Feb 25, 2020

Margot Robbie Is Harley Quinn, AKA The DCEU's Best Player

Ben and Duy saw Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), and we had thoughts. Foremost among those thoughts is...

Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn

BEN: In The Book of Basketball, writer Bill Simmons reconfigured the NBA Hall of Fame into tiers, with the best players ever in the highest tier, named “the pantheon.” If we were to separate every actor to play a superhero character in a movie into tiers, Margot Robbie has undoubtedly made her case for the pantheon.

DUY: Who's in the pantheon, would you say? Just looking at the protagonists, I've got Christopher Reeve, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and maybe Chris Hemsworth. It's not a long list. My criteria would be irreplaceability, a natural charisma to handle the character, and also a degree of difficulty. I feel like all the characters they handled would have faltered under lesser actors. But also, even within that tier, there's a clear divide between Reeve and Downey versus Evans and Hemsworth.

BEN: Evans and Hemsworth don’t get enough credit for how badly those characters could go, but they’re also not as showy as Stark.

BEN: I’ll give an honorable mention to Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, who I think falls just below the pantheon, and I can’t even say why, because he *is* Deadpool

DUY: No, I'll concede it, let's put Deadpool in the Pantheon.

DUY: Any case for Hugh Jackman? I know he's not the ideal Wolverine, but he was also Wolverine for 20 years, and I think he wore me down like Duncan and Kobe.

BEN: If we’re sticking with basketball analogies, he’s Karl Malone. Really good for a really long time, but never great.

DUY: He did go out great though, so it'd be like if Malone left on a title.

BEN: Maybe Jason Kidd, he left on a title but it wasn’t all because of him. The villains include Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Heath Ledger’s Joker, and (sigh) Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker.

DUY: I hate mentioning Phoenix, but I'd like to believe that in the hands of a lesser actor, the movie would have been — people would have realized it wasn't a good movie. He elevated it. What about Thanos?

BEN: He’s a pantheon villain, but I can’t give that credit to Brolin.

DUY: So now we're saying Harley has made a case for the Pantheon. Some DC fans might be annoyed that we didn't mention Gal Gadot and maybe Jason Momoa. To you what sets Robbie apart?

BEN: In Suicide Squad, Margot stood out despite some bad writing and bad directing. She didn’t get any good punchlines or memorable moments, but she was so magnetic it didn’t matter. In Birds of Prey she got all the best moments and lines, but the rest of the movie literally couldn’t reach her level. So, I’d say Momoa and Gadot were equal to Margot in Suicide Squad, but in Birds of Prey she became Harley Quinn.

DUY: To me the difference is simply that Margot is much better at acting than the other two, and that as much as Gadot embodies Wonder Woman and Momoa has made Aquaman his own, their abilities and limitations will eventually hit a dead end and it won't be sustainable. Margot may be playing a cartoon, but she has moments of genuine emotion and drama and she can switch so easily between the two modes.

BEN: When Roman slaps her while she’s tied up, you can feel her anger radiate off the screen. It was a moment I was looking forward to see pay off later, but it’s a Warner Bros movie so of course it didn’t.

DUY: I liked how Harley plays dumb, but then she'll say something that reminds you she was a psychiatrist, and Margot makes you believe it. Birds of Prey to me was such a cartoon — Kurt Busiek called its Gotham an R-rated version of Adam West's — and only Margot was dialed up enough to really make you feel the cartoonishness of the whole thing.

BEN: If Warner Bros could ever give their lead stars a competent movie to be in, they’d start making some noise. Because Momoa, Gadot, and Robbie can’t do it all alone. (Wonder Woman is a very good movie, so this is a generalized statement.) If anything, I wish Birds of Prey had less plot, because I could have watched Harley try to get egg sandwiches and stuff like that for the whole movie.

DUY: The action scenes with Harley were great. Very refreshing to see something well choreographed, but also really funny.

BEN: The smile on her face as she raids the police station, she was having so much fun.

DUY: Scrambling among the deadly weapons, so happy when she spots the baseball bat, is something straight out of The Simpsons.

BEN: So how does she compare to the best? Ryan Reynolds is the easiest comp, but as much as I love the Deadpool movies, I think Margot is doing more acting than Ryan is.

DUY: I think it's because Deadpool is a clear, clear comedy, but Harley thus far, while a comedy, has had moments of genuine emotion. Another thing is that compared to Gadot and Momoa, she kind of really stands on her own. Gadot can be compared to Reeve and Evans. Momoa to Hemsworth. Margot can only really be compared to Reynolds, and even then it's not the same.

BEN: Ryan Reynolds probably doesn’t get enough credit because Deadpool happened to be so similar to the comedic style he’d been famous for his whole career. Speaking of Evans, he’s arguably the most faithful character translation from comic to the screen, until Margot Robbie.

DUY: I kinda wanna say that Robert Downey Jr. is the best comp for Margot, but I don't really know how to defend that.

BEN: I think we could separate the pantheon into two camps; those that brought the comic character to life, and those that made it their own. Evans, Gadot, Reynolds brought the characters to life. RDJ, Hiddleston, Momoa, Ledger made it their own. Hemsworth did both. Oh, and Reeve definitely brought comic book Superman to life

DUY: Robbie is definitely in the second camp, which makes my RDJ comp more indefensible.

BEN: I’d say she’s both. The difference with RDJ is that he’s been the best actor in great superhero movies, while Robbie has been the best part in otherwise pretty bad movies. If we were to continue the NBA analogy, Margot is the great player that drags a bad team into the playoffs on her own, while RDJ is the best player on championship teams. NBA players always say the second is harder to do.

DUY: RDJ has been both too. Let's not forget Iron Man 2, and, as much as I like Iron Man 3, a lot of people don't. So Margot I think has the necessary chops to still headline a great movie.

BEN: Hopefully we’ll see it in Suicide Squad 2. So what’s your ranking, as of right now?

DUY: I go 1. RDJ, 2. Evans, 3. Reeve, 4. Margot, 5. Hemsworth and Reynolds. I also think I might be undervaluing Hemsworth on purpose because I know I'm biased.

BEN: 1. Robert Downey Jr., 2. Margot Robbie, 3. Heath Ledger, 4. Chris Hemsworth,
5. Tom Hiddleston

DUY: It's generally hard for me to rank villains along with the heroes. It's not the same job.

BEN: Harley is a villain!

DUY: Fine, protagonists and antagonists. Also when you're the less evil villainin the story, you're not the villain.

BEN: Fair. Does Cate Blanchett make it?

DUY: I don't quite think she gets there. Does Killmonger?

BEN: Tough call, his performance seems to be polarizing for some reason.

DUY: Let's talk about Birds of Prey in particular. Overall I'd say the movie is decent, not bad. It's the execution that was lacking. But Margot brought it, and brought it some more, and what's more, the first third of the movie where she was narrating it and it was jumping around was some pretty innovative storytelling for superhero movies.

BEN: I thought Jurnee Smollett-Bell was pretty good as Black Canary, but pretty good looks worse next to greatness. The rest of them were in a different movie, to the point you mostly want to get back to Harley the whole time

DUY: I think my problem with Canary is that she looked like she was in a serious movie. Huntress at least was played for laughs. That also makes Canary the one who I thought would transition the best to a serious movie, though. And teah, every time Harley was off the screen, I thought "Where's Harley?" like Poochie, but cool.

BEN: How much does faithfulness to the source material matter for you at this point?

DUY: If you're going to deviate, you can still keep me by making me care. I tend to see them all as Elseworlds.

BEN: I’m less critical of DC characters because I don’t know them as well, and frankly you can’t honestly point to a definitive version of most DC heroes, they reboot so often. I’ve always said the MCU gets the spirit of the characters right, but RDJ wasn’t really any version of Iron Man we had ever seen before. Holland is the closest I’ve seen to the comic Spider-Man, but everything else about his movies is not faithful. So I guess the key is to just be good.

DUY: As you've said elsewhere, the least faithful character here is Cassandra, and she's great. The most faithful is Huntress, and she's the worst. Also, let me just get this out of the way quick. There's a bunch of people who think this movie sucks on principle because they call it SJW propaganda. First, women need representation. Second, they get mad at it because they don't think Margot is sexy enough. What world do we live in where Margot Robbie isn't sexy?

BEN: I think they mean naked enough. They don’t know the difference.

DUY: They've never seen a real live woman?

BEN: They truly believe comparing a half-naked drawing of a woman to a real live beautiful woman makes sense. But the drawing won’t tell them no, I guess.

DUY: To close this off, you know, I wrote back in July a long, detailed analysis of why the DCEU should give the keys to Margot Robbie. Just center the universe around Harley Quinn the same way the MCU revolved around Iron Man. After watching her performance, I'm going to stick by that.

BEN: Man, you write one thing the entire last year and you think you're Jesus.

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