Superman is dead in David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad,” but the Belle Reve penitentiary teems with supervillains. Government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has an idea: Why not convince the bad guys to become good guys and undertake the occasional impossible mission?

As it turns out, Warner Bros. has undertaken its own impossible mission with “Suicide Squad.” The studio’s previous DC Comics films have made money (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), but they don’t seem dear to fans’ hearts. Meanwhile, other studios have been freshening up the superhero genre: Disney-Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a rock-driven action-comedy, while Fox’s R-rated “Deadpool” used gleeful violence as a punchline. “Suicide Squad” feels like an attempt to put out all these fires and, of course, establish a new franchise.

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It proves too much for one movie to handle. “Suicide Squad” is pushed and pulled in so many directions that it simply falls apart. It begins as a DC Comics version of “The Dirty Dozen,” slips into “X-Men” territory with talk of “meta-humans,” and ends up feeling like a dress rehearsal for future installments.

“Suicide Squad” comes on strong, introducing us to Waller’s crack team of criminals: Deadshot (Will Smith), the hit man who never misses; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), whose love for the Joker has transformed her into a depraved sexpot; the Aussie roughneck Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gangbanger with a literally fiery temper. Joel Kinnaman plays Rick Flag, the soldier assigned to keep them in line. The actors give their all, but the characters feel overcrowded (that’s not even the full Squad roster) and erratically written. Cara Delevingne plays The Enchantress, who serves as both Flag’s love interest and villain to our anti-heroes.

As for Jared Leto’s version of the Joker, it’s a grab-bag of ideas: a flat-topped clown with hip-hop dental work. Pestering the Squad from the sidelines as he tries to steal back his girlfriend, this Joker feels more like an annoyance than a force of evil.

Ayer (“Fury,” “Street Kings”) tries to bring his trademark realism to the action sequences, but it gets lost in the realm of comic-book fantasy. Still, with advance ticket sales booming, this “Suicide Squad” will likely live to see another day.