[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains good-night-sticks and SPOILERS!!!]
Sigh… when I embarked on this fool’s errand, almost a year ago now, I naively assumed that the big shiny Suicide Squad (2016) movie would be the grand finale of this series… little suspecting what a disappointing damp squib her live-action debut as a headliner would turn out to be… representing little more than a dirty-rain-water-filled pothole along the road… a road that continues to stretch on towards an unreachable horizon. While researching the straight-to-video animation Batman: Assault on Arkham for a previous post, I noticed numerous reviews/comments suggesting that it was vastly superior to its silver-screen sibling, and I have to agree… not only is it a better Suicide Squad movie, and a better Harley Quinn movie, it’s also just a better movie full-stop. And I’ll tell you for why…
Although I specifically chose the “Extended Cut” so that I could get the maximum amount of Harley, this version got off to a very slow start with too many long-winded character introductions, and re-introductions, before the story abruptly skipped ahead like a scratched record to a big supernatural evil tearing some random city apart, and faceless squishy-headed foot-soldiers running around attacking everything in sight, with only the vaguest nominal motivations… so it seemed like the movie spent way too long establishing the protagonists, and too little time establishing the antagonists. I mean, I get why the boring-ass army guy might want to keep his unpredictable charges in the dark about who/what they were fighting, and where they were heading, but keeping the viewer in the dark along with them just leads to unnecessary confusion and annoyance. As I said before, the storyline of AA had a lot of holes in it, but at least it flowed fairly smoothly, and was easy enough to follow, as long as you suspended your disbelief a little.
I also thought it was a big mistake (and writer/director David Ayer has admitted as much himself) to pit the freshly-formed squad of dysfunctional (meta)humans against an apocalyptic supernatural foe, straight out of the gate, while the ‘Joker’ (Jared Leto) was just sorta buzzing around on the periphery, like a pesky fly at a picnic. The most ridiculous aspect of this ill-considered mismatch was that the more powerful squad members’ flashy magickal attacks were shown to be largely ineffective against the “Incubus” monster and the city-block-levelling doomsday “machine” that he was defending, but they’re both easily destroyed by a couple bog-standard, shoe-box-sized bombs! WTF!?
Sadly, both movies suffer from slightly disconnected exchanges of dialogue, but that’s more excusable with AA, because voice-actors are often recorded in separate rooms, on separate days, so their conversations might not sound as natural as they would if everyone was actually talking to each other in real-time… whereas the SS actors were stood face-to-face while exchanging their atonal non-sequiturs.
As for the squad dynamics… while some members may have pair-bonded in AA, they never got as mushy en masse as they do here, swapping tedious sob-stories, and fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their “esprit de corps” superbuddies, as if somewhere around the midway point, they (or Ayer?) simply forgot they were supposed to be straight-up sociopaths, and their cruel grey hearts inexplicably turned all pink and fluffy, like the sappy kids from Super Hero High! Blerg. AA was very effective in setting up all the squaddies on an equal footing, and showing that any of them could be eliminated at any moment… they were all considered disposable by the powers-that-be, and I was genuinely shocked when the heads of recognisable name villains were blown clean off their bodies. In contrast, the only squaddy to get beheaded for desertion/disobedience here was a johnny-come-lately introduced solely for that perfunctory purpose… and his death was shown in a fleeting wide-shot, to minimise the actual impact, and mute any “shock” value it might have had… unlike in AA, where you’re up-close-and-personal with the guy when he gets decapitated. And, of course, SS simply didn’t have the spine to ‘splode any of their main characters, who either survived to (metaphorically) hug it out in the finale, or heroically sacrificed themselves for the good of the mission and/or personal redemption. Meh. The fact that they spent most of the movie fighting featureless/bloodless blob-men (who silently shatter when they’re bashed in, like the baddies in a childish computer game) also undercut the violence and supposed villainy of their characters. Despite this movie having the same (UK) age-rating as AA and Kick-Ass, it seemed so much tamer and lamer by comparison… pure pop-punk, rather than hardcore…
Which leads us back to Harley, portrayed here by the Australian actress Margot Robbie… who, it has to be said, looked fantastic, and delivered a very dynamic performance… it’s just a shame that she’s playing such a poorly-written version of the character, who comes across as a dickish bully, deliberately pressing other people’s buttons out of boredom, without any of the humour and “kooky” underdog charm that made her such a fan-favourite in the first place. Now, to be fair, I haven’t read any of the post-New-52 comics, so this may well be a super-faithful representation of how she behaves in the books these days… but, given a choice, I much prefer her original “Looney Tunes” vaudeville act, over this snarky alt-burlesque routine… and AA has proven that she can still be plenty sexy and scary, without sacrificing her old-timey clown-girl slap-schtick. While I appreciate their efforts to boost Harley’s profile as a bona fide bad-ass in her own right, I think AA did a much better job of portraying her as a dangerous-but-endearing “adult” anti-heroine… and AA also scores bonus points for keeping her in-costume, rather than just stripping her down to her skimpies. Meanwhile, it’s a little hard to understand (let alone sympathise with) her obsessive, self-negating attraction to “Mistah J”, considering how utterly bland and benign he is here… despite all the hype about Leto going full-tilt “method” to immerse himself in the character’s twisted pathology, he barely registers as more than a generic gangster with green-hair and a grille, soppily chasing his girlfriend’s shadow… and the way they tried to dash-off Harley’s origin story in a handful of flashbacks sprinkled incongruously throughout the movie was painfully ineffectual. Meh2.
In conclusion: Suicide Squad is kinda like the Donald Trump of “comic-book movies”… loud, brash, bloated, inept, offensive, incoherent, illiterate, with an over-inflated sense of its own assumed awesomeness, ridiculed by the media, yet still wildly successful and inexplicably popular with the public. Dammit!