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Harley Quinn’s Cinematic Evolution Mirrors Her Comic Transformation, by Angela Rairden

Harley Quinn harleyquinn the suicide squad

SPOILER ALERT: There's a small spoiler for The Suicide Squad contained in this article. Read at your own risk!

Whether or not you’ve liked any of the films that Harley Quinn has appeared in, one thing that’s held true throughout all of her appearances is the fact that Margot Robbie most definitely and without a doubt understands the character. James Gunn’s new gory, fun, and perhaps a little off the wall romp The Suicide Squad is no exception.

Harley’s been my favorite comic book character for a long time, and this is hardly the first blog I’ve written about her (if you want to know more about her history in comics, check out this and this!) and it likely won’t be the last, either.

When Harley first graced the screen in 2016’s Suicide Squad, she wasn’t the version of the character that I liked best. Dressed in booty shorts and impractically high heeled boots, covered in terrible tattoos and, worse of all, completely obsessed with the Joker. Although Robbie did a superb job of portraying Harley’s personality, by the time that first Suicide Squad movie came out, the Harley Quinn comics had long moved on from that version of co-dependent and psychologically abused sidekick, so seeing her back in that role felt like a setback.

Harley in 2016's Suicide Squad

It was a feeling that seemed fairly universally shared, considering the fact that the next film that we would see Harley appear in was 2020’s aptly titled Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. A project that Robbie took a personal interest in, it focused on Harley’s rather spectacular break from the Joker and her journey to forming her own girl gang as she discovered her own identity along the way.

The Suicide Squad, as it turned out, would continue Harley’s journey to personal growth and put her past lessons with abusive relationships to the test. When she’s momentarily swept off her feet by an unexpected suitor, it doesn’t take Harley too long to recognize his psychotic tenancies and deal with the situation in the most Harley way possible – with a gun. Afterwards, as she stands over her would-be-suitor while he bleeds out on the floor, she laments “When your taste in men is as bad as mine, they don’t just go away quietly. They slash your tires, and they kill your dogs and tell you that the music you like ain’t real music at all. And all the cruelty…tears you apart after a while.”

It’s an example of Harley doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, a trademark of her character in both the comics and the films. Ultimately, though, it’s Harley continuing to grow and change throughout her media, something which both Robbie and Gunn seemed to do with intention.

For example, the “rotten” tattoo that used to decorate Harley’s jawline in her two previous film appearances is noticeably absent in The Suicide Squad. Gunn addressed the removal on Instagram, saying "Margot didn't like it and found out I also didn't like it so we decided just to remove it.” Also, if you paid close attention during the movie, you’d noticed that the tattoo on Harley’s left shoulder blade, which previously read “Property of Joker” was changed to “Property of No One.”

Harley's back tattoo (image from Insider.com)

Furthermore, Gunn was reportedly also behind Harley’s costume change up from booty shorts to the more sensible, comic-inspired red and black outfit we see her in in the beginning of the film. I found it particularly satisfying when, later on in the film, she hijacks a pair of flat soled military style boots, which were much better suited for fighting than any of her previous high heeled boots had been.

All of these aspects point to Harley being shown more respect as a character. She’s still zany and a little over the top, as she should be, but now we’ve seen how many more layers there are to Harley beyond just being the lovesick sidekick of a sociopath, something which comic fans have been aware of for awhile now. It's always nice when the DC cinematic universe gets something right.

 

Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.

Me, in my Harley dress to see The Suicide Squad ;-) 



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