Action stars and fantasy heroes are easy to come by, with today’s box office giants just following in the footsteps of legendary heroes, champions, or – in the case of superheroes – gods and goddesses. The same goes for the villains, with comic book monsters or megalomaniacs taking after the antagonists of everything from Greek myths to Shakespeare. But when the villain is actually a deadly duo, driven by love, lust, and a hunger for badness, their path to infamy is even more concrete. And with the big screen adaptation of the Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe is getting their very own version of Bonnie and Clyde.
As writer/director David Ayer revealed to us while visiting the film’s set in July 2015, it didn’t take long for him to realize that writing a story that featured Harley Quinn was almost impossible without bringing the love of her life, Joker, along with her. After hearing how their story would be told in the film, and speaking with the film’s costume designer (who had to take Ayer’s vision of the duo’s life of crime and actually make it a reality), it sounds like Harley and Joker’s world won’t just be the part of the film audiences beg for more of, but establish them as kingpins of Gotham’s underworld. The days of being merely ‘Joker’s Girlfriend’ may finally be over.
The first impression given of David Ayer and Jared Leto’s take on Joker was a clear one: stripped to the waist, covered in tattoos, metallic teeth keeping his smile intact, this was a madman at home in the world’s darkest corners and back alleys. But the truth is a little different: while Joker may show up to cause the Squad added trouble (or steal his lover out of Amanda Waller’s grasp), it isn’t a girlfriend, plaything, or henchwoman he’s looking to have returned to his side.
He’s looking to join back up with the ruthless, deadly, and just-as-twisted wild card that helped him rise to the top of Gotham. And thanks to some flashback sequences, fans will get to see just how high they climbed.
In discussing the cast and backstories with Costume Designer Kate Hawley (Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim) the real-life inspiration for Joker and Harley was a constant talking point. It wasn’t enough to just say that Joker was the top dog, or that Harley dressed in top-shelf clothing: endless research was put into the criminals who really lived the lifestyle, from Scarface’s Tony Montana to the modern heads of Mexican drug cartels. It was a sign that even when adapting a comic book to film, the mind behind stories like Training Day, Street Kings and Harsh Times wanted to keep it as grounded as possible:
“It has actually been very real. I think that’s the biggest thing with David, is about ‘chasing the real’ and what that means in David’s world, so that’s been a big journey and a very organic one… When I first met him he wanted a very gritty, urban world. That if you think of all the Suicide Squad related in some way in this underworld, in this urban kind of environment, then Joker and Harley are like King and Queen of that.”
We know that the “urban environment” being discussed is Gotham City, with the report that every member of the Squad has been personally apprehended by Batman (who has been shown in marketing appearing to first rescue, then capture Harley).
We don’t know how villains like Killer Croc or Boomerang would feel about Harley and Joker being named the rulers of their city’s criminal community, but when it comes to attaining power and keeping it, this new Joker’s skill for business (read: organized crime) isn’t the whole story. He rules the snake pit through force – or did, before the film’s events still Harley from him – but he doesn’t do it alone:
“There’s this obsession and this relationship [between Harley and Joker] that… it’s almost like two alpha males, you know? You never feel Harley’s done under in a way, it’s been beautifully interpreted by David in her dialogue, that she’s such an amazing, strong character and they’re like two alpha males. They go out and the games they play with their victims, it’s like cat and mouse. They’re like Natural Born Killers, they’re like Sid and Nancy. In this world they’re like Punch and Judy, you know, there’s a very physical element to them. And there’s a wonderful scene in the club where they really play it together and it’s like two of them playing cat and mouse with a little victim in the middle.
“There’s little things like jewelry that was made very specifically for them… the Joker’s got almost like a Scarface-type papal ring - ownership within this gangland world. She’s got ‘Harley loves Joker’ [jewelry] and we’ve got a scene with her wearing a whole lot of Rolexes of dead victims that she just wears on her upper arm… as sort of a tick-off, or being bored kind of thing, I’m sure.”
There’s a good chance that fans have already seen glimpses of these scenes in the various trailer and TV spots (inside the vivid gold nightclub Joker and Harley call home, with her dancing to distract the pair’s “little victim”). So as tempting as it may have become in modern comics, animated DC stories or video games to portray Harley as a damaged, abused, or simply isolated sidekick unable to get out from under her ‘puddin’s thumb, that will not be the case in Suicide Squad.
Again, that’s speaking to the flashback sequences of the life that got her thrown into Belle Reve to begin with. But with a family forming around her, the Joker may barge in to find a different partner than the one he left.
Hawley hinted that these sections of the film, diving back into Joker and Harley’s glory days, have proven the most difficult to keep in line with the PG-13 rating. It’s unclear just how much of each Squad member’s backstory will be shown, but the producers would confirm that Joker and Harley’s was possibly the most significant. But Hawley warns that while the intense effort to make it believable, twisted, and strangely alluring has paid off, it also means fans will be left wishing they could stay there longer than the film allows:
“The thing with that Joker and Harley world is, you just want to see more of it. And we all feel that way. There’s so many stories and it’s such an amazing relationship and dynamic, as individuals and together, it’s just an endless thing to discover, really.”
Hopefully, future films or even a Harley Quinn spinoff movie would allow Hawley to dive even deeper into the designs. But beyond the specific scenes shown in the movie, actually depicting Harley and Joker as equals in terms of both insanity and effectiveness would be a massive step forward for the comic book movie genre. The lack of fantastic villains has been brought up repeatedly of late (and it’s a stance Ayer also agrees with), but using Joker to not only add a power player to the board, but bring Harley up to his level? That’s twice the power – and a move that would lend even more momentum and fan support to DC’s most popular femme fatale.
What do you think of Hawley’s comments? Has a version of Joker and Harley Quinn that shows them to be “alpha males” dominating Gotham’s criminal underworld as equals been a long time coming? Let us know what you think of the idea in the comments.
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.