Clay Enos
Nicole Sperling
July 07, 2016 AT 06:07 PM EDT

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was going to be the juggernaut in Warner Bros. DC Comics’ universe, the sun around which all the other movies would orbit. That made Suicide Squad more like Pluto — a dwarf planet of sorts that could exist just outside the Justice League universe, inhabited by society’s most deranged villains.

But then BvS disappointed critics and underperformed at the box office, all while buzz around Suicide Squad grew louder following the film’s rock-n-roll trailers and wild tales of Jared Leto’s set antics as The Joker.

“Two years ago ­Suicide Squad was a tertiary [DC property]. No one knew anything about it. It was a cool little playground, and I was going to go make my movie,” says the film’s writer/director, David Ayer. “Now it’s like the hype bus. All of the attention has swung onto it, and it has to carry a lot more weight than it was ever intended to. I think it can sustain it. But it’s a lot of pressure. You definitely feel the pressure.”

RELATED: Suicide Squad: See EW’s Exclusive New Photos and Covers

Suicide Squad (out Aug. 5) takes place in a post-Superman world, following the events of Dawn of Justice, as the government grapples with how to respond the next time an alien visits Earth with less noble intentions than the Man of Steel. The answer, according to ruthless intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), is to recruit society’s most vile criminals, armed with lethal skills and superhuman powers. Her first target is possessed archaeologist June Moone/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).

Waller’s program doesn’t get a green light, though, until Midway City is threatened by a powerful mystical enemy, and Waller needs to activate the whole squad of prisoners. The baddies get a break. Deadshot (Will Smith) has his Second Amendment rights ­reinstated, Harley (Margot Robbie) is carefully excised from her birdcage, Diablo (Jay ­Hernandez) is released from his own fireproof fortress of solitude, Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) strap their weapons back on, and Killer Croc ­(Adewale Akinnuoye-­Agbaje) is popped from his swamp. The one condition for their restricted freedom: Obey orders or die, a rule strictly enforced by squad leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), his samurai Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and the explosive devices inserted into their necks courtesy of Wayne Enterprises. (Thanks, Batman!) Throwing a wrench into all these plans is the tatted Gotham City arch-criminal, the Joker (Jared Leto), and his laser-like plan to reunite with his true love, Harley, mission be damned.

But a funny thing happens while these scumbags try to become heroes — they each must absolve themselves of their crimes even if society won’t. And that’s where it gets interesting. A layer of humanity — and sadness — resides underneath these characters’ stories as they each grapple with whether they can be redeemed.

GALLERY: See 11 wild Suicide Squad character posters

For more on Suicide Squad — including stories about Ayer’s unconventional directing methods and what it was like when The Joker walked on to the set — pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, featuring four special covers of the Suicide Squad cast, on newsstands Friday, or available at www.ew.com/suicidesquad. Check out those exclusive covers below, and check back to EW.com for more on Suicide Squad. Become an EW subscriber by heading here.

Clay Enos

Clay Enos

Clay Enos

Clay Enos

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