By Nate Hall
Everyone loves a good superhero story. In 2021, characters like Scarlet Witch, Loki, Shang-Chi and Spider-Man captured people’s attention and dominated the entertainment conversation. What do they all have in common? They come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Marvel continues to reign supreme, its main competitor, DC, has begun to pose a threat to Marvel’s untouchable status. After releasing two successful films last year, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021) and “The Suicide Squad” (2021), DC is trying its hand at television with “Peacemaker” (2022–), a new series that’s worth a watch.
Created by “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) director James Gunn, “Peacemaker” premiered on HBO Max this January. A spinoff of Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad,” the series follows Christopher Smith (John Cena), also known as Peacemaker, an aggressive mercenary who will do anything for peace, no matter “how many men, women and children [he has to] kill to get it.” Picking up after the events of “The Suicide Squad,” Peacemaker is recruited by the U.S. government to join a shady black ops mission known as “Project Butterfly.” Working alongside Peacemaker are new recruit Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), NSA agent Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), tech expert John Economos (Steve Agee), team leader Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) and Adrian Chase / “Vigilante” (Freddie Stroma), a young crimefighter who idolizes Peacemaker. While working to complete his mission, Peacemaker faces off against his racist father (Robert Patrick), the local police department and a host of other adversaries.
In his role as the title character, Cena steals the show. He adeptly toes the line between an arrogant, egotistical killer and a broken man with a complicated past — not quite a hero, not quite a villain. He’s meant to look ridiculous, with a red and blue costume and a pet eagle named Eagly. Cena himself described the character as a “douchey Captain America who would kill a kid,” but there’s much more to him than that. Cena captures your attention every second he’s on screen, and he handles moments of over-the-top violence, crude humor and emotional depth with equal proficiency. While the entire cast has its strengths, Cena’s best moments are with Vigilante, who acts as Peacemaker’s loyal sidekick, and Adebayo, who forms a strong platonic bond with Peacemaker. Adebayo grapples with her own personal challenges as a black lesbian lead throughout the series, and her character is a refreshing addition to superhero media.
James Gunn deserves praise for his writing and direction, allowing the story to grow from week to week without taking things too far or losing sight of the show’s focus. The humor is a mixed bag — some jokes are sharp and witty, while others drag on too long and don’t quite stick the landing. The overall story arc of the series is strong, with several unexpected twists and a satisfying conclusion, along with plenty of great fight scenes along the way. Because it’s a television series targeted to a more adult audience (TV MA), Gunn is able to get away with more raunchy humor and gory violence than your typical superhero movie. This may be too much for some viewers, but once you buy into the absurdity of the show, you can’t help but enjoy it.
The series is enhanced by top-notch visual effects, costumes and production design, but its biggest technical strength is its music. The 1980s hair metal soundtrack gives the series a distinctive style and ties key moments in the show together, reminiscent of the retro scores of Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. Each episode opens with the introduction dance number of epic proportions set to the tune of “Do Ya Wanna Taste It” (2010) by metal band Wig Wam that’s so entertaining you’ll never want to hit ‘Skip Intro.’ Additionally, Peacemaker himself has a personal connection to the music used in the series, which makes the soundtrack all the more impactful and well suited.
Despite its over-the-top antics, “Peacemaker” stays grounded, allowing its characters to grow and form connections with each other. At the heart of the action-packed story is a strong emotional core that explores the power of friendship and the challenges of overcoming past traumas. The show, which was renewed for season two last week, successfully achieves a delicate balance of action, humor and storytelling and will hopefully inspire future superhero stories to take themselves a little less seriously.