Whether they were parodied (for fun) or mimed to satisfy trends, superheroes often have parallels in competing comic books. Prince Namor is Marvel’s Aquaman. The Green Lantern Corps is DC’s Nova. And Superman is practically his own archetype. Even the concept of the “all-powerful superhero” is an imitation, the modern man’s version of the demigods and mythological warriors of old. Like a wise insomniac once said, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.” In sociology, mimicry is seen as an act of worship and devotion. We copy people we look up to — exceptionally kind, heroic, or otherwise admirable individuals we dream of emulating, in the hopes of making our lives better. Most instances of superhero mimicry happen the same way: to honor characters that came before. In the case of Deadpool, however, the goal wasn’t endorsement. Marvel’s Regenerating Degenerate was a thinly veiled criticism of DC’s Deathstroke, a by-the-numbers assassin who went about the business of killing with all the frigid enthusiasm of a disenchanted barrister. In contrast, Deadpool was the car salesman of mercenaries — a trend that would later pave the way for animation-only characters like Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn to make it to the big screen.
Wade Wilson isn’t credited with the creation of Harley Quinn, but the two are so alike they may as well be two sides of the same coin. Marketed as a court jester with a penchant for pranks, the Clown Princess of Crime is presumably the Joker’s genderbent double, but Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn behaves more like Deadpool than anyone else. They even possess the same color scheme.
Warner Bros. hopes to improve audience engagement by tapping into precisely this similarity and making Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn more like Wilson than ever, a source from We Got This Covered claims. With both characters’ sadistic craving for chaos, fourth wall-bending sense of humor, and characteristic loneliness already covered in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, it’s unclear what executives plan on bringing to the table.
How is Margot Robbie expected to make Harley more like Deadpool when they’ve already been reflecting each other’s character-defining idiosyncrasies from the start? Short of rewriting Harley’s origins completely, it’s possible it’s Ryan Reynolds (not Deadpool) Warner Bros. is trying to have Robbie emulate. And for good reason — the Vancouver native is a cultural powerhouse befitting today’s markedly more postmodern audience. He understands social media and Millennial surrealism, and assimilates that energy wherever he goes. Reynolds has been Deadpool long before playing the part and aping his public persona could certainly dip the scale in favor of the DC Extended Universe. Image means everything, right?
But Margot Robbie isn’t Ryan Reynolds, and though her character shares traits with Reynolds’s onscreen psychopath, she has been Harley Quinn her own way. Copying competitors may work in comic books, but cinema values individuality and artistry. Intentionally plagiarizing Reynolds instead of relying on Robbie’s ingenuity may result in a total misfire once fans pick up on Harley Quinn’s aberrant monotony.
The DCEU’s Mistress of Mayhem depends largely on the Queensland native’s distinctive childlike charm to win over audiences, a trait that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the curiously wide-eyed Harley Quinn — a broken yet wildly acerbic character who just wants to be loved. Deadpool does what he chose for a living because chaos excites him and he’s attracted to whatever’s fun, whether that includes superhero-ing or massacring the entire Marvel Universe. Unlike Wade Wilson, who mutated himself to survive cancer, Harley Quinn’s story began with codependency — longing for the Joker’s love and changing herself to make him happy.
Wilson struggled with despair, Dr. Harleen Quinzel with heartbreak. Both only look the same in eventuality; different sets of circumstances led them to where they are now. Deviating from such commanding originality may send Robbie’s Harley Quinn to an early grave rather than save the whole franchise as intended.
Margot Robbie will be reprising the role of Harley Quinn in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Whether this will be her last film as the Maiden of Mischief is currently up for debate. The movie comes out on August 6 theatrically and on HBO Max.