How Birds of Prey Could Right Suicide Squad’s Wrongs

How Birds of Prey Could Right Suicide Squad’s Wrongs

The 2016 Suicide Squad film was, to put it kindly, disappointing. Sure, it won an Academy Award for its hair and makeup styling, and clutched a Grammy nomination for Twenty One Pilots’ song “Heathens,” but it left a lot to be desired. In theory, the Suicide Squad’s mission is a noble one: gather the most

The 2016 Suicide Squad film was, to put it kindly, disappointing. Sure, it won an Academy Award for its hair and makeup styling, and clutched a Grammy nomination for Twenty One Pilots’ song “Heathens,” but it left a lot to be desired. In theory, the Suicide Squad’s mission is a noble one: gather the most disposable super villains Belle Reve has to offer, and have them sacrifice themselves at the first sign of danger. Like PluggedIn’s Paul Asay put it in his review of the film, if the team is destroyed in their act of valor, who would care? The problem the movie has is that it never gets that far. We never develop feelings for the squad members because we’re waiting on the movie to end.

Don’t get me wrong, it has some — like, very few — redeeming qualities: Will Smith is an excellent Deadshot, because he plays an excellent family man. It boasted a marvelous soundtrack. However, in a film that was marketing Harley Quinn as its predominant lead character in an attempt to introduce her into the DCEU, her character falls very short of being memorable.

Huntress, Cass Cain, Black Canary, and Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey

Huntress, Harley Quinn, Cassandra Cain, and Black Canary in Birds of Prey / Copyright Warner Bros. & DC Comics

Suicide Squad sets up Joker and Harley as the central characters of the movie, only for their screen-time to be short, and Harley’s character restrained by their relationship. Viola Davis, as Amanda Waller, says Harley’s downfall was falling in love with the Joker when she thought she was curing him — sacrificing her psychologist career to supply him with a machine gun he requested.

Less than fifteen minutes into Suicide Squad, Joker crashes the car they are riding into Gotham’s river, just to escape and save himself before Batman can come to Harley’s rescue — and she STILL tries to kill him in their underwater encounter. What does Harley have to gain from Batman’s death, other than Joker’s approval and affection? In a moment where it should be obvious that Joker does not truly care for her, or anyone other than himself, she is still faking her own unconsciousness in a futile attempt to win his love. What’s most disappointing about Harley isn’t that she has poor taste in romantic partners, but that she is willing to sacrifice her own being for Joker. She is willing to throw herself directly into the open arms of peril for him.

Any hope one might have for Harley’s evolution separate from the Joker in Suicide Squad is effectively dashed after she returns to Joker. Even after he is presumed dead, he ultimately breaks into Belle Reve to rescue her. Nevertheless, this doesn’t feel like it is in her best interest either. Harley is in asset to the Joker, and their relationship is built on him manipulating her into a scape-goat of sorts for him; someone who is willing to do the work and take the fall for him in the name of love.

In Suicide Squad, when Harley vows to devote herself to the Joker in a chemical plant, any hope of her returning to a place of reason seems to be gone. She seems to have absolutely lost herself to her partner, all while trying to “cure” him. Even though the character’s Stockholm Syndrome (or as Affinity Magazine puts it, Traumatic Bonding) is a fundamental, canonical part of her character, this is exactly why I have hope that Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) will deliver on the development I’ve been hoping for.

For starters, and this may just simply be the former art major in me crawling to the surface, the theatrical release poster for the film is beautiful. Margot Robbie, as Harley, in a Birth of Venus-esque painting, surrounded by her team and floating hamburgers, is a piece of artwork I never knew I needed. Incredible promotional artwork aside, in the Harley Quinn comics by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, Harley has left a life of death and grit behind in favor of returning to her work as Dr. Quinzel and participating in roller derby on the side. In Conner and Palmiotti’s run, she has become an individual character outside of her relationships with Joker and Batman. Palmiotti told The Washington Post, “Whenever she did have a run-in with the Joker or at least referenced him, it was in a way where we wanted to empower her, so we gave her all the power in those scenes.” This is the Harley I want to see in Birds of Prey.

I want to see a Harley finally and literally getting her emancipation from a toxic relationship she knows is bad for her, but she holds on to because she feels like she needs it to feel alive. I want to see a Harley who is finally in a position where she has the upper-hand, and where she has broken away from a chain of abuse and exploitation.

Every trailer hints that this is exactly what happens. With Harley assumedly and truly free, she has the ability to grow. Even though she probably won’t return to psychology, she has the chance now, in director Cathy Yan’s universe, to be whoever she wants, instead of someone else’s tool. (Also, it’s just really nice to see her do it with a kick-ass team of female vigilantes.) And while it could be argued that someone coming from a newly-found place of reason wouldn’t adopt a hyena as a pet, this is the movie where she has a chance to become just Harley again — to live for herself, instead of others. This movie could deliver us the freed, happy, roller derby-ing Harley we’ve been waiting for.

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Jaden Broadnax
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  • R
    February 7, 2020, 8:08 pm

    Well done article. I agree completely

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