After publicly announcing her break-up with the Joker, Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), joins forces with fellow superheroes Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winestead) and Gotham City Police Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to save a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from being killed by the wicked crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) because she swallowed his diamond. A cool animated introduction sets up the backstory of Harley Quinn; she has a PhD, became a clinical psychiatrist and fell in love with her patient, the Joker. “Behind every successful man there’s a bad ass broad.” Harley Quinn truthfully says. She’s a bad ass, and the Joker’s criminal success is owed to her, without a shadow of doubt. Director Cathy Yan uses a Shaw Brothers style zoom to reveal the chemical plant Harley fell inside, as animated symbols appear on screen while she talks about her recent separation from the Joker, in a voice-over narration. She steals a big rig semitruck and runs it into the chemical plant, blowing it up as it explodes like cotton candy fireworks, publicly announcing to Gotham City that her and the Joker are split.
There is the use of constant voice over’s by Harley Quinn as she tells us not only her own backstory, but practically holds our hand throughout the entire movie, which results in unnecessary distractions for the viewer. It’s a colorful film with a wide variety of hues and shades spread about. But the constant title cards superimposed on-screen, flashing before our eyes in a rapid fashion by telling us the names of characters, is now holding our other hand as we watch this movie.
The film delivers on its promise of entertainment, especially with a chase scene on foot, between Harley Quinn and Detective Montoya through a Gotham bazaar, in addition to a showdown finale inside of an abandoned amusement park. The biggest issue of this film is the matter of contradicting different tonalities without concluding where it stands on the spectrum of seriousness versus comicality. Horrifying sequences meant to be taken gravely serious are followed by ridiculous images like Harley losing her egg sandwich in mid-air, with glorified 4K close-ups and zooms in slow motion as she dodges bullets and blood. The gravity of the violence mixed with comicality loses its meaning in both departments, but then one reminds themselves that this is a superhero movie. The problem therein lies the fact that comic book movies are tough to pull off in live-action formats without appearing like swiss cheese. But, maybe that’s the point, since there’s so much emphasis on Harley’s delightful egg & cheese obsession.
Since Detective Montoya doesn’t have enough evidence to take Roman Sionis down, she’s forced to track Harley Quinn for assistance, with an incentive that Miss Quinn is already living a life of crime. Roman Sionis’ character is excessively brutal as he engages in grotesque and disturbing sequences like literally peeling off the faces of tortured victims amid a world that looks like bubble gum and cotton candy in a carnival. But Quinn is hardcore as she single handedly invades the Police Department and shoots colored tear gas of pink and blue cannisters, with some that fire confetti. She does acrobatic martial arts techniques and invades the entire department, whooping everyone’s ass.
The voice overs are overused and overblown. The title cards superimposed on the screen should have been sufficient enough to hold the audiences hand in telling who’s who and what’s what. The production design is magnificent with vivid, radiating colors and a high dynamic range of color gamut, with different shades of reds, greens and blues filling up the world of this comic story. But, the biggest criticism is the concept of show, don’t tell. The constant voice overs are unnecessary. Harley Quinn’s voice over narration becomes redundant since we can easily conclude her explanation on our own, based on the information appearing on screen. We shouldn’t have to hear something when we can already see it occurring. It’s obvious that the voice-over narration is written for the sole purpose of catching audiences up-to-speed on Quinn’s latest capers, but it often seemed like it was gearing more toward closed-captioning as opposed to narration.
This is a film about the bad ass ladies taking down a dangerous man. Even the GCPD Detective Montoya is a kickass lady. The young lady Cassandra Cain (played convincingly by Ella Jay Basco) who’s notoriously known for pick pocketing crimes, steals the diamond that belongs to Roman, but the cops don’t put her in hand cuffs, and merely place her in the back seat of the patrol car. I’m not an expert on police arrest procedures for minors, but one would think that the cops keep an eye on her in the backseat, as she hides her stolen goods, and swallows the massive diamond. But, then, we remind ourselves: this is a comic book movie. Once Roman gets a hand on Harley, he tortures her, threatens her, until she gets the diamond back from Cassandra.
Margot Robbie kicks ass in every scene, and it’s clearly obvious based on her movements within her performance that she put in a great deal of preparation and training to portray this character. Hats off to to her effort. Like Harley Quinn says herself, there is no one else like her. Harley Quinn is a fascinating character. A woman who obtained her PhD, worked as a Clinical Psychologist, fell in love with her patient, the Joker, threw herself into volatile chemical compounds to prove her love to him, goes to jail multiple times and continues to live a life of crime in Gotham City.
Does this film know how serious it wants us to take it? It’s Rated R for a reason. To argue that we’re not supposed to take it seriously is contradictory to the multiple sequences where grotesque and disturbing scenarios are performed believably by the actors, but followed by rainbow imagery and flying cheese & egg sandwiches unraveling in the air while in slow-motion. There’s clearly a level of weightiness to the overall tone of the film, but its juxtaposition with its comicality is equivalent to a bartender overpouring or underpouring liquor with the mixing ingredient, resulting in a lackluster drink. There are violent sequences with grueling images that are haunting and terrifying but yet the tone of voice of the characters and it glitz and glam say the exact opposite: bubble gum, candy canes and cotton candy. This leaves us wondering what emotions we’re supposed to be experiencing.
The production design gets a perfect 10 and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique (A Star is Born) is second to none. Hats off to director Cathy Yan for crafting such a colorful film and setting up a cool ending in an abandoned amusement park. Despite all the critique, if you’re like me, you’ll happily sit through this film if you’re a fan of badass women taking down an evil man. Shout out to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill on that note.