Everyone’s familiar with the version of Harley Quinn made famous by Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad. I mean, who can forget the countless, horrendous Harley and Joker costumes we see every year on Halloween? While the hype surrounding her character lasted long after the film’s box office success, her solo film, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), wasn’t met with the same anticipation. Admittedly, I was incredibly disinterested in the film after seeing the first trailers. Suicide Squad did a fantastic job at one thing (and one thing only, because Jared Leto’s joker is NOT it) — putting Harley Quinn in a box, a place she was never supposed to be.
Robbie’s Harley Quinn was quickly thrown into the “hot, crazy bitch” box — attractive to the male gaze and just kooky enough to be comedic relief. Nothing more, nothing less. Not knowing much about the DC Comics character, that’s all I thought of her, too. That was, until my boyfriend and I decided to give the new animated series Harley Quinn a shot, and quickly discovered there was so much more to her character.
The series, which just finished off season one, emphasizes the importance of female camaraderie, exemplified by Harley’s friendship with Poison Ivy. Without giving away too much of the plot, the show follows Quinn as she befriends Ivy and plots to take down The Joker, as he's now her ex-boyfriend. While she realized her relationship was toxic and manipulative, she’s still drawn to the idea of him that had she built up in her mind and what she thought they had together. Beyond this, however, Harley and Ivy learn from each other what it means to be a friend and care for the people around you.
It’s an interesting take on the characters previously fleshed out in the comics as well as Batman: The Animated Series, and it's certainly a better depiction than that portrayed in Suicide Squad. It also does a wicked job of setting the tone for Birds of Prey. All things considered, there's no reason the film should have been anything short of a box office win, right?
It’s disappointing. Not the movie, which was actually kind of delightful, but the lingering misogyny that still surrounds the film industry — especially those based on comic books. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that everyone loved Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad simply because she looked hot. One of the biggest differences between the two films is that in her spin-off, she sports a shorter hair-cut, looks a bit rugged and dirty, and has traded her signature tiny shorts with fishnets for power suits and shoulder pads. Not conventionally attractive and definitely not something men love to see. The other big difference is that the protagonists are all women that have “bad guys” opposing them in every which way, beyond the main antagonist. While the Birds of Prey are a superhero group, Harley is still a villain, but the women are able to put differences aside, come together to defeat the bad guys, and actually enjoy each other’s company while learning from one another. The characters grow confident and empowered throughout the course of the film, and Harley (while still absolutely nuts) is lovable. But the men don’t want to hear it. To be clear, yes, there is a difference between men and men.
Birds of Prey, while it neither tanked nor was a huge success, definitely deserved better than what it got — which was the typical, over the top criticism from comic book dudebros that can’t stand a film that doesn’t aim to directly please them and offers something other than the same formulated plot points we saw in the last 20 MCU movies. Women in media doing realistic things, like forming genuine friendships and kicking ass, needs to be encouraged. It’s crucial to see women do the things that, so often, we only see men do. More of that in 2020.