Why Harley Quinn's Origin Story Movie Is Vital to the Superhero Genre
If Harley Quinn's origin story is shoehorned into 'Suicide Squad,' the superhero genre will be shooting itself in the foot
Suicide Squad — otherwise known as DC’s attempts at saying “Hey, we can do an Avengers too! Look at all the shiny arguing superheroes!” — might or might not be including Harley Quinn’s origin story when it hits theaters next summer. Details about this supervillain film’s plot remain as murky as its trailer’s moody lighting.
But a few pictures seem to indicate that the film will double as an origin story for Harley Quinn, the Joker’s would-be lady love. Most notably, it seems clear in this shot of Harley (Margot Robbie) and the Joker (Jared Leto), where it looks like she’s still Dr. Harleen Quinzel and he’s her patient in Arkham Asylum. Ah, young love.
If DC does this, they will only be shooting themselves in the foot. Because whether or not you’re a superhero fan, Harley Quinn’s origin story is important for both cultural and narrative reasons. Here’s why.
Superhero movies don’t have a great track record with non-males
Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is a respected astrophysicist in the Thor movies and yet whenever she’s around him, she turns into a fawning mooncalf. We get that he’s the superior Hemsworth, but come on girl, get it together. He wears a snuggie, for God’s sake.
Similarly, Man of Steel tried to make Lois Lane assertive, but she still spent most of the movie alternately admiring Henry Cavill’s jawline and needing a rescue. The Dark Knight’s Rachel and The Amazing Spiderman’s Gwen were both cool until the writers realized they were in danger of giving fully realized female characters too much screen time and had them whacked. Black Widow spends most of the Avengers movies striking poses in skintight leather — and she was the last of the gang to get an action figure.
The only three-dimensional girl in a superhero movie in recent years was Kick-Ass’s Hit Girl — and that wasn’t even from Marvel or DC. Marvel and DC can pretend they know girls, but they really, really don’t.
If they shaft Harley Quinn — who is hands-down one of their most dynamic female characters — by refusing to give her story room to breathe in its own film, they will be proving, once and for all, that they really couldn’t give less of a fuck about half their audience.
Harley Quinn’s origin story is fascinating
Even eschewing the issue of female representation onscreen, Harley Quinn is a straight-up fascinating character. Her origin story isn’t the tired “fell into radioactive slime” or “lost her parents” or “contracted a mysterious ailment.” She was once a respected psychiatrist who fell in love with her own patient — it’s literally a case of the inmates running the asylum!
If it’s done right, her story has the potential to go to psychological depths few superhero films have been able to go, covering such topics as insanity, manipulation, the psychology of abusive relationships, and a love story just oddly cute enough to have the viewer feeling queasy about their own instincts to root for it. The best, most complex stories put viewers at odds with their own reactions, and few comic book films — with their good-vs.-evil sensibilities — are able to approach that territory (with the exception of the underrated Watchmen).
Even if you’re not into comic book movies or find origin stories tiresome, Harley Quinn’s would invigorate the genre with something fresh and new. Her story with the Joker might not be the most functional relationship, but that’s exactly why it’s needed. She’s got the potential to be just as real and nuanced as Supergirl and Jessica Jones.
Cosplayers everywhere already embrace her
From a pure profit motive, a Harley Quinn film would do extraordinarily well: Suicide Squad isn’t even coming out for many more months; Margot Robbie’s Harley could turn out to be as underwhelming as Vince Vaughn on True Detective, and still hoards of cosplayers are embracing her. Harley was one of last year’s trending Halloween costumes before she’s even hit the big screen.
Nobody can say there wouldn’t be an audience for it — there is a clear demand for Harley.
There’s no question that the superhero genre is in a position of world domination — but if they want their dictatorship to be a benevolent one, Harley Quinn’s origin story needs its own film. Give Harley her due. Our culture has long been ready.