Peacemaker is a spin-off television series from James Gunn’s 2021 film The Suicide Squad, which was itself a soft reboot/sequel to the 2016 Suicide Squad (which Gunn had no involvement with.) Some of the characters from 2016 were revived for the 2021 film, most notably Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Gunn got the gig on The Suicide Squad after he was “fired” from directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 after alt-right social media personality and accused rapist Mike Cernovich dug up some bad-taste jokey tweets Gunn posted back in 2009. Cernovich dug up the tweets because Gunn is a fairly outspoken critic of Donald Trump, Cernovich also targeted progressive YouTube commentator Sam Seder and got him temporarily fired from working as a paid contributor at MSNBC the previous year. Seder and Gunn were both later reinstated in their jobs, although it seems Disney always intended to rehire Gunn after the controversy cooled down.
The Suicide Squad was THE summer blockbuster of 2021, and almost cracked my top 5 films of the year list. However, I was somewhat skeptical of the Peacemaker series at the start, because I found him to be the least interesting character in the film. If you’ve seen (or preferably read) Watchmen, you will recognize aspects of this macho, all-American doofus, because Alan Moore based his character The Comedian on the comic-book version of Peacemaker. Both Moore and Gunn injected a more satirical bent on the character who to quote The Fugs would “Kill, kill, kill for peace”.
The series started coming together for Gunn during the shoot for The Suicide Squad, when he realized that John Cena was a much better dramatic actor than he initially thought. To their credit, Warner Bros. has been very receptive to Gunn’s work on The Suicide Squad despite an underwhelming box-office return (it was one of those 2021 HBO Max/theatrical hybrid releases), so they gave him creative control over the series. The biggest difference is that Peacemaker is more grounded in contemporary socio-political issues like white nationalism, sexuality, gender identity, race, anti-vaxxers etc., but all in the context of a fun, silly comic book series.
Gunn very cleverly makes it a show that is very “diverse,” but in a way that feels organic instead of evidencing some executive behind the scenes, breathing down his neck to tick a diversity quota. The plot is kind of a mini-Suicide Squad scenario: Peacemaker is forced into a special-ops group known as Project Butterfly to identify and exterminate butterfly-like creatures who have taken over human bodies, and thus pose a threat to humanity. Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), the lesbian daughter of A.R.G.U.S. leader Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), also ends up in Project Butterfly. Brooks and Cena have a really fun dynamic. Freddie Stroma’s Vigilante is the other big stand-out as the autistic self-proclaimed crime-fighter who looks up to Peacemaker, and it’s fun to watch the bromance that blossoms between the two as the series progresses.
The Peacemaker series might never quite get up to the satirical heights of Amazon’s The Boys, which is probably the best takedown of Superheroes since the original comic book of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. However, if you like the “horribly beautiful mind” of James Gunn, you will have a lot to enjoy here.
Incidentally, the opening credit sequence is a hilarious dance number to the sounds of modern-day Norwegian glam-metal band Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It.” I normally skip opening credits for TV shows after one or two episodes, but Peacemaker‘s always puts a smile on my face. Peacemaker himself has a long-standing love for glam metal, and you get a sense that his love for the music was an act of rebellion against his father Auggie, a.k.a. the White Nationalist superhero White Dragon.
Peacemaker is an absolute blast with a strong supporting cast, and really gives John Cena the role he needed to get out of just being seen as “that ex-wrestler guy.” The final episode also has two of the all-time funniest and unexpected cameos ever in a comic-book film or TV show. Gunn wrote and directed all of the episodes, and is planning to do the same for the second season. Last month’s cancellation of the Batgirl film by the new executives at Warner Bros. Discovery fueled speculation that Peacemaker might also get the chop, but Gunn has confirmed that the second season is “safe.”
The Blu-Ray includes all eight episodes over two discs, with a whole host of featurettes and a gag reel, I would’ve loved a Gunn/Cena commentary track on an episode or two, but I’ll take what I can get.