There is a lot in Suicide Squad, DC, and Warner Bros’ new anti-hero superhero movie, that can rightly be savaged; its flaws are many, from a terrible villain to strange butcherings of iconic characters. But there’s one quick scene, near the beginning of the film, that stands out as the most bizarre and uncomfortable: Batman kissing Harley Quinn… while she’s unconscious.
If you’re not familiar with Harley Quinn, she is simultaneously murderous and sympathetic, unhinged and brilliant. Her relationship with the Joker is dysfunctional — involving no small amount of coercion and abuse. She walks a fine line between tragic victim and robust female character whose strength comes, in no small part, from her agency. She’s deeply flawed and doesn’t make the best choices, but that’s precisely why she’s one of the most fascinating female characters in comics.
It’s understandable that she would present a conundrum for a film looking to simultaneously do this character justice while making her story palatable for the PG-13 masses. Now, what Suicide Squad should have done is take notes from Jessica Jones’s depiction of Jessica’s relationship with Kilgrave, and mixed it with some Hannibal Lecter and Clarice. (Fun fact, in Thomas Harris’s follow-up novel to The Silence of The Lambs, Clarice and Hannibal become romantically involved).
Instead, the movie gives her Sucker Punch treatment, making her a broken doll for the camera and other characters to ogle while giving her the occasional out-of-context “empowering” line. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene in which Ben Affleck’s Batman rescues her from a submerged car. He then proceeds to give her oddly sensual make-out CPR before punching her in the face.
Granted, his punch is to subdue her, because she’s a villain — even though we only see vague evidence of this onscreen. But it’s astonishing how anyone thought fleshing out her relationship with the Joker was too much for audiences to handle, but a kiss-punch combination from Batman was a great idea. Sure, the idea of the two together can be intriguing, but not like this.
It’s a weird, and misguided moment in a movie full of them, and in the span of a single scene, it exemplifies, how Suicide Squad tries to be too many things at once and subsequently drops the ball on all of them.