Spoilers are ahead. Being a woman in a male-led superhero movie is risky business. The odds are likely you're going to die, be sidelined as a love interest, or get defined by your traumatic and likely abusive past. But in The Suicide Squad, in cinemas now, we get a vibrant rejection of those tropes in Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Messy, horny, brutal, and utterly delightful to watch, director James Gunn builds on the wonderful character work done in Cathy Yan's brilliant Birds of Prey and uses it to present Harley as the ultra-violent Disney Princess we never knew we needed.
Even as a love-struck Joker clone in the first Suicide Squad movie, Robbie's memorable portrayal of Harley won her legions of fans. With Birds of Prey, the actress took on the leading role in Yan's radical R-rated take on superheroes which put a diverse crew of women front and centre in a killer action romp. The Suicide Squad joyfully follows in the footsteps of Birds of Prey, allowing the anti-heroine to be uniquely herself, brutally carving her own path whether she's sleeping with a dictator or killing many, many, men in an animated sequence worthy of Ariel and Belle, albeit with much more murder, blood, and mayhem.
In her "Live Fast Die Joker" jacket, Harley is a welcome addition to the doomed squad we meet at the beginning of the movie. But while barely any of them survive the first five minutes, our wiley anti-heroine does. She's soon whisked away to the palace of Corto Maltese dictator, General Presidente Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto). But rather than becoming a prisoner she becomes a princess. Dressed in a stunning red gown, she has her makeup done by artists and is given free rein. And when we meet Luna, he's stepping out of a hot bath dripping with water and looking like a snack. For once a male character is treated like a piece of meat, and Harley is just as surprised and delighted as we are when he appears.
It seems to be a match made in heaven... or hell depending on the way you look at it. Luna sees the red-clad villain as a sign of anti-American rebellion, and Harley sees a hot and handsome man coming to save the day. The pair share an extravagant meal, a romantic dance, and feed birds like they're in an animated princess movie. It's a wild montage showcasing a day in the dating life of Harley Quinn. And it ends with a proposal.
The whirlwind romance feels completely in line with Harley's toxic romantic history, but then comes the sex scene to end all sex scenes. When was the last time that we got to see a woman superhero destroy a room with a shirtless hottie and their unadulterated passion? The answer is never! Black Widow barely gets a chaste kiss but here we see Harley's horniness embraced and celebrated. As the pair bang their way around the palatial room we don't see Harley's naked body — she's wrapped in that giant red ball gown. No creepy male gaze here. Instead, the scene is about is silly, sweet, and passionate sex that's played for laughs and fantasy. She gets to be sexy without being sexualised — but the best is yet to come.
After their romantic romp, Harley decides that marrying the dictator might not be too bad after all. But that's when he reveals his true hand. He's just as bad as the men who came before him and he plans to use the monster hidden in his country to torture the women and children of his enemies. Luckily, Harley's learnt a few things about red flags, so she does what any balanced young anti-hero and abuse survivor would do: shoots him in the chest. If you've ever wanted to see a fully decked out Disney princess give a speech on red flags as she stands over a mass murderer, then you're in luck: Harley explains her actions via a monologue that will surely be used in auditions for decades to come. After her horrific romantic past, she made a promise to herself that if she ever saw a red flag she'd take notice... and, you see, "killing kids is kind of a red flag." Well, she's not wrong.
Of course, the Corto Maltese leadership isn't too happy that their new president has been brutally murdered, which means Harley is thrown into a jail cell. Fear not, though, as this leads to two of Harley's most incredible moments in movie history. Utilising her circus skills, she chokes out a man with her thighs — it's both aspirational and hot — and then picks a lock with her toes, freeing herself. Even cooler, Robbie apparently did this stunt herself. Now that Harley is freed, the audience begins to see the world through what the filmmakers call Harley Vision. It's like John Wick animated by the Mouse House as she shoots, stabs, and smashes her way through the Corto Maltese soldiers. She's surrounded by animated birds, flowers spray from wounds, and hearts gush where there should be blood. (You can see glimpses of the scene in the official The Suicide Squad movie trailer, below.)
It's a nice nod to Harley's origins as a cartoon character but also one of the most gorgeously deranged murder sprees we've ever seen put to screen. And this all before Harley makes her big move in the film's spectacular finale.
So yes, the newest big studio superhero release leans into the female gaze, gives Harley Quinn the attention she deserves, and delivers a room-destroying sex scene that ends with an unforgettable treatise on red flags... it's a truly unexpected gift.