“Peacemaker” is the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe from director James Gunn, following the titular character returning from his appearance in the 2021 “The Suicide Squad” movie, running as a series of episodes on HBO Max.
I’ve always been a fan of James Gunn. His work with the legendary B-movie studio Troma led to some of the studio’s best work. His unique and edgier spin on “Scooby Doo” was incredibly memorable. He collaborated with Zack Snyder to remake one of the most beloved zombie films ever, and it was actually pretty good. He even made a video game with legendary video game director Suda51. This was all before he made it big with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film that completely changed the direction of the MCU, the biggest film franchise of all time.
Gunn has certainly done a lot and with 2021’s “The Suicide Squad,” it felt like the culmination of everything in his career so far. I would argue, however, that is not the case. “The Suicide Squad” was more like “Guardians of the Galaxy” without any restrictions put on by Disney. I think “Peacemaker” is the true culmination of his career, featuring elements from all his previous work. The mystery of “Scooby-Doo,” the horror of “Slither” and “Dawn of the Dead,” the campiness of “Lollipop Chainsaw” and Troma, the exploration of mentally disturbed characters like Super, the found family of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Suicide Squad” and the daddy issues of “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”
I honestly feel like I can end the review there. This is the most “James Gunny” James Gunn project ever made. If you like Gunn, you’ll probably like this, but I’ll go into more detail.
Peacemaker, following the fallout from “The Suicide Squad,” is recruited for another mission to stop another alien threat. However, instead of being on a team of other costumed vigilantes like before, this is a much more straightforward covert operation. A lot of complicated relationships form from this as there is a severe lack of trust between members of the new team, but also still rely on each other to stay alive. All the relationships develop beautifully throughout the series and change quite a lot.
Outside of the team, we also learn of Peacemaker’s father, the man who trained him and gave him all his equipment. He’s horribly abusive, basically runs the KKK and has what I can only call a racist Iron Man suit. This relationship is one of the most fascinating aspects of the series as Peacemaker hates his father but still wants his approval. Also, all his friends want his dad dead because of the aforementioned racism, and obviously this is going to cause a rift in those friendships, cause it’s his dad. A lot of very interesting dynamics and character moments come from that.
The best character, however, is the comic relief Vigilante. Some have compared him to Deadpool, but I disagree. Deadpool was always the one making the joke. We laugh with Deadpool. Vigilante, you’re laughing at. You like him a lot, but it’s a different source of comedy. Personally, I prefer it. I was never fond of Deadpool.
Overall, I’d say the comedy is solid. Very similar to that of “The Suicide Squad,” moreso than Gunn’s other work. There are some jokes that miss and lots of prolonged sequences of pure banter that can get a bit much, but most jokes land and there’s always at least one good line in the banter segments.
The most significant character after Peacemaker, however, is Leota Adebayo, the daughter of the person in charge Amanda Waller. I would argue she is the deuteragonist of the series as we follow her and her struggles just as much as Peacemaker. Learning to balance her personal life and this job, as well as grappling with the fact that her mother may be a horrible person. It’s an interesting parallel to Peacemaker’s problems with his dad and his personal life being a rut.
The acting is fantastic across the board. John Cena, who plays Peacemaker, really flexes his acting muscles as so much emotion is mined without losing any comedic value. I’ve already mentioned Vigilante, but the performance is what really sells his character. Freddie Stroma, who played him in the final product, was not the original actor. That person was fired after 5 out of 8 episodes were already filmed. Thankfully, due to this show being produced much like a movie rather than an actual TV show, they were able to reshoot everything with the new actor and overall, I’d say the series was better for it. The last performance of particular note was Robert Patrick as Peacemaker’s father. I would argue this is his best villain performance since when he played the T-1000 in “Terminator 2.”
The pacing of the show was remarkably snappy and I’d argue its strongest asset. Many TV shows, especially nowadays, feel like they’ve been stretched out and have a lot of padding. That’s not the case here. Every scene is important and pushes the story along. So much happens every episode and you never feel like anything is being dragged out. Episode length also varies a fair amount allowing more leeway for pacing.
That’s not to say this is just a long movie — it’s not. The way the show is structured is very much in the language of TV. Each episode is satisfying on its own but still tells an ongoing narrative. The episodes feel planned as episodes rather than it just being the point where they left off. The episodes have endings and it doesn’t rely on cliffhangers. The pacing also makes way for a very unique scale. His movies often have a bombastic scale — they felt very big.
This series also feels big but in a completely different way. The best way I can describe it is that the movies feel big vertically, but this feels bigger horizontally. Scale vs scope. This is about a worldwide alien invasion but it’s very spread out. The movie was about a giant alien monster but all localized in one spot.
Production wise, the show was strong as well. The trademark excellent music choice of Gunn is present, but the action also has a noticeable improvement, with more flashy camera movements and up close and personal fights. The action feels a lot more intimate. Also, the TV-MA rating is fully utilized here, even moreso than the R rating in “The Suicide Squad.”
Overall, “Peacemaker” is a very strong show. I feel that anyone, particularly fans of Gunn, will like it. There’s fun colorful comic stuff but also solid dark and gritty elements as well which I think will please both sides of the superhero fan spectrum.
The only people I wouldn’t recommend the series to is, oddly enough, fans of the source material. Gunn, when adapting comics, makes the choice of choosing obscure characters. That way, he can change them and anger only a very small number of people. If he did the same thing with, for example, Spider-Man, a lot of people would get mad. I know most people haven’t read the “Vigilante” and “Peacemaker” comics, but I have. Those comics are incredibly different. The comics are incredibly dark, more akin to the Punisher than Deadpool. As much as I loved the character in the show, he is quite possibly one of the worst adaptations ever done.
If you don’t care about accuracy, like me, you’ll still enjoy the show. If you do care, however, and you’re familiar with the original characters, I don’t think you will enjoy the show. If none of that applies to you, I think you’ll like it. This show is fun and one of the best live-action superhero TV shows to come out in a long time.
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