The DC Extended Universe has been, kindly, a gigantic mess over the past decade. Most of DC’s poster heroes don’t have what it takes to stand out as the face of the franchise, and the one that does come from the most unlikely places.
If we believe the Hollywood rumor, Henry Cavil will not return to Superman, ditto Ben Affleck and Batman. Wonder Woman is still around but was apparently only good for one movie before the disastrous sequel. The Flash, Black Adam, Blue Beetleall of these heroes are still waiting for their day in the sun, leaving just one character and one performance left to be the DCEU’s flagship.
Harley Quinn was one of many groundbreaking additions to DC Comics canon created for Batman: The Animated Series. Originally designed to be a comic henchwoman for the big bad The Joker, Harley has risen to a shocking level of popularity and prominence. Dr. Harleen Quinzel didn’t enter proper DC Comics canon until 1999, but it’s hard to imagine the franchise without her today. One of the most dynamic and complex characters in the Batman mythos, Harley has been hero, villain, anti-hero, and everything in between. Harley is everywhere in comic books today, and she also left a massive mark on DC’s video games, cartoons, and TV series. That’s part of what made it so surprising that Harley Quinn didn’t hit the big screen until 2016.
by David Ayer suicide squad did a lot of things very badly, but in this tragic movie, the team made exactly one perfect decision; casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn’s first big-screen portrayal is, bar none, the best thing the DCEU has introduced to pop culture. Even until 2016 suicide squadIn Margot Robbie’s Nightmare Vision, Margot Robbie brought perfect enthusiasm, physique, and depth to the long-awaited character. Fans got to see a speeded-up version of Dr. Quinzel’s love affair with Jared Leto’s terrible Joker, and his role still holds up smoothly. She’s like a diamond in the rough, the only takeaway from a movie that might as well have been written out of canon. Fortunately, the studio saw what audiences saw in her and gave Robbie’s Harley Quinn a chance to shine.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Story of Harley Quinn holds a number of records in the DCEU canon. Longest title for one. It’s the franchise’s shortest film to date, at just 109 minutes. It’s also, tragically, the DCEU’s least financially successful film. Amongst all of this, it also wins the franchise’s most underrated film title. It’s hilarious, fast-paced, action-packed, beautifully directed, and a perfect distillation of character in a way that no other DC film has managed. If anyone had never heard of DC Comics and watched the big solo debuts of every character, from Steel man at Shazamat Birds of prey, they walked away with the best understanding of Harley Quinn. This movie perfectly bonded her with a whole new team and then fired her on her own, but what’s amazing is that when she was brought back to her old digs, she was perfect again.
Harley Quinn is pushed back to the big screen in James Gunn’s valiant attempt to revive the failed franchise with The Suicide Squad. After her grand introduction alongside nearly a dozen characters who get instantly butchered, Harley Quinn spends a good chunk of the runtime as a captive. The Suicide Squad is an ensemble piece, which usually means that she would have less time to focus on her individual characters. That’s why it’s so shocking that James Gunn gave Harley Quinn a perfect ending to her character arc at the start of the film.
Quinn finds herself captured by an ambitious national leader who desires her hand in marriage. He looks awesome and Quinn is immediately captivated, but once he reveals his darker intentions, she makes a choice. Quinn’s talk about the trauma she’s been through and the violent walls she’s had to erect to keep herself from hurting herself again is an emotionally strangling moment. It’s over so quickly, but its impact is felt throughout the film. Add to that a heart-pounding action scene, Quinn’s tearful joy as her friends come to her rescue, and the touching final scene, and they’ve got a main character.
Studio failures and the limitations of franchise storytelling have prevented most of DC’s big names from having a solid, multi-movie arc. Harley Quinn is perhaps the only character to have the kind of full backstory that fans love in these cinematic universes. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn has the flawless performance, narrative weight, and execution that should make her the DCEU’s flagship character. Put it in everything. Build the franchise around it like the MCU did Iron Man. Or, at least, learn from the one unambiguous success in granting every character the power of Harley Quinn.
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