difficult to navigate the story. The entirety of the film’s first act suffers from silly experiments of toying with narrative, utilizing flashbacks and voice-overs that confuse the continuity of the film’s plot. Thankfully, the film finds its footing toward the latter end of its first half, threading comedic elements into the narrative structure and settling into its tone. 

“Birds of Prey” excels in capturing a perfectly over-the-top, vibrant aesthetic that pinpoints Harley’s essence to a tee. While derogatory comments have been made surrounding the film’s costume design, “Birds of Prey” strays away from reducing Harley to her sex appeal and instead streamlines its focus to externally match the character’s internal spunk and vibrancy. With the exuberant play on color and design, the film explores fun and intriguing visuals to accompany its continuously thrilling plot. 

Margot Robbie unsurprisingly delivers an impressive performance that perfectly encapsulates the relatability and humor of the iconic character. Whether she’s performing in lavish musical numbers or demolishing her enemies with a baseball bat, Robbie depicts Harley in a way that makes her treacherous and unreliable character extremely enticing and exhilarating to watch. 

Accompanying Robbie, the four other female leads in “Birds of Prey” each bring something drastically different to the group, coming together to craft a beautifully unexpected, enthralling friendship on-screen. “Birds of Prey” shines while exploring the electrifying dynamics between its female leads. It is quite obvious that the first half of the film suffers tremendously by straying away from the unification of these forces, spending too much of its time building up their individual subplots. The film finally finds itself when it utilizes its core group of female heroes, uniting a group of women with extremely different motives and backgrounds. Not only is it rare to see a powerful group of female leads at the head of a film; the focus on these characters also stresses the significance of women’s issues in a genre in which these issues are not often featured.

With male-led superhero films dominating the box office, “Birds of Prey” refreshingly deviates from this norm with an empowering female ensemble and crew. Primarily directed and produced by women, “Birds of Prey” highlights the significance of women supporting women in a time plagued with the seemingly all-encompassing patriarchy, both on and off screen. It is inspiring that Yan’s first major blockbuster strays away from the stereotypical narrative of female protagonists and instead positions women’s issues at the forefront of Harley’s narrative.  

Despite a flawed first act, “Birds of Prey” presents a fun and exhilarating look at a classic character in her element, pining for the perfect breakfast sandwich while simultaneously outrunning those she has deeply scorned. Breaking away from the intrinsic assumption that Harley Quinn and her infamous ex are a package deal, “Birds of Prey” reminds audiences of her unique individuality, creating a world in which she can simply be “Harley f—— Quinn.” 

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].