For a series focused on a killing machine ironically named Peacemaker, Gunn’s 8-episode HBO Max series, which sees wrestler turned actor John Cena reprise his role, starts off extremely normal and then very quickly descends into chaos involving aliens, an Eagle, white supremacists and jars and jars of honey. And that barely scratches the surface of this Gunn + Cena madness.
Picking up right where The Suicide Squad left off, Peacemaker (Cena) is recovering in a hospital ward from Bloodsport’s bullet under the watchful eye of Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee), as part of the punishment for rebelling against Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). When he gets discharged from the hospital, he returns home to his father Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick) and his pet/sidekick, a bald eagle named Eagly.
His freedom is short-lived because he is then recruited by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) for another black ops mission – Project Butterfly. Together with a new agent Leota Adebayo (Orange is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks), the five form an unlikely group on a mission to erase the threat. Peacemaker, given his skills, and goal to keep the peace at any cost, including killing men, women and children, is enlisted as the hitman.
Tonally, Peacemaker is similar to Marvel Studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy (also directed by Gunn), but a whole lot cruder. The dialogue and punchlines roll quick, often with the generous use of profanities. Jokes and insults are meshed together and are combined with gun-wielding, blood-splattering action. Whilst the sexiest thing out of Guardians is probably Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Peacemaker has tits on-screen, fleshlights and a lot of Cena’s crotch not so discreetly tucked in a tight pair of white underwear. Perhaps, it’s no surprise after seeing Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, but there is a lot to see in this series. Don’t worry, there’s nothing scarring enough that makes you want to unsee.
Peacemaker’s humour may not be laugh out loud funny all the time, as its humour takes on the form of deconstruction to wink and make fun of the superhero genre, but a few chuckles in each episode is promised. The series doesn’t break the fourth wall completely but it takes a serious chunk out of it. Although its characters are – and we say this lightly – imbeciles, there is a flair behind the way they are written that makes them somewhat charming or at the very least, characters that you can’t help but care and root for.
Speaking of characters, the series sees the return of previously seen characters and new ones too. Oldies Cena, Holland and Agee reprise their roles – with more limelight than the movie they were previously in. This works favourably for Cena, who is able to explore his character deeper. Whilst he did play a rather big role in The Suicide Squad, his character barely had an arc.
Peacemaker gives viewers the opportunity to understand how he came to be and see him change as a result of ‘Project Starfish’ and the killing of Colonel Rick Flag. This reborn Peacemaker is far more sympathetic, understanding, and even forgiving. We also see him be incredibly vulnerable – something we haven’t really seen from a member of Task Force X with the exception of Harley Quinn. Even then, Peacemaker’s history is far more painful. The things he had to experience in his childhood, and even currently as a grown man, could be something that hits home to certain viewers, who have gone through or are going through the same thing too.
Peacemaker slowly grows on you (emphasis on the slowly) and by the end of the series, you’re likely to respect Cena as an actor way much more than you did before. Maybe that’s the benefit of playing a relatively unknown character, in that there are no preconceived ideas or expectations to meet, and the actor is able to bring the character to life however they see fit.
In similar veins, newcomers Iwuji, Brooke, Patrick, Freddie Stroma and Nhut Le are entertaining to watch too. Stroma and Le plays comic book characters Adrian Chase/Vigilante and Judomaster respectively. Again, both are relatively unknown characters unless you’ve spent many years with your nose in old comic books. Unfortunately, we hardly see Le’s face, or hear him say anything aside from letting out a few grunts and the classic “Hiyaaah!” here and there.
Stroma’s Vigilante is a personal favourite. He’s undeniably annoying and a pain in the ass, but incredibly entertaining and lovable. He is aware and oblivious, politically correct and a rogue all at the same time. Stroma’s good boy features largely contradicts the heinous acts Vigilante is capable of – making it a whole lot harder for you to dislike him, even if you want to.
Another newcomer one can’t help but love is Brook’s Agent Adebayo too. She’s not exactly who you think she is but is everything she needs to be in order to help move the story and character arcs along. She’s not the main catalyst for Peacemaker’s eventual change, but her relationship with him (and later on the rest of the crew) is important for many reasons that we won’t disclose, so as to not spoil the series any further.
Action wise, Peacemaker leans towards gory and violence. It doesn’t focus much on the choreography or action sequences that make your jaw drop, but it is sufficient enough to keep you entertained. It’s not an extravaganza given how it is a small-screen tv show, but it manages to squeeze in numerous explosions that will still look good on your phone, laptop screen or TV.
In all, Peacemaker is Gunn pushing extreme storytelling, which is what he does best here. If you’re looking for something whacky to keep you entertained, and invested without needing to care too much, Peacemaker is a series that is heavy on violence (physically and emotionally) and yet manages to have you snickering to yourself every once in a while. It’s probably the best performance of Cena’s you’ve seen so far and can be perfectly wrapped up in one word: bizarre.
Peacemaker premieres on HBO Max (US) and HBO GO (Asia) on 13 January 2022.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
HBO’s Peacemaker series is whacky, bizarre and John Cena’s best performance so far. It’s funny, violent and heavy – the perfect recipe to James Gunn’s crazy.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10