Following his soft reboot with 2021’s darling The Suicide Squad, an action-paced, foul-mouthed superhero movie that was exactly the type of film for writer/director James Gunn to unleash his potential; thanks to the day and date release catastrophe, Peacemaker comes as even more of a pleasant surprise that no one saw coming until it hit us square in the jaw just like its parent did. It’s a show about a character that no one would expect to want to watch after the trajectory and nature of the character but when it finally landed on HBO Max, it’s safe to say that we all agree that we can’t live without its charm and mayhem.
Picking up where The Suicide Squad left off, Christopher Smith aka Peacemaker (John Cena) was near death thanks to a well-placed bullet from one of the other Task Force X members. Recovering and set free, Chris returns home to his pet bald eagle Eagly (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) only to get roped back into a mission by A.R.G.U.S. agents Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), John Economos (Steve Agee) and Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) called “Project Butterfly”- team members he worked with on “Project Starfish”. A band of misfits who should never work together under normal circumstances with special skills to save the earth once again from alien invaders.
But Peacemaker dives deeper than whats presented on the surface, in the only manner that the Guardians of the Galaxy director can do. Yet again, Gunn is given total freedom and control to make whatever choice necessary for the best show possible– his style, influence, humor is put on display, making for a one-of-a-kind experience that pushes the genre forward, the same way Deadpool did.
For one Chris Smith isn’t so one dimensional – killing every man, woman, and child in the name of peace by any means necessary. He’s strong in his jingoistic beliefs but when it given the opportunity his flaws and trauma come back to haunt him. Gunn gets the best out of Cena who hasn’t been the strongest leading man yet but paired with the right director, the two are unstoppable. John Cena without a doubt deserves the spotlight as the titular character. His sense of humor and sarcastic delivery on his dialogue will bring you to the table what will keep you coming back week after week is the heart Cena brings to the emotional moments. Smith is deeply flawed – the skeletons he’s buried deep down don’t excuse his actions. It’s only when he starts to care for his team members that Smith can open and explore the damage.
Keep in mind the comedy plays a major role in the characters construction – who doesn’t want to see Cena dancing to 80’s metal using an adult toy as a microphone?
No DC character is safe from Gunn or Peacemaker. Every member of the Justice League is a joke to Chris and every obscure villain is given attention in the same way Harley Quinn gives them attention. Now its two DC series that give Kite Man his flowers. What more could we as fans possibly ask for of Gunn. He might be crazy with how ambitious his narratives are, but I’d say he’s a genius. Making audiences care for the obscurity is his biggest strength. No one know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were before 2014 but here Gunn is making a man receive a hug from a CGI eagle and us as the audience crying like babies at how sweet and sincere those moments are.
If Peacemaker or his mismatched team wasn’t enough of a draw to come back week after week, Gunn adds in Vigilante (Freddie Stroma) who steals the spotlight but never the focus. Vigilante is ok with being the sidekick – he’s the Groot to Chris’s Rocket. Both Freddie and John are unchained – their banter and chemistry is a riot while every actor and actress is having a blast which makes Peacemaker so much fun to begin with. The show never once takes itself too seriously – It doesn’t fit into the Snyderverse era of DC, yet it never holds back of mocking the individual characters or leaning into the fun rumors that have been spread by the internet. Peacemaker follows its own path, staying in its own lane, even isolating itself from The Suicide Squad despite cameo appearances from Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and flashbacks to the death of Rick Flag.
With all the fun, jokes and carnage Peacemaker boasts episode to episode, the show has so much heart within. Gunn explores Chris’s fractured relationship with his father Auggie Smith aka the White Dragon (Robert Patrick). Auggie blames his son for a tragedy that wasn’t Chris’s fault, yet Chris feels it necessary to constantly seek his father’s approval and holds onto that to the point that their tragic past collides in a bloodbath. Gunn aims this dynamic at toxic masculinity which in turn gives Chris enough dimension to relate to. It’s in these moments that Gunn gets the best performance out of Cena.
Perhaps the best skill of Gunn as a writer and filmmaker is making larger than life superhero characters feel human and sympathetic.
Peacemaker may not be the show we asked for or wanted post The Suicide Squad but it’s the show we needed as a spin-off. Gunn is an agent of chaos – total freedom to do or say whatever he likes through the vessel of his characters. John Cena proves that with the right director, he can pull off anything. Cena’s Chris Smith is funny, brutal, strong, and vulnerable who just so happens to be human. Easily featuring the best intro to a comic book property (seriously don’t skip the intro, ever) Peacemaker is just what the DC universe deserves after taking the universe in a different direction. James Gunn is completely free from any corporate strings – Peacemaker is his own controlled chaotic masterpiece. Gunn throws everything but the kitchen sink at us including some raw realities behind a character’s facial hair choices.
Give me more of the 80’s metal, John Economos, Chris Smith and Adrian Chase dynamic on the way to a mission.
Written By: James Gunn
Directed By: James Gunn, Jody Hall, Rosemary Rodriguez & Brad Anderson
Music By: Clint Mansell & Kevin Kiner
Cinematography: Michael Bonvillain, Sam McCurdy & Michael Wale
Starring: John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Robert Patrick
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Release Date: January 13, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5
Based On: Characters from DC Comics