Harley Quinn’s Film Development: What Changed?

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey/Warner Bros.

It’s been well over two months since Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). If you read my review you know I really loved the movie, but not just for its story. The film had quite some characters that were well played by the actors, but Harley Quinn must be one of my favorite characters to develop on screen. There are a few things I would like to put in a spotlight on how Harley Quinn became her own person. It’s much deeper than how Harley acts around everyone, like having more depth and personality in her character, but also the clothing, the camera angles, and more.

The first thing I would like to mention is her characteristics. In Suicide Squad (2017) we saw that Harley Quinn be so in love with her puddin’. So much that Harley almost lost all characteristics in the movie, but her bad-mouthing guards and her seeing the fun in any challenge coming her way is what kept us interested. In Birds of Prey however, she shows a whole other side to her we want to see more of, and we will in Suicide Squad 2. Just like in the Harley Quinn animated series with Kaley Cuoco, Harley becomes her own person. In the beginning, she does not know how being alone works. But once she has a newfound goal of starting to make a name for herself in the city, she starts showing a lot of traits from in the comics. She’s showing off her athletic side and the stunts are amazing. She’s only fighting for herself and by doing that, she is making a name for herself in Gotham.

Warner Bros./DC Comics

It brings me to the second point and maybe the biggest point that includes her outfits and overall screen view. What is so different between BOP is that Cathy Yan did a great job acknowledging what the male gaze is and fighting it off like a champ. The biggest difference in the male gaze is the clothing. In Suicide Squad Harley wore a ‘Daddy’s Little Monster’ shirt, a lot of makeup and her hair had to be perfect in every scene (except when it rained of course), and even the moment she strips and gets dressed in front of a crowd you can see how the camera goes from her legs to her face while she gets dressed. Even though in BOP Harley still has shorts on and a shirt that has her name on, it makes a point that she is not being sexualized by having a partner who defines her, she’s her own being.

I just mentioned how the camera came up from her legs to her face, and this brings me to another point in the male gaze in cinema. While Suicide Squad followed every step that Harley made, it always made a point of showing off her body. Even after the famous elevator scene, the camera kept looking at Harley walking away, emphasizing her booty. Or the scene where she steals the clutch out of the window and where she bends over to grab it. I just loved seeing the difference between the two movies and how Birds of Prey was a worthy follow up to Suicide Squad. BOP really made a point having a female gaze, seeing Harley for what she wants and telling it in a female narrative.

If you’re interested in learning more about the male and female gaze, I would advise looking into the work of Laura Mulvey’s theory. She is the one that inspired me to write this article and make a small comparison between the movies. It’s not just Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, but you can also compare Batman vs. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League.

Did you see the differences between the movies? And how two different directors can make such a huge difference? In my opinion, Cathy Yan did a good job of translating her vision into the film.