At no stage does the story even pretend to take itself seriously. The entire film is punctuated with freeze frames, flashbacks, commentary and self-reflexive nods to every cliché that is invoked. Montoya, for instance, is viewed as an “80s cop”, an instantly recognisable stereotype. There’s a gleeful silliness about Birds of Prey that makes it the antithesis of Todd Phillips’s Joker – the darkly realistic origin story of Harley’s ex.
Many viewers felt Joker cut too close to the bone, giving us a Gotham City that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to life in any big American city today. The violence, while only sporadic, had a powerful emotional charge.
Those disgruntled viewers probably expected something more like Birds of Prey, which comes across as a party rather than a morality tale. The rapid, breathless nature of the action scenes are played for comic effect, with every broken bone drawing a yelp of pleasure from the audience.
Yan and Hodson seem to have understood that the most unbearable feature of the superhero genre is not the mindless action (or even the leotards), but the absurd sentimentality in which directors love to wallow. A superhero might be massacring a whole raft of super-villains in one scene and cuddling a puppy in the next. Well … maybe just having a flashback to some suitably grievous childhood incident. These movies are trash aspiring to profundity, but Birds of Prey is perfectly comfortable with only two dimensions.
The running gag in the film is that all the violence and bloodshed is part of Harley’s “emancipation” from her failed relationship with the Joker. It’s the equivalent of those movies in which a middle-aged divorcee goes out and rediscovers life. In other movies of this ilk the heroine meets some ageing father-of-two salesman in a singles club. In this version she goes on the rampage, waging a one-woman war against the world, with results that are a whole lot more entertaining.
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Directed by Cathy Yan
Written by Christina Hodson
Starring Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ali Wong
USA, rated MA 15+, 109 mins