In the past few weeks, the DCEU has announced a dizzying number of new films in development, including several Suicide Squad spin-offs. Despite the film's lackluster reception, DC isn't done with its dark side. The studio has officially announced a sequel, Suicide Squad 2, which begins production next year, as well as two spin-offs featuring Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn: Gotham City Sirens and Harley Quinn vs The Joker.
While the reaction to a Gotham City Sirens movie was overwhelmingly positive and fans are thrilled to see more of the character who stole the show in #SuicideSquad, the more recent news of a Harley/Joker movie was met with a far less enthusiastic reception. Jared Leto's Joker was highly controversial, and many fans aren't too keen on seeing him lead his own movie (or movies, if the Joker origin movie comes to fruition). The idea of a "criminal romance" featuring the comic book pair is problematic for other reasons, as well — an abusive relationship isn't ideal fodder for an action rom-com, after all. However, there is a way that the #DCEU can create a Harley/Joker movie that works for the franchise, and for the fans — by focusing on Harley and killing off this deadly romance.
Harley And The Joker: The Story So Far
The DCEU has already explained much of the Joker's history with Harley thanks to flashback scenes in Suicide Squad. The film revealed their first meeting, which when Harley was still Dr. Quinzel, a young psychiatrist assigned to the Joker during his incarceration. The film showed their "romance" blossom, and Harley helping him escape, before being tortured with electrodes. Post-torture, she leaps into a vat of chemicals for him (and he leaps right in after to save her), and then the two go on a colorful crime spree — partying at strip clubs, riding around in fast cars, dressing up and having fun.
It's a reasonable movie facsimile of their relationship, but it's one that downplays the level of abuse that Harley suffers at his hands, and makes the Joker out to be a much more loving boyfriend than comic book fans expected.
Suicide Squad has already been criticized for romanticizing this relationship, and one of the biggest problems with a Harley/Joker movie is the possibility of another two hours of the same. Harley's love for Joker is meant to be a cautionary tale, one of a woman driven mad by love and willing to do anything for the object of her affections — even though he couldn't care less about her. Joker sees Harley as a possession and a tool; he commands her, uses her and physically beats her. While some of this has already made it into the DCEU, it was definitely missed by many fans who were more focused on his drive to "rescue" her from the Task Force at all costs.
Moving forward, the DCEU has two main options for Harley and the Joker's relationship.
- Create a real romance: The first option is to deviate entirely from the original comic relationship, and create one where Joker really does love Harley. This is problematic on two levels. For one, it spits on the heart and soul of the original relationship, and for another, it continues to put their relationship on a pedestal. Joker has already manipulated, tortured and abused Harley — if they are portrayed as romantic ideals in the future, it sends a horrifying message to young viewers that this kind of abuse is OK.
- Portray an abusive relationship: The second option is to remain accurate to the comics for their solo flick, and show just how horrifying this relationship truly is. While this is by far a better option, it's still going to be difficult to ensure that the relationship isn't romanticized anyway. Joker's treatment of Harley needs to be truly egregious to prevent impressionable viewers from getting the wrong idea, and while this fits with the 'dark and gritty' theme that has been the signature of the DCEU so far, it may not make for the greatest movie. If Wonder Woman proves anything, it is that the DCEU needs to make room for hope, and abusive relationships aren't all that hopeful.
The Inspirational Harley We Should See
The solution to this thorny problem is to create a Harley/Joker film that finds its hopeful, uplifting message in Harley breaking free of her abuser and striking out on her own.
This fits with her character's recent comic book history, where #HarleyQuinn takes the time to visit Joker in prison — and kick the crap out of him there. She acknowledges his abuse, calls him to account for it, and leaves him bleeding on the floor with a promise that she will never let him back in to her life again. Seeing that on the big screen would be a huge moment, both for comic book fans who are ready to see recent storylines being adapted (as well as origin stories), but also for casual fans who want to see something inspirational in their superhero movies.
This story, one where Joker is clearly seen as the abuser and Harley is her own hero, is something entirely new for superhero movies. It's one that is character driven, rather than focusing on a hero versus a Big Bad. It's inspiring, but needs to get darker than even the DCEU has gone before. It leaves space to showcase the criminal characters without romanticizing their problematic relationship.
Harley, Ivy And Representation
In addition, a film that sees Harley leaving the Joker behind is one that leads directly to the introduction of another fan-favorite character: Poison Ivy.
In the comics, Harley leaves Joker and starts a new relationship with Ivy, to the great joy of everyone who wants to see more LGBTQ couples in comics. At the moment, this is something seriously lacking when it comes to big screen superheroes, and while Wonder Woman hinted at Diana's previous relationships within the Amazon community, it is beyond time that the DCEU includes an openly queer couple.
In addition to better representation on screen, seeing Harley ditch Joker for Ivy makes for a perfect lead-in to Gotham City Sirens. Harley could even simply meet Ivy in her Joker film, and really develop that relationship in the follow-up, which centers on Harley, Ivy and Catwoman in Gotham City.
The Last Laugh
It's clear that the smartest move for a Harley/Joker movie is one that sees Harley dumping the Joker to move on to bigger and better things, like her time with the Sirens.
This would be a move that allows the DCEU to create something that is dark and still uplifting, that puts Harley, arguably one of the most popular characters in both the DCEU and the DC universe, front and center. This would also lead directly into future plans for the franchise. It's one that directly addresses the controversial nature of their relationship and that includes a positive message for female fans. It would show that DC is willing to truly bet on all of its female characters, not just Wonder Woman, and that they are embracing their female fanbase.
The best news? If the working title (Harley Quinn vs The Joker) can be taken as a hint, it looks like DC is already planning on giving Harley the story that she deserves.