James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad was a wickedly entertaining superhero series featuring 16-time WWE champion-turned-actor John Cena as Christopher Smith/Peacemaker. The sharpshooting superhero determined to achieve peace no matter the cost gets shot in the film. However, in the post-credits scene, we learn that he survived, which sets up the HBO Max spin-off series Peacemaker. While it’s easy to enter the series with low expectations given how antagonistic Peacemaker is in the film, it wound up being a kick-ass adventure that effectively expands on the characters introduced in Gunn’s 2021 film.
As one would expect, the show offers every bit of Gunn’s signature style. Similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s a fun ragtag group of characters who drive each other crazy but have to team up to save the world with some violence, laughs, and great music. Setting it apart from Gunn’s Marvel outings, Peacemaker also showcases a good amount of gore and brash language that matches the protagonist, who is a character designed to be irreverent and absurd.
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Gunn effectively takes advantage of the television format by not making the episodes a cinematic spectacle. Despite Peacemaker‘s outrageous storyline surrounding parasitic butterflies taking over the world, the aesthetic of this series feels more grounded, as the characters are ordinary people without superpowers. The show is tonally similar to The Suicide Squad, with many characters such as Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and Economos (Steve Agee) having made minor appearances in that film. Gunn uses this as an opportunity to flesh them out and give them depth, and he does an excellent job of it.
Cena is superb in this role, which hinges on his performance. The former “Doctor of Thuganomics” approaches the character with a lot of nuance. Surprisingly, Cena took his antagonist character from the film and made him likable in this show. His performance is complemented by the writing, which allows Peacemaker to look back on his life with regret, especially his decision to kill Rick Flag. His remorse for his actions and a tragic relationship with his father allow the audience to sympathize with a character they may have had trouble warming up to.
From a story perspective, Peacemaker remains consistently engaging with each installment. In addition, the episodes end in well-written cliffhangers, such as Episode 4 revealing that Murn is a Butterfly. Each episode increases the stakes and tells a larger story that gets increasingly riveting. Episode 6 may be the best one of them all as it instills a sense of danger to the characters: Auggie (Robert Patrick) is released from prison and goes to kill his son, Detective Song (Annie Chang) gets taken over by the Goff Butterfly, and the entire police force is possessed by the Butterflies. As the cherry on top, it also has a touching moment where Peacemaker plays the piano.
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The presentation is also fantastic as Peacemaker boasts a catchy, unskippable opening title sequence set to the tune of Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It?” The dancing is fantastic, and the song gets incorporated into the final battle in Episode 8 very well. In addition, the show brings every character to the end of their arcs in a satisfying fashion, with two highlights being Harcourt warming up to her team and Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) owning her role as a team member while also standing up to her mother, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Freddie Stroma offers a hilarious portrayal of Vigilante, a character where every sentence out of his mouth is funny and Chukwudi Iwuji gives a layered dramatic performance as Murn. Every actor steps into their roles perfectly, which speaks to both their skill and the excellent casting team, especially Robert Patrick as a racist, abusive father.
While it mostly works in its favor, the HBO Max series can occasionally be held back by the sheer Gunn-ness of it all. This is a comedy series with many effectively humorous moments, but there are scenes that try too hard to have a funny conversation instead of instilling a more organic sense of humor. As such, the tone can occasionally jump between funny and serious in a jarring fashion. Furthermore, the show’s attempt at a political message could have been spread out more evenly. However, Peacemaker is a vastly entertaining show where you’ll find yourself attached to every character. There are twists, turns, and laughs all over this unexpected treasure, and with Season 2 on its way, the prospect of seeing more from the 11th Street Kids is one that I won’t object to.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the game succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.