THE JOKER and Harley Quinn sparkle as supervillains

123 min. | PG-13

After the mind-numbing ineptitude of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. desperately needs Suicide Squad to be well told, featuring a legitimate villain. It wouldn’t hurt, either, to inject a dash of humor into its gloomy proceedings so viewers can leave the theater with a well-earned, adrenaline-fueled smile. Most of all, it should make people yearn for what’s next in the DC Comics universe.

Sadly, it does none of the above.

However, it warrants a moderate recommendation because of Margot Robbie’s scene-stealing performance as Harley Quinn, and its fun pop soundtrack that nicely accentuates the action.

Fearing someone with Superman’s abilities could attack Earth, shady government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) enlists super villain “meta humans” to fight for the good guys in exchange for leniency with their prison sentences.

They are: Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin who longs to see his daughter; Robbie’s wonderfully unhinged Harley, who misses her beloved Joker (Jared Leto); Boomerang, a thief who doesn’t work well with others; Diablo, who’s literally on fire; Killer Croc, who has skin issues; and Slipknot, who can climb anything.

Keeping an eye on the so-called “Suicide Squad” is Col. Rick Flagg, a real-deal military guy who doesn’t take kindly to miscreants. And Flagg’s right-hand girl Katana carries the souls of her victims in her sword.

Flagg is in love with Dr. June Moone, whose body has been taken over by the villain Enchantress. This turns out to be a shoddy, half-hearted way of ejecting emotion in the story. Enchantress, with the help of her brother, is a witch who is somehow trying to take over the world. Her motivation is so horribly articulated, though, that it’s hard to tell exactly what she wants. Apparently, she and her brother are there so the Suicide Squad has someone to fight.

The best moments come early when Batman (Ben Affleck) and The Flash bust the arch criminals who later comprise the Squad. These amped-up, shadow and neon filled montages show the baddies in action and arrested, to the tune of pop songs. These sequences introduce main characters, set a colorful yet darkly serious tone and get us excited for what’s to come. The second and third acts aren’t nearly as good; the story often lacks clarity and cohesion.

That said, it’s Robbie, and to a lesser extent Leto, who steal the show. Robbie smartly uses her beauty as part of Harley’s danger, and when coupled with unpredictably, dark humor and ominous voices in her head, she’s a poison pill we can’t get enough of.

Leto’s Joker is more unhinged and sociopathic than the late Heath Ledger’s version of the villain, whose primary desire was to create chaos. Leto’s Joker wants  not only chaos, but also mayhem and murder, and Leto plays him at just the right notes to make him a truly scary presence. Leto might not be better than Ledger, but he deserves serious credit for making the character his own.

Non-stop action scenes, often shrouded in total darkness, become tiresome. Nonetheless, Suicide Squad is just good enough to watch on the big screen, with the caveat that Warner Bros. is clearly still trying to figure out how to do DC Comics movies right.