Even as TV becomes increasingly filled with superhero deconstructions like The Boys and Invincible, DC’s latest TV show, Peacemaker, feels distinct in that it could only exist in the mind of James Gunn. In many ways, the new HBO Max show is a greatest hits compilation for the horror filmmaker turned blockbuster director, with his signature style of irreverent humor, quirky and over-the-top misfits that band together to form a motley crew, some biting social commentary, and a surprising amount of heart, making for a show that is in many ways just Guardians of the Galaxy or The Suicide Squad in TV format, and it works like gangbusters.
Taking place right after the post-credits scene of The Suicide Squad, the show follows the titular Peacemaker (John Cena), a man utterly committed to peace, no matter “how many men, women, and children I kill to get it,” as he is forced to work with A.R.G.U.S. to stop a super-secret world threat. He is paired with a crew even more dysfunctional than the Task Force X from the film, but in true James Gunn fashion, they’ll somehow grow to like each other and become a found family, as Peacemaker struggles with coming to terms with the number of people he’s killed and whether he’s a hero or a villain.
Indeed, the biggest addition Peacemaker makes to the DC canon, and the biggest departure from The Suicide Squad, is that the titular Peacemaker is a significantly more sympathetic character than he was in the film, and it’s not always for the better. Where the film’s portrayal of Christopher Smith aligned less with his Silver Age origins and more with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Comedian, a psychopathic, cold-blooded asshole with delusions of grandeur and patriotic excuses for killing. What made the character so compelling in Gunn’s film was Cena’s deadpan approach to the character, being the one man in the film that did not realize he was in a goofy comicbook movie. That’s no longer the case in Peacemaker, as Gunn walks back on nearly every negative aspect of Smith’s character, making him more of a clueless goof whose less admirable qualities are blamed on poor parenting by the true heartless psychopath that is his father, played by Robert Patrick. Though he does not have a lot of screentime in the first three episodes, Patrick makes a big impression, and comic fans know there is a lot more to mine from him.
Despite these choices, Peacemaker is still a hoot. Cena’s comedic chops are at full display here, and seeing his exasperated reactions to the increasingly bonkers situation unfolding around him is laugh-out-loud funny, as are his interactions with the rest of the team. Like any good Gunn story, it is all about the ensemble, and luckily the show features a great cast of characters, most of which we met in The Suicide Squad. One notable exception is Leota Adebayo, played by Danielle Brooks, a relatively innocent new member of the team who quickly becomes the perfect foil for the rest of the team’s trigger-happy attitude. Then there’s the delightful opening credits sequence, where the entire cast embraces the goofiness of the show by doing a big dance number set to Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It.”
Visually, Peacemaker has more in common with other HBO shows like Titans than the Arrowverse shows on The CW. The first three episodes don’t rely much on grand VFX spectacle, but what little they use it’s serviceable, but the show does have big ambitions, with a world-ending threat looming, so it remains to be seen if the show’s visuals can do the story justice.
Peacemaker makes for a great first DCEU TV show, expanding on the world of The Suicide Squad and making the most out of its charismatic and hilarious cast. Though the titular character’s characterization leaves a lot to be desired, Cena sells the crap out of the character, as Gunn delivers yet another superhero winner.