Back in 2016, Suicide Squad graced our screens. The film as we remember had all the hype of the DCEU fan-base fawning over its thrilling trailer. We expected this to be the film to put the DCEU back as a leading competitor for the MCU. As we know, it did not, and it had become a horrific stain that the studios have desperately tried to erase – from cancelling future DCEU projects and obliterating Jared Leto’s Joker all together. One shining recovery of Suicide Squad however, was that of Harley Quinn.
In a movie crammed with origin stories, new characters, terrible CGI and an overall drastic tone change from any previous DC movies, Harley Quinn absolutely stole the show. This is directly from Margot Robbie’s stunning performance, in every scene she appeared in, the movie became somewhat more tolerable to watch. It’s no wonder that the studios decided to take the character and give her, her own movie to rectify the failure of Suicide Squad.
Since her debut in Batman the Original Series, Harley Quinn caught fans attention. Not only did her presence give the Joker a hench-woman/girlfriend that was as insane as he was, but she also brought a lot of strength and charisma. Her black and red costume became synonymous with the character as much as the Joker’s purple and green costume, like the Joker became one to be interpreted and developed as the Batman franchise grew. She was clearly smart, doing a lot of Joker’s plans on her own and succeeding, but she was often underappreciated and overlooked. Suicide Squad gave fans a taste of what Harley could be on the big screen, but Birds of Prey finally gave us a Harley Quinn females all around the globe can look up to and root for.
The studios clearly knew Harley Quinn was going to be the selling point of the movie, even the title of the movie was drastically extended just to include her name – Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
You can see with this new iteration of Harley Quinn that she is significantly different to her portrayal in Suicide Squad, even though Margot Robbie played both versions. The actress is clearly having more fun in the role. She is joyful, loud, and eccentric, her expressions are over exaggeratedly manic and her lines sound less rehearsed. Everything she does appears more for herself and the character, rather than for appearance sake or to be edgy. From ecstatically jumping around, clapping her hands, to squirting cheese spray right into her mouth, or walking around with one shoe, this style of Harley feels more natural and free, compared to her rigid and structured form in Suicide Squad.
Another important difference to note between the two movies is Harley Quinn’s outfit. Both moved away from Harley’s jester costume (though it did make a cameo appearance in Suicide Squad), and created their own iconic looks that influenced her imagine in the comics and cosplayers and fanart’s portrayal of Harley. However, in Suicide Squad, her costume is overly revealing and needlessly sexualised. Especially in a movie with a lot of fighting faceless minions, dark alleyways and buildings full of broken debris, Harley walked in scantily clad outfits, tall heels and fishnets.
From the way she carried her bat over her shoulders as she walked, to the way the camera lingered on her as she bent over in the tiny underwear-like shorts, Harley felt more like a point of male gaze rather than a defined character. Margot Robbie herself complained about the main outfit, stating that it was uncomfortable and difficult to move around in.
In Birds of Prey, her costumes are more varied, with Harley changing in and out of different fashionable garments between scenes, as we can imagine her character would. They are flattering, less revealing, more comfortable and easy to move in. They are also each on their own very fashionable pieces, and we can imagine Harley to be a modern lady who would care about fashion and want to look good while kicking ass! What’s also worth pointing out is the difference in Harley’s t-shirts. In Suicide Squad it says “Daddy’s Little Monster,” whereas one of the shirts she wears in Birds of Prey says “Harley Quinn” all over it. This is a subtle message that Harley no longer belongs to the Joker, and is instead her own person.
Without a doubt, a fresher new perspective is given to the character that creates a positive image and sets her aside from the abusive relationship she and Joker had that was set up in Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad had a lot of problems, and its depiction of Harley’s relationship with Joker was one of controversy. The movie appeared to glamorize the abusive relationship, emphasizing on the toxic traits but never presenting them to be dangerous. It spurred so many couples Halloween costumes that year, and plenty of fanart of the “romantic” couple. With the Clown Prince buried into Harley’s history, all her motivation in the movie revolved around him, and while that made sense in the film, it did not develop Harley’s character into anything interesting.
Birds of prey wasted no time for her to break up with the joker and set out on her own adventures solo, making her more unpredictable and exciting. She’s now a young, independent woman who isn’t guided by the thought of pleasing a man, making her a more positive role model for women and overall a more appealing character. It’s even so cool how when we see flashbacks of her time in Suicide Squad, the focus is on her and cuts out as much of Joker as possible, showing only the back of his head or a cartoon version (that hilariously looks more like a younger version of Jack Nicholson’s joker and not Jared Leto at all!)
Birds of Prey really go the extra mile to show not just Harley Quinn but Harleen Quinzel too. In a hilarious and adorable animation opening we get to see Harleen as a child growing up. It’s good to see more of her past, which does not revolve around the Joker and shows she was always a strong person. Harley also talks about her past more, including having a PHD, and how the struggles of her life shaped her to be the person she is now. She is smart, courageous and has a lot of layers to her personality that Suicide Squad failed to dive into. Birds of Prey also took the time to show Harley’s bisexuality, canon in the comics but is rarely shown elsewhere. During the animation when Harley talks of past lovers, we see a female appear as one of the line ups, it is a blink-and-you-miss-it moment but to represent the canon of the comics, it gives us hope this could be explored further in the future.
In short, Suicide Squad was a Harley Quinn origin story for the big screen. It shows her beginnings: how she met and became involved with the Joker, and it delved into their relationship extensively. For any fan, her depiction and character development in the film added nothing new to her character.
Birds of Prey, however, like the comics, moved past her relationship with the Joker. From there, the film moved beyond Harley being “Joker’s girlfriend” and explored who Harley was as a person. Watching Margot Robbie gleam through her role is like having a sugar rush that never ends its endless excitement and joy, colour and humour. While it definitely looked like Margot Robbie had more room to play around with the character, credit has to go to the director Cathy Kan, and screenwriter Christina Hodson who really turned Harley Quinn into a person that females can relate to. The film showed that Harley is a truly compelling character with no restrictions, and going solo showed a side to her that cannot be seen when she’s standing behind the Joker.
Harley Quinn was a victim of Suicide Squad, and Birds of Prey set out to redeem her as the badass wild card she is.