This nervous, tired summer movie season has been dominated by mild to moderate disappointments practically daring us to care the way we used to about Jason Bourne, or Kirk and Spock or, in last weekend's box office flop "Ben-Hur," Judah and Messala. Here's another new adventure featuring characters and a title our research indicated you'd like to revisit.
But let's leave the guys to the side. The key figures of the summer 2016 movie season tell a more intriguing, if deeply conflicted, story. I speak of Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie in "Suicide Squad," and Jillian Holtzmann as brought to life, and how, by Kate McKinnon in "Ghostbusters." These two share a common trait: They both saved their movie's butts.
The royally sociopathic Quinn served two functions in "Suicide Squad": to crack skulls like a boss, and to act crazy but hot, setting up male supervillain comrades for wisecracks about the crazy/hot tootsie in their midst. Robbie seized the role. As a performance, it worked. As a larger ensemble effort budgeted at $175 million not counting the marketing, "Suicide Squad" did not.
"She's an abuse victim," says Chicago-based writer Angelica Jade Bastien, who writes for Vulture, the New York Times and the Atlantic. "The reason why a lot of young women respond to Harley Quinn is pure style. She catches your eye, and she's 'fun to watch' no matter what version [of the DC stories] you're watching. And I've heard this from a lot of people: One of the reasons they respond to her is she's allowed to be weirder and messier than superheroines like Wonder Woman, who depending on the writers can seem a little too perfect to the point she doesn't feel like a human being."
Although "Suicide Squad" had haters galore (the line forms behind me), the movie had its messy, sloppy impact on the popular culture. This was largely due to Robbie's ravenous performance, and that skeezo-porno-schoolgirl outfit. We'll be seeing "acceptable" variations on that outfit a couple of months from now, on every sidewalk. "All those young girls trick-or-treating" as Harley Quinn, "they're gonna be cold!" Bastien says.
Harley Quinn represents an unusually combustible antiheroine, both victim and victimizer, a joker and the Joker's brainwashed concubine who's in love with a serial killer. Women and girls, and men and boys, can admire and enjoy parts of her persona, and try to ignore the degraded parts.
On walmart.com as well as many other sites, you can stock up on several different Harley Quinn action figures, some skewing very young. "Justice has a bad side," touts one production description, "and these Super-Villains are on it. DC Comics fans will love these high-end, 12-inch deluxe figures from the new Suicide Squad movie, featuring 12 powerful points of articulation."
The crazy-but-hot Harley Quinn toy's ideal consumer? According to Wal-Mart: 5- to 7-year-old boys.
And maybe we'll see a few Holtzmanns. Director Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" rode a river of pre-release bile from those who found the idea of a female-centric reboot objectionable if not actionable. It couldn't win, even if it were a better action comedy. The reboot's freshest element, McKinnon's begoggled, obsessive, flirtatious brainiac warrior, ran her own show. Feig eventually acknowledged that, yes, Holtzmann was gay. But the character's sexuality wasn't the point of her narrative. It was just there, leave it or take it.
Frustratingly, "Ghostbusters" got lost in its own blockbuster imperatives. Holtzmann deserves her own sequel, but now? Good luck.