Directed by: Brad Anderson, James Gunn, Jody Hill, Rosemary Rodriguez
Distributed by: HBO Max
Written by Alexander Reams
The opening credits of a television show can be crucial in creating the vibe of the show as a whole, one of my favorite examples is the opening credits to the show “M.A.S.H.”, giving the viewer an overview of the show without giving away everything in the show. Nearly 50 years after its original premiere date, another show has taken note of this conceit; James Gunn’s newest project “Peacemaker”. Very soon after completing principal photography on “The Suicide Squad”, the pandemic hit the world and post-production went virtual. During post-production Gunn decided to write a series spinning off one of the members of “The Suicide Squad”, Peacemaker (portrayed immaculately by John Cena). Gunn did this out of boredom and his love of the character, soon after, with Warner Bros. seeking to expand this world that Gunn created (Warner Bros. trusting a director? Hey miracles do happen!), they quickly ordered it straight-to-series and Gunn went back in “The Suicide Squad” world. Gunn, who also wrote and directed “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, “The Suicide Squad”, and “Super”, has been marinating on a motif of bad people who find redemption in the strangest ways, and it all culminates here.
The aforementioned opening credits have quickly become the talk of the town, setting the intricately choreographed dance routine to Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It” and introducing all of the characters in a very James Gunn way. Saying James Gunn uses music to tell a story is like saying people need air to breathe, it’s not just true, it’s a necessity to his filmmaking. And his ear for quality music is more evident than just the breakout star of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Awesome Mix Vol. 1”, from his use of the Finnish band Wig Wam here, Gunn has an affinity for these more “out there” or unknown artists. Through these opening credits, we are introduced to Gunn’s latest gallery of colorful rogues. Joining John Cena as Peacemaker is Danielle Brooks as Leota Adebayo, a new character that Gunn created, Emilia Harcourt (portrayed by Gunn’s now-fiancee Jennifer Holland, who fully realized a character that could quickly become tedious and unimportant), Clemson Murn, another new character created by Gunn who’s portrayed by Chukwudi Iwuji, who is truly heartbreaking and has some of the best lines of the show. Rounding out the cast is Vigilante (brought in from the comics who’s portrayed by Freddie Stroma and is gleefully psychotic as Vig), John Economos/Dye-Beard (portrayed by Steve Agee, who takes his small, but memorable, supporting performance in “The Suicide Squad” and turns it into a big breakout role here), and Auggie Smith (portrayed by Robert Patrick, the father of Peacemaker, and who is the butt of many a joke in the show).
During the Corto Maltese mission in “The Suicide Squad”, Peacemaker was given a directive by Amanda Waller, that no one else knew about, this order led to him “having” to kill Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), but not before Flagg gets one last jab in, one that is the kickoff for the entire show. That jab is delivered brilliantly by Kinnaman: “Peacemaker, what a joke.” This line broke my heart when I heard it, as Kinnaman was one of the original “Suicide Squad” members, and there was actual emotional depth to his character, and the scene as a whole, and this was the point where Peacemaker had crossed a line he couldn’t come back from. In doing this, he now has betrayed the entire team and ends up getting shot by Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and is now laid up in the hospital. The consensus of Peacemaker, based on what we saw in “The Suicide Squad”, is that the guy is an irredeemable dick, and while the latter part of that is true, there is a glimmer of hope that Peacemaker isn’t irredeemable, and that is what Gunn sets out to find out through the course of the show.
Speaking of the course of the show, there is a hole that the series can quickly fall into, and that’s the serialization of the show, each episode becoming more and more cookie-cutter and predictable, many fall into this, “Peacemaker” does not. Gunn’s signature auteur vision is felt throughout each episode, even the ones he did not direct. Gunn continues marinating on the gray areas of what it means to be a hero that he started within “The Suicide Squad”, but still quick to condemn actions that cannot be rationalized, most of which are committed by our titular character. Both Gunn and Cena recognize and frequently acknowledge that Christopher Smith (Peacemaker) is not a good person, whether through sexist jabs (mostly directed at Emilia Harcourt) or through blind racism that flies out of his mouth faster than one of his exploding compression bullets. Most of these bits are played for laughs, but there is always this sense of condemnation under the laughs, never standing by and letting Smith deliver these lines without any sort of comeuppance.
Peacemaker also isn’t just a perpetrator, he’s a victim. A victim of emotional and psychological abuse that was inflicted on him since he was a child, being pushed to the point that he kills his own brother, why? Because his father, Auggie Smith, had Smith and his brother fighting in a pit for money, while he and his friends bet on it. It’s a shocking scene to watch play out and when then the line is crossed and you don’t realize it at first, but when you do, it breaks your heart. Auggie is truly an irredeemable person, a conspiracy theorist who believes that anyone that doesn’t have the same complexion is inferior to him when in reality he is just a white trash asshole with a god complex. And this isn’t the first instance that Gunn has shown how dads can be the true villain in a character’s life, but here he goes all-in on making Auggie as bad of a person can be, I mean the dude has a super-suit with horns and is white and red, and his followers gather around him and start chanting “White Dragon”. Not exactly the type of company you should keep, and throughout the show, Peacemaker realizes this.
Given his years of daddy issues, Peacemaker is always longing for someone to be his moral compass, and here he has two, a devil, and a less evil devil, Vigilante, or Vig, who is a psychotic murderer who has infections glee whenever he kills people, even bailing Peacemaker out at one point when he won’t kill a kid, but Vig will, who tells him to “Move over for a sec” and subsequently begins to hum a tune that can only be described as “happy” and kills everyone in a room. This shows his psychosis, but also the messed up way that he cares about Peacemaker, and needs him as much as Smith needs Vig. Vig doesn’t want his friend to hurt, and he sees how that is hurting him, so he takes his hurt away and does the killing for him. It’s twisted, but also a sweet moment. However these sweet moments don’t come without their cost, and often here it involves Peacemaker and Vig being captured or shot at or wrecked, or any number of things that show that what Deadpool said is true; “Life is an endless series of trainwrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness.” Something Gunn never lets us forget.
Once again, James Gunn’s foray into characters that may not be the best people, but end up doing some good is not only a fun time but exceptionally made and full of emotional growth and depth, particularly sons escaping from the shadow of their father, and when the show is anchored by a stellar performance by John Cena, add in some Finnish hair metal, and you have a show that if Rainn Wilson showed up as the infamous “Crimson Bolt” in future installments in this world, he would fit right in, in fact, it would not only work, I want it to happen, Vig, Peacemaker, John Economos, and the Crimson Bolt teaming up would be interesting, but would fit right into James Gunn’s filmography. These four together know there is never a wrong time to rock, much like everyone else in the show.
“Peacemaker” Season 1 is streaming on HBO Max.
You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.