Harley frickin Quinn rides again
Emancipation is the name of the game for the ladies of Gotham, in this Harley Quinn spinoff. Emancipation from a toxic relationship, Freedom from workplace politics, liberation from the shackles of revenge and even the sweet release of a glittering diamond blocked bowl. At the insistence of the lead actress and producer, Margot Robbie Harley Quinn is joined on this freedom express by other lesser-known DC female characters: Renee Montoya, The Huntress and The Black Canary.
Taking place after Suicide Squad (2016) Harley Quinn (MARGOT ROBBIE) is soul searching in the wake of her breakup with the Joker. Harley’s explosive closure to that part of her life causes a lengthy line of her enemies to come out of the woodwork. Looking For a way to save her skin, Harley joins in the chase for Cassandra Cain (ELLA JAY BASCO), a young thief. Cain unknowingly picks the wrong pocket drawing the fury of monstrous criminal Roman Sionis otherwise known as Black Mask (EWAN MCGREGOR). Also joining the chase is Detective Renee Montoya (ROSIE PEREZ), assassin Helena Bertinelli (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) aka The Huntress and lounge singer Dinah Lance (JOURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL) aka The Black Canary. Though each has its own agenda, ultimately the bigger threat of Black Mask forcing everyone to band together.
The conscious choice by star/producer Robbie to not maintain the focus of the film purely around Harley Quinn represents a sensible move on multiple levels. One aspect is that it does well temper Harley’s eccentric character with others of lesser chaotic personalities. The intended result is that her kooky personality doesn’t wear thin but also become a pleasant break when in contrast to the other characters. Another facet is that it becomes a platform to showcase other minor female DC characters. The female cast whilst for most of the film are on opposing sides, their interactions aren’t catty but when they do team up everyone is supportive of one another. In the midst of the final big battle (at one point shot impressively on a moving funhouse turntable), Harley (ROBBIE) sees Dinah (SMOLLETT-BELL) frustrated at her long hair getting in the way aids her with a hair tie so she can see what she fighting without her hair in the way. It’s a small thing but it is refreshing to see women who are often seen in this genre with long flowing locks acknowledge when it is not practical in a fight.
The opportunities for this many women to be front and centre of an action film (let alone a comic book film,) have been few and far in between. The feminine presence also extends to behind the camera with the director Cathy Yan (her second directorial film) and screenwriter Christina Hodson. Their influence assists with the female characters to feel more authentic rather than cliché. Repeatedly women in the action genre are viewed by the male gaze. Women often seen in outfits that tight and scantily clad. Scenes of them kicking ass only to be saved by their (romantically connected to) male lead. God forbid they be shown to be capable enough to get themselves out of trouble. The contrast of Harley Quinn’s initial appearance in Suicide Squad (2017) to B.O.P. represents a key example of what happens when you withdraw the male gaze. In Suicide Squad (2017) there is a scene where everyone is gearing up. The male characters are conveyed to almost change from prison outfits instantly into their main get-up except for Harley. The camera pans up her body to show her wearing fishnets, red and blue hot pants and matching bra, just as her shirt is being pulled over her chest. All of this done publicly in front of military personnel, who are shown to stop and stare at her changing her clothes…Insert cringe here. However, with B.O.P. the women changing their outfit for the pivotal battle are handled with the same instant change as men usually are. Even one of the clothing pieces, a red and black corset (the print a hark to Harley’s comic book outfit) whilst provocative looking is later revealed to be made of Kevlar hidden underneath, saving one of the characters. Who says you can’t wear an outfit that is both sexy AND lifesaving?
Though it isn’t revolutionary, Birds of Prey: and The Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn offers a fun, entertaining action-packed ride. A ride filled with energetic fight scenes that do well to satisfactorily reflects each person’s distinct fighting style. While this ride of a film narratively moves around a lot, it is filled with a stellar cast whose chemistry together is a genuine joy to behold and makes one drooling for more. Another tick in the box for DC’s current winning streak.