Margot Robbie is back as the anarchic Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey, on release in Cineworld from the 7th of February. And the reviews embargo has lifted on the frenetic, candy-coloured new DC movie, in which Harley is freed from her relationship with the Joker (played in Suicide Squad by Jared Leto).
This means she can enact full vengeance on ruthless crime lord Black Mask (Ewan McGregor); however, she needs the help of a badass flock of vigilantes in order to do so. Step forward Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett Bell) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), all of whom fuse their various abilities together to level the Gotham City playing field.
So, what do critics make of the film? For the most part, Birds of Prey is hailed as an enjoyable, somewhat unpredictable romp, with much of the praise going towards Robbie and director Cathy Yan, one of an increasing number of women directors to have helmed a comic book movie.
"Birds of Prey moves at a breakneck pace with a dry, totally unsentimental sense of humor, and it never gets caught up in cliched morals or weighty lessons," raves Johnny Oleksinski in The New York Post. Of Robbie's star turn, he writes: "The Australian actress is such a pleasure to watch, bringing uncommon joy and vivacity to every role she plays, be it a shoeless Sharon Tate or that rogue in rouge, Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend."
"Cathy Yan keeps it all hurtling along with impeccable ferocity," says Variety's Owen Gleiberman. "Her action scenes have a deftly detonating visual spaciousness, capped by crowd-pleasing moments." He also praises the film's topical undercurrents: "If there’s a subversive element to “Birds of Prey,” it’s that Harley is a social deviant who was once a respectable professional woman. That she went over the edge, and lived to tell the tale, indicates how much more there is to the current moment of empowerment than the mere dream of triumphantly fitting in."
Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt says it's a long-overdue triumph for the representation of women in comic book cinema. "In a world gone mad, the catharsis of Prey's twisted sisterhood doesn't just read as pandemonium for its own sake; it's actually pretty damn sweet."
Writing for Little White Lies, Hannah Woodhead says the movie more than stands up to its Marvel and DC rivals. "Rather than the paint-by-numbers girl power of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey presents flawed, multi-faceted women as more than an afterthought in male-driven narratives. Quinn’s incessant narration distracts a little from the story, but otherwise, this is a welcome tonic to the grimdark macho worlds of Batman v Superman and Justice League."
The Financial Times' critic Danny Leigh describes the movie as a light, exuberant palate-cleanser in the wake of the brooding Joker: "The tone established by director Cathy Yan is popping candy loud and slapstick silly. After the grim drag of Todd Phillips, it may come as a relief."
That said, some critics remain on the fence about Harley Quinn's new adventure. The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore says the movie doesn't take as many risks as it should: "But those hoping for a Deadpool-like fusion of mayhem and wit should lower their expectations: Harley may be known for her unpredictability, but Birds plays by action-movie rules."
And The Irish Times journalist Tara Brady also claims to have been unimpressed: "If only Margot Robbie’s incessant winks at the audience and exhausting meta-voiceover would pause long enough for, well, a movie to occur. An onslaught of backstories related with graphics and emojis in Harley’s grating Brooklyn babydoll brogue curdle into some nonsense concerning a diamond and (ugh) campy, psychopathic mobsters (Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina). Think hideous hyperactive music video."