Who needs the Joker? Not Harley Quinn, and not “Birds of Prey,” which takes flight through its wise-cracking, bone-crunching bad girls who have no need for men in their lives.
And especially no call for clowns in makeup.
With its dynamic editing, a glitter-and-grime design like one of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies and an embrace of all things 1980s, “Birds of Prey” isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a lot of fun.
And it is original in this sense: These are women of action, and that’s not a story that we’ve watched a million times before.
While “Birds of Prey” continues the Warner Bros. excursion into R-rated movies based on the DC Comics like its smash with “Joker,” its latest has more in common with a Marvel bad boy.
Deadpool is known as the “merc with a mouth” in his brand of destruction and savagely blue humor, and Harley Quinn is in full mercenary mode here, with a mouth that merely needs to be washed out with soap.
“Birds of Prey” hits its R with violence and language that’s barely a step up from “Suicide Squad,” in which star Margot Robbie became a superstar with her take on Harley, the tough-broad favorite of comics and the cosplay crowd.
The talented and whip-smart Robbie (and beautiful, sure) blew up so big as the scantily clad, sweet-and-deadly psycho that she is front-and-center in front of the camera and in charge behind it as the producer.
That’s what it takes to make a movie that’s also written by a woman and directed by a woman and that women ticket-buyers may decide is one of their favorite comic-book movies.
That’s a more accurate description than “superhero movie” because there’s almost no superpowers on display, and these ladies aren’t always heroic — especially our protagonist.
We meet Harley Quinn here as she has broken up with the Joker, ending an abusive relationship and looking to find her own way in Gotham City despite herself being kooky, unpredictable, violent, selfish and abusive in her own way.
She tells our story as a mostly reliable narrator, noting her whims and her flaws in almost equal degrees.
Her desires range from the exotic (having a hyena, named Bruce as in Wayne, as a pet) to the simple (her pursuit of the perfect breakfast sandwich), while her liabilities include illegal substances, injuring most people she comes in contact with and destruction of property.
This will happen when you’re looking for work as a mercenary, and when in your past you ran afoul of the city’s other bad guys, and when there’s a power struggle going on among Gotham’s crime lords, led by one who wants Harley dead.
There’s so much focus on Harley’s narrative that she literally has to back up to tell the backstory of the “birds” who end up working with her late in the movie to protect a teen girl who’s hiding something desired by Gotham’s goons.
That would be Black Canary, a nightclub singer with unique fighting abilities (Jurnee Smollet-Bell); Huntress, a crossbow-killer with a secret past (Mary Elizabeth Winstead); and Renee Montoya, a police detective gone rogue.
Don’t think of Harley and these women as forming a crime-fighting team because that’s not accurate. These are all women scorned, better than the men around them in almost every way and finally fighting back by fighting together.
There aren’t many men in “Birds of Prey” who are anything more than clods to be beaten to a pulp, but Ewan McGregor (as crime lord Black Mask) and Chris Messina (as his henchman) are so wonderfully slimy that they make it easy to cheer their inevitable demise.
It seemed odd that their characters were more interesting than the women (except for the fabulous Robbie’s work), but that comes from them being interwoven through the entire movie while the women are sprinkled in a little at a time with that odd “now let’s give you her backstory” structure.
Most of the movie’s plot is an excuse for staging a fight, and among the choreography, editing and Tulsa native K.K. Barrett’s inventive production design, the action is fast, fun and colorful.
You don’t go to “Birds of Prey” looking for depth of meaning in women’s continuing fight for equality with men.
You go for bad men being beaten senseless with a bit of style — and a lot of glitter.