Peacemaker did not seem like the most obvious spinoff of The Suicide Squad. While John Cena certainly delivered a memorable performance in the film (read our review), the character was presented as obnoxious, psychotic, dangerously patriotic, and ultimately villainous. So when the announcement came that James Gunn would be helming a series centered around the character, there was a bit of trepidation as the character of Christopher Smith a.k.a. Peacemaker seemed like a potential minefield of misunderstood satire.
Thankfully, James Gunn proves once again that his skill in the realm of superhero storytelling remains untouchable as Peacemaker ends up being a hilarious, heartwarming, and heavily critical addition to the DC universe. Gunn’s perfect control of tone and emotion is once again on display as the series is able to balance aggressively juvenile humor with legitimate pathos for its cast of characters. It’s clear that Gunn understands the inherent silliness of superheroes and leans into that without ever poking the genre directly in the eye. This is a realm where people make the conscious choice to dress up in theatrical costumes, and Gunn sees the beautiful contradictions that offers for delving into these characters. Between Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad, and now Peacemaker, it’s pretty clear that Gunn loves the wild freedom these kinds of genre stories allow.
And Peacemaker takes full advantage of that freedom. There are a few major plotlines going on in the series and they are all taken to their most comic book extremes. There is a costume reveal that is so delightfully ripped straight from the illustrated page that it reminds you how homogenized the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become in regards to most of its iconic outfits. Along with that visual component, Gunn also goes full steam ahead with a big, goofy menace that reminds you when comic book stories could be just that: big, goofy, and fully committed to their own particular brand of adventure. Add to that Gunn’s usual penchant for excellent soundtrack choices – he gets to really embrace his love of glam rock in this show and it shockingly works – and the whole experience is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
That’s not to say Peacemaker only excels at its attempts at fun. There is a lot on this show’s mind that will undoubtedly cause the gnashing of many an ignorant fanboy’s teeth. Namely, the series dives into topics such as white supremacists, ignorant right-wing beliefs, and calling out offensively outdated behavior. But, as he proved in the surprisingly political The Suicide Squad, Gunn knows how to aim at his targets so he can hit a bullseye every time. A big part of this has to do with his understanding of heart and how certain characters deserve empathy while others don’t. No doubt there will be lamentations of these topics from bad-faith actors, but those people are the ones who also disliked the landmark HBO Watchmen series for the same reasons.
And if you like your superheroes R-rated, Peacemaker will scratch your itch until it bleeds. This show is consistently vulgar in a way that is actually a little uncommon in the current landscape of superheroes. Even The Boys and Invincible don’t go to the extremes that this series does. Admittedly, it can get a little overdone at times but it works way more than it doesn’t. And it’s certainly worth it for some of the wackiest payoffs. There are moments of absurdist gore that will have you howling in disbelief.
And all of this is anchored by a truly strong ensemble cast led by what has to be the best acting showcase yet for John Cena, proving he has a very different energy than his fellow professional wrestlers that have become major actors. Dwayne Johnson has cornered the market on being mainstream charming and Dave Bautista has become a phenomenal character actor, but Cena shows in Peacemaker that his particular brand is a little more versatile. Christopher Smith is a very unlikable character in so many ways, and even though that’s often tempered with humor that makes him an unaware butt of a joke, it’s clear that Gunn knows this guy is an ass. However, the show gives Cena a chance to delve into arenas that show how any good character is never one-note. The show’s attempt at picking apart Peacemaker is excellent and ends up giving us a hero that starts to realize he may not be as heroic as he once thought.
Peacemaker is bloody, bonkers, and brimming with sharp wit and legit warmth. At this point, it seems clear that James Gunn’s vision of the DC universe is the most entertainingly cohesive we have seen yet. In a better world, he would be the artist chosen to help guide the DC universe into a new era.