Harley Quinn (Animated) vs Harley Quinn (Live Action) in 3 Rounds

Julien Neaves – Editor

Greetings RMR fans. Hope everyone is keeping safe in these pandemic times. In some good news the trailer for season 2 of DC animated series Harley Quinn has dropped. Here it is below:

Now if you’re not shouting “hooray” like Todd from BoJack Horseman, you may have missed the first season of this wonderfully dark, irreverent and very adult comedy series. Well you need to go watch it because it is 12 flavours of awesome sauce!

But this article is not a review of that season, but a comparison of the show to the live-action iteration played by Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad and more recently in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. I will not be looking at the original iteration of the character on the DC Animated Universe (she started there and then crossed over into the comics) because that is the template and you really can’t beat that. Well, enough yapping from me. With a mild SPOILER ALERT let’s do this showdown in three rounds:

Round 1 – Dr Harleen Frances Quinzel

Wanna hear a secret about Batman?

In this first round we look at the portrayals of the character. I was pleasantly surprised with Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) and her take on Harley. Her version is unhinged, wacky and violent, just the way Harley should be. But she also brings a vulnerability to her and something of a moral code that makes her more of an anti-hero than straight up villain.

And we do gain a deeper insight into the character via literally jumping into her brain (this show is crazy and I love it) and her conversations with “Sane Harley”. The show needed a strong voice performance to carry it, and a character that fans could be shocked at but still root for, and Ms Cuoco delivers. Really well done. 

Did somebody say “hammer time”?

On the live action side Robbie’s portrayal of the character in 2016’s Suicide Squad was easily the best thing in this moderately entertaining mess of a movie. Sure she didn’t have the Jersey accent of the original character but she had the unstable personality, lust for violence and manic energy. Robbie gets to shine even more in Birds of Prey where she is much more in the spotlight. She really lights up the screen every time she appears. It is no surprise she is one of few characters returning in 2021’s The Suicide Squad. 

So because I really enjoy both versions of the character I don’t have a clear winner for this round. Hit it Mr Announcer Man:

Round Winner – Draw

Round 2 – Supporting Characters

What a bunch of weirdos

Did I mention the animated series is a crazy show? Well it’s a weird show too, and not only because of the trippy and unexpected things that happen. It is weird in that some of the characters match their comic counterparts very closely (like Batman, Joker, The Penguin) and others are caricatures (Clayface, Bane, King Shark) but it still works and feels like a cohesive universe.

Harley’s crew falls more on the caricature side and they are hilarious. Poison Ivy is probably the closest to the comics, though this version is more grounded and acts as a voice of reason for the loose canon Harley. Then we have the overly dramatic thespian Clayface, misogynistic Dr Psycho,   urban King Shark, and sometimes ally, mostly nuisance Sy Borgman (get it? Sy Borgman? Cyborg Man? I love this show). This motley crew bounce off each other like coloured balls in a padded room and it is a riot. They really make Harley’s criminal misadventures a blast.

It’s ladies’ night, and the feeling’s right, oh yes it’s ladies night, oh what a (oh what a night)

Unfortunately live action Harley has not been so fortunate in the supporting character department. In Suicide Squad her fellow squad members are mere shells of their comic book counterparts. Will Smith plays Will Smith playing Deadshot, Killer Croc looks good but does nothing, and they explain Katana’s cool power but never show it. The only saving graces were Jai Courtney’s roguish Captain Boomerang and Viola Davis’ cold-as-steel Amanda Waller, but it’s really not enough.

Things get only marginally better with Birds of Prey. The supporting characters get more to do but remain woefully underdeveloped. Renee Montoya could be any angry, alcoholic cop character and Cassandra Cain is a tolerable kid-in-distress but little more. Black Canary uses her power ONCE and otherwise could be any generic character. I don’t hate that you changed the Canary’s race (Vikings’ Katheryn Winnick is perfect for her, just saying) but they could have put more effort in the characterisation so she acted more like her comic counterpart. Sheesh. The most interesting character is Huntress and she gets the least screen time. The Birds of Prey really felt like an afterthought and deserved better.

Sorry live action Harley, but neither of your teams can hold a candle to animated Harley’s merry band of misfits. Mr Announcer Guy, you’re up again:

Round Winner – Animated Harley

Round 3 – Stories

HARLEY INNER MONOLOGUE: Castrating Mr J with a bat was probably not the most efficient method I could come up with, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it felt hella good

The first season of the animated series sees Harley trying to emotionally escape her toxic love for Mr J and forge her own identity by being accepted into the Legion of Doom. We see her bond with Ivy and find a family in her crew. It is a wild story arc and a very satisfying one. I really felt to cheer when Harley finally took down Joker (played with delicious menace by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk) in the season finale. This is the true “emancipation” of Harley Quinn.

HARLEY INNER MONOLOGUE: Look at my pudding threatening that guy. Isn’t he the dreamiest?

Harley’s live action adventures, however, were less than perfect. In Suicide Squad we had her still in love with her with punk Joker and battling a belly dancing witch. There is no arc and no development of the character and the story itself is donkey testicles.

For Birds of Prey she begins the film emancipated from Joker. She bonds with Cassandra Cain but Harley is pretty much the same from start to finish. Ewan McGregor’s flamboyant Black Mask feels less than inspired and makes for a lacklustre big bad. And did every single male character in this film have to be a criminal, a sleaze or a traitor? This is not how you do feminism people. Mr Announcer Guy! Get off your phone and call it!  

Round Winner – Animated Harley

So despite Robbie’s fun portrayal the animated series beats live action with a mallet. One more time with feeling Mr Announcer Guy:

Overall Winner – Animated Harley


So you do you prefer animated Harley or live action Harley? Sign off in the comments. For my Top 6 Batman Cartoon Series you can click here.

Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel but dreams of being Batman. Also loves creating board games and is an aspiring Caribbean sci-fi author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.




Leave a Reply