In addition to staying the title of a cultishly beloved mass-audience disappointment, Batman v Superman could double as a summary of the extended-expression DC Comics film strategy. Initial Superman series petering out immediately after a lower-spending budget aspect 4? Get Batman up and functioning. Batman series petering out right after a mega-price range part 4? Try to get Superman going all over again. Man of Metal underperformed? Consider introducing Batman future time, and then possibly skip straight to the Justice League. But following Zack Snyder’s take on a murderous Batman and a murdered Superman, a new DC standard-bearer was essential. Gal Gadot’s Speculate Woman seemed like a reasonable successor until eventually her next film was widely regarded as a disappointment and the third, while announced, has no specific manufacturing or launch day. As fantastic as Gadot is in the portion, this ever-increasing, typically-floundering, by no means-ending incarnation of the DC Comics universe on movie screens could probably use a far more chaotic determine as its agent. With characteristic showmanship, that determine has uncovered herself: Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie in 2016’s Suicide Squad, final year’s Birds of Prey and the brand-new non-sequel The Suicide Squad.

Though fashionable franchising dictates that any supplied motion picture need to be in a position to serve as a font of quickly beloved and spinoffable people, the very first Suicide Squad movie however seems like an odd incubator in retrospect. It was critically reviled, and if general audiences did not seem to loathe it pretty so a lot (it manufactured plenty of funds, and not just on opening weekend), its director was not happy and it grew to become properly-recognized as a movie recut by whoever did the focus-grabbing trailers. At the similar time, there are causes the film did perfectly adequate to encourage a sorta-sequel: The star electricity of Will Smith playing a semi-bad man the killer principle of supervillains teamed up and compelled to do black-ops missions and the live-action debut of Harley Quinn, who had extended due to the fact manufactured the bounce from her origins as a Joker sidekick/adore interest on Batman: The Animated Sequence to beloved comics (and videogames, and cosplay, and merchandising) mainstay.

Robbie’s three cracks at Harley never consciously change as significantly as the lived-many-lives persona of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who is by turns sardonic, seductive, mournful and sneaky, dependent on the movie (that’s not a knock it makes her way far more fascinating than Thor). Harley is regular in as considerably as Robbie is pleasant in all three flicks, properly translating a literal cartoon character into a flesh-and-blood particular person, however outsized her steps and accent. But it is not just her hairstyle and tone of squawk that adjust from movie to movie. In the first Suicide Squad, she’s saddled with a good deal of dudes-crafting-Harley hang-ups: Revealing costumes, pretty gangster’s moll dynamics, a devotion to “Mr. J” AKA the Joker. This practically will make Robbie’s irrepressible electricity more impressive she would seem additional indefatigable having to wade by way of the movie’s muck just to act in massive scenes reverse Jared Leto. (Even though it is tricky to consider the director’s minimize is as fantastic as Ayer suggests, the extended model on Blu-ray does have some wonderful added figures moments for Harley, briefly bonding with Killer Croc and other weirdos.)

Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey recasts Harley as a cost-free agent, reeling from a final Joker crack-up, investing her last dollar on an egg sandwich, and ready to change all of her combat scenes into glitter-bomb music films in an act of “emancipation,” as the amusingly unwieldy subtitle puts it. In the new The Suicide Squad, James Gunn writes her as a bit more knowingly daft, befitting the comedian design of his Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, and upping the carnage component. She oversees the paradox of how a movie significantly less grim in tone can have a way higher physique depend Harley individually kills far more people than at any time ahead of.

Harley also undergoes a progression of types throughout her a few flicks, irrespective of whether intentional or not. If she looks all set to cartwheel off into her very own motion picture throughout the 1st Suicide Squad, her subsequent appearances far better visualize that quality—even when, as in Birds of Prey, she’s now the star of the exhibit. The Suicide Squad purports to stay away from sequelizing both its exact-named predecessor or Harley’s sorta-spinoff, but it’s watchful to established aside a subplot for her. A whirlwind romance with the chief of a modern coup on a South American island, all over again places Harley’s cracked feeling of romance into conflict with a terrible man—a fast guitar solo riffing off the comprehensive movie’s pop-punk sensibility. All jointly, Harley’s miniature journey feels like a postscript to Birds of Prey, and her huge solo action scene plays like a direct companion. In Prey, Harley’s struggle scenes appear off like musical numbers, a relationship made express by a much too-quick dream sequence with actual singing and dancing. At 1 level, she sluices through shallow h2o like the climax of a Move Up film at an additional, she looks to be dressing the sets as she goes, with coloured smoke and glitter. In The Suicide Squad, she twirls her way as a result of henchmen in a purple dress, accomplishing balletic gunplay, and ultimately cartoon birds and flowers observe in her wake—a continuation of that Birds of Prey fantasy. At this level, Harley Quinn has considerably much more unforgettable action scenes in these DC flicks than possibly Batman or Superman, not minimum because they perform as extensions of her evolving temperament somewhat than overdetermined mythical faceoffs.

The red dress sequence from The Suicide Squad also proceeds Robbie/Quinn’s embrace of the fashion-plate tendencies other superhero films would fairly downplay. Fairly than obsessing more than some minute tweaks to the condition of the bat-insignia on a grey-to-darkish accommodate of rubbery armor, or assemble MCU-model practical outfits in muted tones, Harley has seems to be, far more of a piece with the much more outlandish costumes of the ‘90s Batman movies. Possessing her sprint through the streets in a poofy pink costume does not make a great deal additional feeling than getting her slay gunk-monsters whilst putting on small-shorts, of program. Robbie’s overall performance, with its tiny notes of heartbreak in between the pleasure and violence, has a way of making these aspects entirely beside the position. The unsubtle costume modifications are portion of the character’s capability to survive, and consider real enjoyment in herself even though executing so.

This blend of adaptability and irrationality suits the DC videos perfectly—a compliment that is only partially backhanded. As an MCU-like series of meticulously interconnected superhero stories, the “DCEU” (even its shorthand is kind of an accidental fudge!) is woefully missing in grasp-plot top quality control. It is also beautifully missing in common sequels, at least so considerably. Far more regular stick to-ups to Aquaman and Shazam! will soon be part of WW84, but a lot of the previous five many years has consisted of bogus commences, training course corrections and screw-ups. This is all great for Harley, who have to bear her own class corrections as she navigates absent from a life less than Mr. J’s thumb. It is telling, I imagine, that in spite of these consistent revisions, the DC flicks by no means fairly produce their predecessors out of continuity. It is crystal clear from Birds of Prey that it is pursuing the events of Suicide Squad, and the new Squad motion picture doesn’t un-ring any of individuals bells, possibly.

It’s not critical for the bigger good of the universe that DC sustain some variety of sacred timeline for plot uses, but keeping these experiences does appear crucial to the ongoing characterization of Harley, a character whose reinventions often feel far more particular than, say, the quite a few faces of Batman. A previous sidekick unmoored from her villain lifetime doesn’t always consider perfectly to wearisome saga-fication. That is why Zack Snyder’s restored Justice League’s tease for a put up-apocalyptic DC world felt like such an affront in his environment, the Joker is still far more important and fascinating than Harley (who was, seemingly, brutally killed off-display in this timeline). By some means, we rather wound up with a DCEU that attributes a few Harley Quinn films as opposed to a single prolonged Joker cameo that no one particular considerably likes. It turns out any sequence could use an accidental chief like Harley Quinn—a character who can combat her way out of a dead-end saga.

Jesse Hassenger writes about videos and other pop-culture things for a bunch of retailers which includes The A.V. Club, Polygon, The Week, NME, and, where he also has a podcast. Pursuing @rockmarooned on Twitter is a terrific way to discover out about what he’s viewing, listening to, or having.&#13