Birds of Prey - Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie colored smoke

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: After breaking up with the Joker, Harley Quinn suddenly loses the protective shield that the Clown Prince of Crime provided for her. That makes her the new target of every lowlife in Gotham City who she ever wronged, including notorious gangster Roman Sionis. When an important diamond is stolen out from under Sionis, Harley and a collection of capable women are thrown into a whirlwind adventure to retrieve it, enact some revenge, and bond in the process.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: After the absolute mess that was 2016’s Suicide Squad, which introduced a live-action Harley Quinn to audiences for the first time, I can totally understand why people might be a little hesitant to jump back into another adventure starring one of Suicide Squad‘s main characters. But Birds of Prey is a massive improvement over its predecessor on every level, putting dynamic female characters in the center of the frame and giving us a perspective we haven’t seen yet in films set in Gotham.

Margot Robbie, who was one of the rare bright spots in Suicide Squad, gets to fully shine here as the delightfully deranged Harley. In part, this is a movie about a woman who is searching for her own identity after centering her life around her boyfriend. Even though all of the characterizations in this film are heightened to comic book movie levels, writer Christina Hodson actually makes Harley’s journey in that regard feel both relatable and cathartic. (Fact: life is just better without Jared Leto’s Joker in it.)

Director Cathy Yan balances Harley’s inherent humor and candy-colored brightness with some occasionally dark material, exploring how dangerous life for Gotham’s women can be when sociopathic men like Sionis (Ewan McGregor, having an absolute ball) are in power. But that doesn’t just go for the criminal side of the equation: even inside the Gotham City Police Department, we see how the highly capable detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) has been passed over and minimized by her less competent male counterparts, giving her and Harley some unspoken common ground when they inevitably have to work together.

The film’s time-jumping narrative structure, which some viewers found confusing or unnecessary, really works for me, and aside from the climactic battle in an abandoned funhouse which overstays its welcome by a few minutes, the action sequences are hard-hitting and well-staged. The movie’s supporting characters, like Jurnee Smollet’s Black Canary and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, feel like they’ve lived full lives off screen and are organic parts of this plot; that’s in direct opposition with Suicide Squad, which felt like it collected characters at random and never did anything interesting with their interpersonal relationships.

Unfortunately, Birds of Prey didn’t perform particularly well at the box office when it was released early this year. But hey, if Zack Snyder can get another crack at Justice League, maybe if enough people give this film a shot on HBO Max, the studio will make a well-deserved Birds of Prey sequel.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: