While The Suicide Squad had many stand out characters and was a vast improvement from the original Suicide Squad, I was still scratching my head a little when I was informed that out of the ragtag group of anti-heroes, James Gunn had chosen to focus on the zealous and jingoist Peacemaker to get his own standalone series. And after viewing 7 of the 8 episodes of this season of Peacemaker, it’s still hard to see a strong thesis on the show beyond “this bad guy is maybe not as bad as some of the other bad guys out there.”
But, powered by the immense comedic charisma of John Cena and some of Gunn’s fantastic needle drops, there is still a deep well of charm that comes with Peacemaker. Following his almost-death at the end of The Suicide Squad, Christopher Smith aka Peacemaker is on his way home. Of course, as a member of the former Task Force X, he still has a chip in his brain and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends a team to him to get him on a new mission.
Working with Peacemaker are Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee), who were a part of the group of co-workers who turned on Waller during the Corto Maltese incident. Newcomers are Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) and Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), who each have mysterious pasts but have been roped into this group of agents. Since he’s Peacemaker and therefore naturally destructive, chaotic, and foolish, his actions quickly garner the attention of the local police and it sends Detectives Sophie Song (Annie Chang) and Larry Fitzgibbon (Lochlyn Munro) after him.
Back in his hometown, Smith also sees some familiar faces. Obviously we can not ignore the importance of Eagly, Peacemaker’s pet eagle and official best friend (seriously, this bird gives the best hugs). But there’s also Adrian Chase aka Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), a local vigilante whose determination to fight crime is equal to Peacemaker’s and of the “peace at any cost” variety. And, finally, he is reunited with his immensely shitty and racist dad, Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), who fulfills the role of “lowkey villain who is worse than the protagonist who is also basically a bad guy”. Auggie is an unholy cocktail of trailer trash, toxic masculinity, racist, and neo-Nazi, who also happens to go by White Dragon when he’s… being generally evil?
While the series explores Christopher Smith’s past and his origins as Peacemaker, it’s also eager to place the blame on his shitty father. While it’s very clear that a lot of the problems came from Auggie’s childrearing, the show is about as subtle as a freight train when it comes to pointing the finger at his dad and seemingly absolving Chris of his sins. For a guy who was ready to side with Amanda Waller and killed Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and our beloved Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), this is not enough.
Peacemaker is not trying to make any grand claims, and if it is, it isn’t doing it well. But that’s not where its strength is. Cena’s performance is certainly a highlight and he stays on the same tone as he did when he was in The Suicide Squad. His relationship with Adebayo blossoms into a true friendship as the season progresses – with Cena and Brooks playing off each other as if they’ve been friends for years. Stroma’s Adrian Chase is also another joy. For a sociopath, Adrian has an odd sweetness to him that comes directly from Stroma’s portrayal of the character. He’s part murdering sociopath and part endearing pick-me boy.
The group dynamic, as always, is great. The humor is very James Gunn, which is to say if you generally enjoyed his brand of humor in his other movies, you’ll enjoy it here. If you didn’t, well there’s a lot more of it. Like Gunn’s previous superhero projects, this one benefits from the weirdness of comics, and if people thought Starro was a deep cut, he topped himself again with Peacemaker.
Despite its faults, Peacemaker is a fun show, even if it doesn’t prove its necessity in the DCEU. But after watching many grimdark DC TV shows that take themselves too seriously, maybe we should be indulging in our wants more than our needs. Sometimes it’s just nice to watch a grown man in a shiny helmet hug an eagle before rocking out to a cover of One Direction’s “Drag Me Down”. Seriously, if nothing the music in this series is a joy, and you can listen to it right now!
The first three episodes of Peacemaker is now streaming on HBO Max!