After being fired from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 due to past controversial tweets, Warner Bros. saw an opportunity to hire James Gunn to write and direct Suicide Squad’s sequel/soft reboot The Suicide Squad with almost full creative control. After receiving acclaim from both fans and critics alike, James Gunn then announced he was creating a show for the character Peacemaker, which is available on HBO Max. And you know what? It has just as much insanity and heart as The Suicide Squad does.
Following the events of The Suicide Squad, Christopher Smith AKA Peacemaker (played by John Cena) has healed from his injuries and is let go from the hospital. Thinking he has escaped the clutches of the law, he discovers that he was let go to be used in another black ops mission under the leadership of Clemson Murn (played by Chukwudi Iwuji). Murn and his team need Peacemaker’s expertise to help destroy targets known only as Butterflies. With the help of Murn and his team, along with Peacemaker’s two best friends Vigilante (played by Freddie Stroma) and Eagley, they might just save the planet from a horrible alien threat.
If you didn’t think John Cena was born to play Peacemaker before, you will definitely believe it now. Cena flawlessly brings to light all of the antihero’s douchey charm along with all of his insecurities and haunting childhood trauma. Plus, I did not expect Cena to act as well as he did in this role. He has made me laugh with movies like Blockers and made me cry with his animated feature Ferdinand, but holy shit does he show his range as Peacemaker; especially whenever he shares a scene with his onscreen father and the T-1000 himself Robert Patrick, finally making us understand why Christopher Smith is the way he is as a character. I also have to mention his character arc too as that is devastatingly relatable. Even though Smith’s mission is peace, what we don’t realize until the last episode is that what he was searching for was inner peace. He may not be there yet, but he took the first steps this season.
Other characters that are just fantastic are ones like Vigilante, or Adrian Chase. This man is a full-blown psychopath with a “moral compass”. He’s so chill during anything, especially killing people, plus he has no filter. It completely adds to the comedic style that James Gunn has become known for and it makes us love Vigilante every time he is on screen. This lax attitude towards anything and everything and his cluelessness to social situations makes him an absolute scene stealer.
Characters like the Butterflies are given the same treatment as The Suicide Squad’s Starro the Conqueror. Treated like surface level alien threats but given a last minute sympathetic twist that makes us second guess our initial judgements of the butterfly characters as a whole. While this could come off as a cheap plot twist in less capable hands, James Gunn’s meticulous writing adds an organic layer to the twist. Furthermore, it makes us sympathize with the Butterfly plan and wonder what is the next best move and realize that there could have been a better way before.
Of course, this would not be a James Gunn project without a unique and killer soundtrack. His Guardians of the Galaxy films have some of the best mixtapes ever put to film and Peacemaker continues that winning streak. Songs like “Do You Really Wanna Taste This” By Wig Wam, “Six Feet Under” Kissin’ Dynamite, and “Monster” by Reckless Love are used perfectly for their situations in their given episodes. While they may be a bit on-the-nose for their scenarios, when has James Gunn ever cared about subtlety? Each song chosen not only sells the tone of the situation but also deepens character trauma and strengthens character dynamics between everyone rather organically without the use of heavy dialogue or exposition.
While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 put James Gunn on the map in terms of creative direction, Peacemaker feels more like his baby; the introductory dance sequence alone makes me believe that. It also helps that John Cena and Freddie Stroma play the dynamic duo of Peacemaker and Vigilante perfectly. And this show is the best showcase of Cena’s acting ability showing the range from crazy douchebaggery to reliving past trauma. The action is also quite inventive leading to some of the most memorable superhero fight scenes of the last decade or so. But of course, this show would not be as good without the heart that is worn on the show’s sleeve, creating a tragic but all too funny character. Although the origin story for a superhero or antihero has been repeated into the ground over and over again this show does it in a way that feels fresh, making it stand out from the rest.