In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series added a new element to The Joker's life when it introduced Harley Quinn, his partner-in-crime and girlfriend. Since then, the two have been paired together numerous times in the comics, video games and other animated series, but this past weekend, they were finally seen together on the big screen in Suicide Squad. Individually, these two left interesting impressions. Margot Robbie almost perfectly captured Harley's essence, and while Joker didn't get a lot of screen time, Jared Leto's mob boss-take on the Clown Prince of Crime left many eager to see a full performance from him in a future DC movie. As for them as a couple, while Suicide Squad did adapt several elements of their relationship faithfully, there will also some issues, namely with the way in which Harley becomes her villainous self and Joker's treatment of her. Keep in mind that some of this could have been resolved had certain scenes not been deleted, but because they were left out of the final cut, it felt like pieces of the puzzle were missing.
Let's start with Harley's descent to madness and falling into Joker's grasp. When we first meet these two together in a flashback, Harley had already fallen in love with The Joker, to the point that she was willing to smuggle a machine gun into Arkham Asylum for him. While not absolutely necessary to the story, it would have been nice to see what Harleen Quinzel was like before meeting Joker, like seeing snippets of her treating other patients. Regardless, after she delivers Joker's weapon and his men shoot up the psychiatric hospital, Harleen is strapped to a table and subjected to electroshock therapy at the hands of "Mr. J." This is later followed up with Harley proving that she'll "live" for The Joker by falling into the same chemicals that dyed his skin. With her visage now extra pasty, the clownish couple was officially together, ready to party at strip clubs and tangle with Batman.
If this feels like an incomplete transition, it's because it is. Several Suicide Squad previews and leaked set videos showed a scene where Harley tracked down Joker and confronted him at his car and pulled a gun on him. Joker took it in stride and eventually managed to take the gun from her and strike her across the face. She then got in the car with him, and then we presumably would have seen them at Ace Chemicals next, the place where the Gotham crime lord was reborn. Her choosing to fall into the chemicals is definitely preferable to being pushed in, like what happened in her New 52 origin, but because the movie cut out this sequence, it still feels like there's a lack of choice on Harley's part. Even though she seemed open to whatever Joker had planned in the beginning, the movie makes it look like that damage to her brain is the only reason she's joined him. She makes no attempt to exact revenge or try to understand what makes him tick. We all knew Harley was going to become Joker's girlfriend, but seeing her struggle with the decision would have made her origin story more appealing.
That brings us to the other main problem with their relationship in Suicide Squad: Joker is way too nice to Harley Quinn, making their relationship look like a healthy one, which it should be anything but. Longtime Batman fans know that while Harley is deeply enamored with The Joker, he couldn't care less about her. He may trick her into thinking he loves her, but whenever she's not amusing him or being integral to one of his plans, he abuses her and sometimes even tosses her out on the street. The Joker doesn't love anybody except himself. Obsession is the next closest feeling he can have for someone, and only Batman is worthy of that.
Aside from the electroshock torture, Suicide Squad's Joker showed Harley nothing but love He dove into the chemicals to save her from drowning, he shot another crime boss simply for eyeing her and he dedicated all of his resources to tracking her down and rescuing her from Task Force X...twice! The problem with this approach is it's contrary to the tragedy that's supposed to be rooted in their relationship. Joker is an abusive boyfriend who manipulates Harley and chips away at her self-esteem. For many years she was blind to this horrible treatment, but as shown in the recent comics, she finally cuts ties with him and builds a life of her own.
Unfortunately, there was never a moment in Suicide Squad where Harley doubted whether she should be with Joker. We're not saying she had to leave him by the end of the movie, but right now, there's no foundation for her to branch out and become her independent self, barring another forced separation. Are Joker and Harley one of DC Comics' most well known couples? Yes. Are they a good duo cosplay idea? Definitely. Should their relationship romanticized? Absolutely not, but that's what Suicide Squad decided to do. Assuming these two return for another DC movie (be it Suicide Squad 2, the new Batman or something else), we need to see the abusive side of Joker and Harley's relationship. This doesn't need to get graphic, but the groundwork needs to be laid for her to eventually realize that the man she's with is no good, both as a boyfriend and as a human being. She can remain a villain/anti-hero, but it's necessary for her eyes to open so she can develop as a character. As for Joker, whenever this happens, we expect he'll try to pull Harley back into his grasp as a simple power play, but then he'll continue doing what he does best: terrorizing Gotham City and "playing jokes" on the Bat.
What did you think of The Joker and Harley Quinn's relationship in Suicide Squad? Were you fine with the changes made or do you wish it had been more faithful to the source material? Let us know in the comments below.
Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.
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