This is not that cringeworthy Vanity Fair Margot Robbie profile. It will not try to decipher what specific sort of “beautiful” the 26-year-old actress is, nor will it attempt to relate her appeal to the differences between her native Australia and America (either in its current or 50-years-ago iteration). It will not be flirty or gossipy or go overboard in describing her physical attributes, which can be gleaned from spending three seconds looking at any of the internet’s millions of photographs of her. It will not make you think that, first and foremost, I am writing about her while drool accumulates in the corner of my mouth.
No, this is a Margot Robbie feature that has come to sing her praises as an actress—or, more accurate still, as a bona fide Movie Star: a status which will be solidified this Friday, when her latest, Suicide Squad, arrives in theaters. As anyone who’s been subjected to that project’s endless promotional assault knows by now, David Ayers’s film is a DC Comics venture in which a ruthless government bigwig (Viola Davis) assembles “the worst of the worst” to pull off a do-or-die mission. This gang of baddies includes Will Smith’s Deadshot, Jai Courtney’s Boomerang, Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, and Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress, all of whom eventually cross paths with Jared Leto as Batman’s archnemesis, The Joker. Nonetheless, they’re all peripheral to Robbie, who dons clown makeup and short shorts, puts her white-with-purple-ends hair into ponytails, and wields a baseball bat as the Joker’s psychiatrist turned girlfriend Harley Quinn—and promptly steals the spotlight as the star of the show, if not the summer.
Harley Quinn is a psychotic femme fatale who talks in a baby-doll New Yawk accent, and her look—high heels, fishnet stockings, a ratty T-shirt that screams “Daddy’s Lil’ Monster,” and a shiny red jacket—will undoubtedly be ubiquitous this Halloween, as it’s tailor-made for the type of racy women’s costume that gives night terrors to fathers with teen daughters. The character’s buoyant lunatic eroticism is key to her allure, and there’s no more compelling image in Suicide Squad than that of Robbie’s bad girl strutting through urban ruin, a Louisville Slugger across her shoulders, a bubblegum bubble popping between her red lipstick-smeared lips, and a deviant smile spread across her pale face. “We’re bad guys, that’s what we do,” she tells her righteous military handler Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) after he complains about her casually robbing a store, and in just about every one of her scenes, Robbie brings a jolt of exuberant aberrant mischievousness to the proceedings, cackling and cracking skulls with gleeful abandon.
In the process, she makes clear that Quinn’s sexuality is integral to her power—a dynamic also present in her star-making turn in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial industry opus The Wolf of Wall Street. As with Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn, Robbie’s Naomi—the lascivious mistress to, and eventual second wife of, Leonardo DiCaprio’s shady stockbroker Jordan Belfort—is a woman initially defined by her appearance. However, from the outset, Robbie casts Naomi’s sexuality as a subtle weapon, as epitomized by the sequence in which she toys with DiCaprio’s panting-with-desire Belfort in their child’s playroom. By the time Naomi is forced to suffer through her husband’s humping, the actress has forever transcended her TV soap roots (on Australia’s Neighbours for three years, and then on ABC’s short-lived Pan Am) and established herself as a big-screen figure of fearsome feminine authority.
Robbie further revealed the fiery, fiercely intelligent personality lurking beneath her sunny model exterior in Focus, last year’s caper in which she first starred opposite her Suicide Squad mate Will Smith. In Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s stylish film, Robbie and Smith’s swindlers size each other up and then join forces as scam artists who share not only a knack for the swindle, but an irresistible flirtatious rapport. Whether by his side as an accomplice or an adversary, Robbie more than matches her illustrious compatriot in terms of both cunning charisma and effortless cool. Though it hardly ignited the box office, Focus underlined—as did her unforgettable bathtub cameo in The Big Short—that Robbie was drawn to parts in which her sex appeal wasn’t simply exploited for cheap objectifying ends, but rather, was recognized as a source of both her imposing strength and her disarming wit.
Not that Robbie’s performances all hinge on her attractiveness. For last year’s Z for Zachariah, she sported brown hair and navigated the wilderness as Ann, who finds herself spared from an environmental apocalypse by her family home’s sheltered-from-contamination valley—only to have to deal with the arrival of two separate interlopers (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine). In a role that often goes wordless for long stretches, Robbie proves more nuanced than her material, peaking with a final, silent glance shared with Ejiofor that resounds with the kind of haunting ambiguity necessitated by such a how-do-we-go-on? premise. While few saw the small-scale film, it may be her most complex work to date.
No one will accuse Suicide Squad of being multifaceted—the terms “messy,” “spastic,” and “juvenile” seem far more apt descriptors of David Ayers’s comic book-based effort, which lurches about in search of a reason to assemble its antiheroes, and then proceeds to inundate us with CGI carnage and chaos erupting every few moments, like a smug Hot Topic-adoring teenager at the local mall. It’s all phony cock of the walk bluster masquerading as an actual movie, with its strained attempts to be “badass” epitomized by Jared Leto’s Joker, here imagined by the Oscar winner as a run-of-the-mill psycho who wears his madness on his (tattooed) skin. Rarely has cartoonishness been this clunky.
And yet Robbie, barely given any juicy dialogue on which to chew, and bestowed with a paper-thin origin love story involving Leto’s Clown Prince of Crime, manages to thrillingly rise above Suicide Squad’s frantic fray. She’s at once sultry and scary, playful and punishing. Even with Ayers trying to have it both ways by making his ne’er-do-well characters bad but not too bad (much less evil), she comes across as the only participant eager to embrace her supervillain’s outright malice and insanity. Amidst such punch-pulling mayhem, she’s unrepentantly—and one might say, beautifully—ugly.