Peacemaker? What a joke.
The HBO Max series arrives only 5 months after DC’s revamp of its Suicide Squad franchise with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and with some questioning… why? With fans waiting with bated breath for the next iterations of popular characters left on the backburner like Green Lantern and Superman, a series dedicated to Peacemaker of all characters can feel a bit groanworthy. Who the fuck is Peacemaker and why should I dedicate more time to him than I already have in the film he appeared and proceeded to hurt and/or kill the characters everyone loved?
Well, therein lies the metatextual idea at the core of Peacemaker. Since the beginning of James Gunn’s career, making ultra low-budget flicks for Troma, the director has dedicated himself to portraying oddballs and losers. He did so to great success in his mainstream breakthrough Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2 and the recent The Suicide Squad which was a box office dud but critical darling that once again showed the value in letting Z-list characters play on the field usually reserved for heavy hitters. So despite the odd nature of this particular character getting a spinoff, thematically, Peacemaker is a logical next step for the filmmaker and hopefully not the last we see of The Suicide Squad team members.
Peacemaker immediately follows the events of The Suicide Squad, with its titular character awaking in a hospital after thoroughly fucking over his team and killing legacy Squad member Rick Flag. With that in mind, the show will have to work overtime to get us on his side and it knows this, pushing the excellent John Cena’s charisma to nuclear levels that plays like a twisted Star-Lord dropped back onto Earth. The series wants us to look at Peacemaker and find the heart and soul beneath the cruel, muscly exterior and the ways in which his co-stars bring it out of him. Speaking of, Steve Agee and Jennifer Holland return in larger, fun roles that enhance the proceedings and build out the banter that Gunn is so good at, though it’s newcomer Danielle Brooks who steals the show as Leota Adebayo, clearly having a blast and playing perfectly off John Cena.
Peacemaker is a comedy at heart and much funnier than its trailers would suggest, however, there is also incredible darkness to the proceedings that makes for compelling character drama and conflict and some weighty themes. The show also continues to explore the idea of Peacemaker as a disturbing Captain America and what made him that way. It’s written to not totally lose sight of its action/comedy aspirations but does make for some shocking moments.
Perhaps the most striking and memorable part of The Suicide Squad was the stylization and character that jumps off the screen with bloody, colorful aplomb. Without speculating too much on budgetary/time constraints, it’s clear Peacemaker lacks the budget that made for TSS’ incredible dynamism. The cinematography and action staging is impressive and very fun, but hasn’t quite got the verve of its predecessor. Thankfully it works with this and makes for a series that keeps the weirdo energy of the film while bringing the scale down significantly, creating a sharp and hilarious contrast between its bombast and the more everyday locales of it all. We get the wild, kinetic dance sequences we expect, but in apartments or on a cheeky 80s inspired stage rather than vast space locales.
So while Peacemaker never quite lives up to the gonzo charm, chaos, and heart that propelled The Suicide Squad to its super-villainous heights, it certainly carves its own fucked up space in the DC universe. It’s arguably darker and edgier, tackling surprising themes and willing to go there in ways that superhero content just usually doesn’t. It’s easy to imagine that many won’t ride on the wavelength of the show because of this and might prefer the simpler, less abrasive superhero thrills of something like the crowd-pleasing and breezy Spider-Man: No Way Home. For those that enjoy the weirder, darker corners of comics… give peace a chance.