Peacemaker Is Another TV Bullseye for DC

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This Peacemaker review contains spoilers.

Peacemaker Episodes 1,2, and 3

Peacemaker, the HBO Max spinoff of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, reminds viewers of it cinematic origins right from the start. 

Before even one new minute of the new TV series has aired, Peacemaker takes some time out for a “previously on” segment, bringing the show up to date with the events of the 2021 movie featuring DC Comics characters. Ruthless government suit Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) introduces Christopher Smith a.k.a. Peacemaker, a peace-obsessed jingoistic beefcake whose father trained him to kill from the moment he was born. We then see brief flashes of Peacemaker’s whole arc from the 132-minute film – from joining the titular Suicide Squad to killing dozens of criminal goons in Corto Maltese to murdering leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) on Waller’s orders to being near-lethally shot in the neck by Bloodsport (Idris Elba).

The mere presence of a “previously on” section in a TV show that hasn’t even technically begun is a reminder of just how blended our entertainment landscape has become in the superhero era. Movies, TV shows, comics – it’s all just content that heavy hitters like Marvel and DC can weave interconnected stories throughout. What’s interesting about Peacemaker, however, is how distinct it ends up feeling from the movie that launched it.

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Though Peacemaker was created, written, and (mostly) directed by The Suicide Squad helmer James Gunn, these first three episodes (all of which premiered on HBO Max on Jan. 13) aren’t just a direct continuation of 2021 film. Well, at first it is literally that with the show’s opening moments picking up in the hospital room that Peacemaker was unceremoniosly dumped in in The Suicide Squad’s post-credit scene. But it also soon reveals itself to be an honest-to-goodness zany action TV show, with an absolutely classic opening credits sequence to prove it. Peacemaker very well could have been a medium-ambiguous bit of Suicide Squad supplemental content. It’s to Gunn and the show’s credit that it puts the advantages of TV’s episodic storytelling formula to good use instead.  

Thanks to the explosive device still implanted in Chris Smith’s head, Peacemaker gets off to a quick start. While Cena’s character has plans to start a new life, far away from the sins of Corto Maltese, Amanda Waller’s isn’t ready to let him go so easily. Dispatching a pair of characters previously seen in The Suicide Squad: Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee); and a couple who weren’t: Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), an unseen Waller helpfully removes any of the boring motivational work from the proceedings. Peacemaker essentially has to be in the show Peacemaker or his head will explode. 

The gang’s mission is a simple one: track down enemy combatants known as “butterflies” and eliminate them. Of course, in the world of The Suicide Squad, mission names are often surprisingly literal. Just as Project Starfish dealt with a giant alien starfish, Project Butterfly deals with alien butterflies who can infiltrate the brains of human beings like Yeerks. Butterflies also give their human hosts superstrength as a whitey-titey clad Peacemaker discovers in episode one upon running afoul a recent sexual contest with a taste for ‘80s hair metal and cheetah print. 

Of the first three episodes, episode 1 is the strongest if only due to the exciting novelty of seeing a James Gunn project effortlessly establish a tone. Thanks to a soundtrack fit-to-bursting with glam metal bangers and the presence of Peacemaker’s pet eagle named Eagley, Peacemaker has no problem creating an earnestly corny vibe conducive to a good time. The first episode is also the funniest, with Peacemaker’s opening scene conversation with hospital janitor friend Jamil (Rizwan Manji) generating a full episode’s share of laughs. 

Additionally, that scene establishes Peacemaker as the rare superhero series capable of capturing at least a little of the American social and political landscape in its commentary. Jamil frankly tells Peacemaker that he’s a racist, to which Peacemaker can only promise to try to kill more white people. Later on, when Peacemaker returns home to see his overtly racist father Auggie (a brilliant Robert Patrick), the elder Smith has an OAN-style program called “Fact Attack” blaring on his TV. 

Peacemaker’s trashy origins and his father’s virulent open hatred for his son and just about everyone else is the most intriguing aspect of this series thus far. Plenty of superhero properties try to confront complicated issues like current events, race, and politics, but very few do so as bluntly as having a superhero’s father be an open white supremacist who urges his son to take out some “commies, Blacks, and papists.” 

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Interestingly enough though, while Peacemaker’s bleak origin is the most interesting part of the series in the early-goings, Peacemaker himself might be the show’s weakest character. That’s not due to any deficiencies on Cena’s part, who is charming as always, but rather Gunn’s natural inclination to make every story about a dysfunctional found family. Through three episodes, Peacemaker, Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), Harcourt, Economos, Adebayo, and Murn have all the makings of a Guardians of the Galaxy or Suicide Squad-style team. That approach mostly works and it gives the show a fun opportunity to center some of the pencil-pushers and obscure heroes of the DC world, but it comes at the cost of keeping Peacemaker as an exciting force of ass-kicking nature. 

When Peacemaker suddenly becomes gunshy in the season’s third episode, it makes some sense due to his post-Flag guilt but it also feels like viewers have been fed a false bill of goods. The man said he wants peace no matter how many men, women, and children he needs to kill to get it. He didn’t stutter! In some ways, Vigilante feels more like the character ported over from the amoral killers in The Suicide Squad. It also helps that Freddie Stroma is clearly having the time of his life. Whatever process the London-born actor used to develop that dead-behind-the-eyes Midwestern accent needs to be patented then licensed out industry-wide. 

Ultimately, Peacemaker is another win for the suddenly surprisingly competitive DC Comics TV landscape. Dating back to the successful launch and franchisization of the Arrowverse, DC has always had a better understanding of the power of TV fandom than its bigger Marvel rival. Now, in the streaming era with shows like Titans, Doom Patrol, and the perfect Harley Quinn, DC is once again ahead of the game in terms of adult-oriented super shows. Peacemaker has five more episodes to go to establish DC’s TV dominance. If nothing else, that’s five more times to watch the opening credit sequence.

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