Title: Peacemaker (2022) Created by: James Gunn Based on: Peacemaker by Joe Gill and Pat Boyette Written by: James Bunn Stars: John Cena, Stave Agee, Danielle Brooks, Robert Patrick, Jennifer Holland, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji
This review is based on the first seven of this limited series’ eight episodes. This review will contain spoilers from James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. But you wouldn’t want to watch Peacemaker before watching The Suicide Squad now, would you?
Oh no… DC’s biggest douchebag is back. Didn’t he die at the end of The Suicide Squad? Well, if you stayed through the end credits (which, true to the genre’s form, had multiple easter eggs and additional scenes), you’d know that Christopher Smith, aka Peacemaker, survived his mission to Corto Maltese despite being shot in the throat and having a building collapse on top of him.
So, hell yes, he’s back! Peacemaker is a direct sequel and spinoff to James Gunn’s excellent 2021 anti-hero action flick, The Suicide Squad. This limited series was also created by James Gunn, and let’s be honest; we wouldn’t have it any other way!
At the start of Peacemaker, we find Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker (played to the hilt by John Cena) waking up in the hospital sometime after his little bullet-and-building involving “accident” down in Corto Maltese. He is healing up quite rapidly and his biggest concern now (besides finding his pants) is whether or not the police are waiting outside the hospital to put him back into prison. He really doesn’t want that. But there are no police waiting for him, and he’s seemingly free to go back to giving the world his special brand of saving. Lucky us.
Peacemaker’s ideal is the struggle for world peace using any means necessary, including unbridled murder and mayhem. No matter who stands in his way, be they terrorists or innocent civilians, including women and children, he will kill, maim or torture anyone if it means getting closer to his goal. This all sets the stage for eight episodes of incredibly bleak satire, hilariously dark humor and insanity that seems to have been lifted straight out of some checkmark list titled “How to Piss Off Right-Wingers… and Just About Everyone Else”. To be sure, Peacemaker is not a show for the faint of heart and/or easily offended.
So having successfully escaped the hospital (and found his pants), Peacemaker is cornered in his old trailer park by agents from Task Force X, the same black-ops group that sent him to Corto Maltese in the first place. They have a new mission for him, which he has to accept unless he’d rather go back to jail. “Operation Butterfly”: Find and eliminate members of an alien species hiding among us. They can be everywhere and look like anyone, even women and children. Peacemaker approves.
But first, he has to pick up his pet eagle Eagly from his abusive father (played by Robert Patrick), who is himself a former supervillain with the powers of racism, bigotry and quantum entanglement (the father, that is, not the eagle). He also meets up with his young friend/superfan/stalker, the Dungeons & Dragons-nerd-turned-psychopath and wannabe superhero Vigilante (played hilariously by Freddie Stroma).
With the team together, including Agent Emilia Harcourt (played by Jennifer Holland), Clemson Murn (played by Chukwudi Iwuji), Leota Adebayo (played Danielle Brooks) and John Economos, aka Dye Beard (played by Steve Agee), it is time to go alien-hunting. They’re hiding in the heads of seemingly ordinary people – insect-like beings that seem to have been lifted straight out of The Insects from Shaggai by Ramsey Campbell. And if that wasn’t hard enough, he has to contend with the vengeful and minuscule martial artist Judomaster (played by Nhut Le), who somehow reminded me of Cato from the classic Pink Panther films; sneaky and deliciously offensive!
John Cena delivers his performance with shameless excellence and bucketloads of satire. I was just about to write how surprised I was to see how effectively the professional WWE-wrestler turned actor brings Peacemaker’s more subtle and vulnerable sides to the life, but this is something James Gunn excels at; making us feel for and like the unlikeable. Behind the uniformed super-anti-hero exterior is a traumatized and tormented kid with a desperate need for love his abusive and far-right father never gave him. John Cena made me believe it, and now I just want to find him and give him a hug!
Along with the outrageous amounts of action, gore and satirical wit, Peacemaker also has the kind of focus on music that we have come to expect from a James Gunn production. Most of the characters are very much into huge glam rock anthems, and won’t let us or any of the other characters forget about it! So if you happen to hate that kind of music (if that’s at all possible!), the show might feel like an endurance test.
Peacemaker is a much-needed reminder not to take oneself too seriously all the time and that sometimes it is even alright to have fun at the expense of those who do. While the series never manages to reach the same level of chemistry and warmth as The Suicide Squad (very little can! – check out my review of that film here), it is still black as pitch and funny as hell. Seriously,if you’re a fan of James Gunn’s particular brand of shameless, bonkers humor and on-the-edge insanity, this is a must-watch! And if that’s not enough for you, the title sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
Peacemaker premiers on HBO Max on the 13th of January. Remember to sit through the credits, as each episode has a post-credit scene.
And just a warning: The trailer below is “Red Band”.