There’s a certain ambiguity about the recent characters he‘s played, and former wrestler turned film star John Cena won’t have it any other way.
His Jakob Toretto character was touted as the villain in Fast & Furious 9, until he flipped in the third act and supported his brother, and while The Suicide Squad touted Peacemaker as a hero amongst the rag-tag crew of supervillains, audiences realised they were misdirected when Cena’s Peacemaker ended up killing Colonel Rick Flag, portrayed by Joel Kinnaman, in the film.
And now that Peacemaker is set to be the only character from the movie to get his very own HBO Max series, perhaps the star, along with series creator James Gunn, can explain the inclination of this DC Comics vigilante?
“The potential, the absolute potential of Peacemaker… You are starting with the blank slate. It’s not an IP that’s been overly mined. We don’t know a lot about it, so you kind of have the ability to craft it and in that crafting, you can find what works and what doesn’t,” smiled Cena in an exclusive interview with Geek Culture, along with Gunn.
“There’s no shoes to fill. You’re the first one to be able to portray that. Is Peacemaker a hero or a villain? I think that’s for audiences to decide. I think Peacemaker, in his own eyes, needs to see himself as a hero to justify what he does, but I think audiences will decide if Peacemaker’s a hero.”
In the comics, Peacemaker aka Christopher Smith was born in a small town and was raised by a racist and abusive father. Constantly seeking the approval of his father, he becomes the best man he can ever be – even to a fault. He’s hardly a character one would pick up from the comic stand and think, “Yeah I’ll get this for my kid to read”, but it’s the familiarity and ambiguity of this character that makes it an absolute gold mine, and the perfect opportunity for Cena to make his mark in the DC Universe.
Whether that mark is as a superhero or a supervillain, is still up to fans to decide but one thing is for sure, Cena is back with the toilet seat helmet. After fighting a giant starfish, Cena is back trying to achieve peace, regardless of how many men, women and children he has to kill. And he’s not alone as riding shotgun in the madness is The Suicide Squad director and Peacemaker writer and director James Gunn aka the grandmaster behind all the unhinged chaos.
Reuniting once again after The Suicide Squad was a no-brainer for the duo, as both men saw the potential the character could bring. In the series, Gunn attempts to explore Peacemaker/Christopher Smith’s background and has the pro-wrestler dancing at every given opportunity.
Plus, who doesn’t want to see more of Cena in his tighty whities? Yes, it’s something that is part of the eight-episode series.
“First of all, I loved working with John. Secondly, we talked a lot about the backgrounds of Bloodsport, Ratchercatcher II and Polka Dot Man. We saw where they came from, they all had a great arc in the show where they all changed and became something different from the beginning of the movie,” explained Gunn to Geek Culture.
“Peacemaker didn’t have any of that. We didn’t get to see where he came from, we didn’t get to see a change in him so I think he deserved that [eight] episodes to really see where he came from, how we got to be the way he is and hopefully see some changes in him along the way.”
Despite having 55 years of comic book history, Peacemaker is a relatively unknown character from DC Comics and it’s likely due to the fact that his origin story isn’t full of rainbows and sunshine. There’s no island of sexy fearsome warrior, nor a space pod that crash-landed onto Earth with him as a sole survivor.
What he is though, is at times unsure of his certainty, which makes Cena confident that his character is unlike any fans have seen on screen. He believes that Peacemaker’s clumsiness and idiocy make him a far much entertaining character than a regular character. Plus, flawed characters are definitely much closer to the human experience than being absolutely virtuous all the time.
“Heroism is virtuous. Superheroes are super virtuous. So someone who is super virtuous can get one dimensional and I think that’s why true, great superheroes are often characters that may not resonate with the audience,” said Cena.
“Ancillary characters resonate with the audience. I think that’s what Peacemaker’s strength is. He’s not super virtuous, so there’s a lot of room to want to root for him. I think if Peacemaker was a true superhero, he certainly wouldn’t be as entertaining.”
Gunn, who is famously known for directing Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy franchise added as a matter of factly, “I think what marks a good superhero is the same thing that marks any good character.”
“We need to believe in that person as a human being, we need to believe that that’s a real human being and somebody who has depth and layers, then we’ll go on that journey with him. If we don’t believe that person is real with depth and layers, we’re going to get bored and we’re going to tune out.”
And depth and layers are exactly what fans will receive. Peacemaker is a highly skilled shooter, with various capabilities and a license to kill. Vowing to maintain order with violence, he has all the marks of a cold-blooded killer, up until you see his childlike innocence, vulnerable moments and most importantly, his silly dancing in his underoos.
“The dance number is 100% choreographed and that took a long time to learn. The tighty whities dance number is 100% interpretive,” laughed Cena. “I blacked out for a little bit. I don’t even know what I did.”
A dancing Cena is something fans would never imagine seeing – not even their wildest of dreams – and Gunn uses it to his advantage. In fact, the series’ opening sequence is a ludicrous dance number by the entire cast, led by Cena himself. All of which is a ploy to train viewers not to skip past the credits.
“We see him dance a little bit in the beginning because, you know, he’s joyful but I think I don’t want people to skip the credits. I want people to see the names of all the people that work hard on this show from our production designer, to our editors, all these guys who have worked their butts off putting this show together and our guest stars that we have at the front and end of every episode,” confessed Gunn.
“The skip forward button is my enemy, and I’ll do whatever I can to vanquish it! In this case, I made a dance sequence!”
Peacemaker premieres on HBO Max on 13 January 2022.