Mike at the Movies: Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie stars in “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.”

Birds of Prey (R) *****

This film did not turn out to be what I thought it might be. It became a feminist festival with strong and funny performances from all five of its stars: Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn; Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli, the crossbow-wielding Huntress; Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary; and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya. The plot is impossible to describe except to say that a lot of guys get beaten to the punch by the quintet, often in surprising ways.

The storyline, such as it is, turns on the possession of the Bertinelli Diamond. Roman Sionis, the villain (Ewan McGregor), wants it but teenaged Cassandra has it, most of the time in her stomach, which is the only place she can think of to hide it. That leads to a lot of later jokes, especially when Harley picks up about six quarts of laxative for the two of them.

The surprise is Bertinelli: tall and spare, she is also very shy but trained in martial arts so she can get even with Sionis who wiped out her family a long time ago. By the time of the film she has also mastered the crossbow with which she takes vengeance on a number of killers. Sionis is a wonderfully greasy villain, and soon it is the mission of all the women to wipe him out.

Harley is free to do what she wants as she is now independent of The Joker. She marks their split by blowing up their chemical factory love nest in the first of several spectacular blowups in the film. The level of the stunts and mayhem is quite remarkable, even when Harley invades a prison with a shotgun that shoots bullets that explode into confetti when they hit their target rather than the expected blood and gore. Harley reminds Black Canary that “harlequin” means “to serve.” Baloney, but it sounds good. Robbie has made Harley her own and elevates the character in this version of her story, which she produced. She must have worked with some roller derby players as several of their tricks and stratagems are used in the film, mostly to comic effect.

This is a feminist film without being obnoxious about it. It is good-spirited, funny, with comic book violence and lots of color and imaginatively staged fight scenes. I found it to be a highly enjoyable night at the theater, and I believe you will too unless you take it too seriously.