*Warning: This article contains spoilers for episodes 1-3 of Peacemaker and The Suicide Squad*
The DCEU is finally moving towards streaming-driven content a year after the MCU did the same on Disney+ (Zack Snyder’s Justice League doesn’t necessarily count since this is a “new” version of an older film) with Peacemaker, a spinoff of The Suicide Squad in which Christopher Smith (John Cena) AKA Peacemaker deals with the aftermath of that movie, whilst aiding Amanda Waller (Viola Davis)’ A.R.G.U.S. (Armed Revolutionaries Governing Under Secrecy) in a mission named “Project Butterfly.”
Project Starfish caused The Suicide Squad to fight a literal starfish, so will Peacemaker fight…butterflies? It’s all unclear on who “butterflies” actually are, but in order to avoid jail time, our titular character teams up with A.R.G.U.S. again to help them with their butterfly problem. Whilst Amanda Waller is not “directly” implicated in the mission (she does cameo in the first episode, adding a rather important plot point for one of the show’s main protagonists), Smith will report to Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) while working with Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), John Economos (Steve Agee) and Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), the latter revealed to be Waller’s daughter, likely unbeknownst to Murn and everyone else around her.
The series opens in the hospital, months after The Suicide Squad‘s post-credit scene where Smith rehabilitates after being shot in the neck from Bloodsport (Idris Elba). Once he returns home, A.R.G.U.S. intercepts him and the story begins in a rather slow fashion. Writer/director James Gunn takes time to further develop Smith’s arc through his relationship with his father (Robert Patrick), a white supremacist who thinks very little of his son, or anyone else really. Peacemaker’s overzealous attitude of attaining “peace” through killing innocent people makes his father go bitter, thinking he’s always been weak and has never been able to stand up for himself. However, his father gets into trouble with the police once A.R.G.U.S. frames him when our titular character kills a butterfly through his sonic boom helmet, after having sex with her. It’s a wild sequence, and perfectly establishes the kind of cathartic action Gunn will be playing with in subsequent episodes.
Instead of purely painting Smith as a “douchey Captain America” (which is how John Cena describes him when interviewed for The Suicide Squad), Gunn takes the time to explore his psyche and how the character feels about himself. Underneath the overconfident façade of being a hero carrying out what he feels is his patriotic duty to achieve peace at all costs is a lonely and broken individual in need of a friend, any friend. He pushes aside anyone who wants to help and cares about him because he feels he doesn’t need the help of anyone, but Smith will find himself alone most of the time. The only one who seems to care about him (in a not-so-stalky way, but more on that later) is Adebayo, who grows fond of Peacemaker’s lonely personality, which makes him a rather “sad” hero, not realizing that his “peaceful” action bring consequences to anyone around him.
Inside his buoyant personality lies massive insecurity, and the series’ first three episodes explore this theme first-hand way farther than The Suicide Squad did. One scene that perfectly represents the character’s vulnerability is when he sings The Quireboys’ “I Don’t Love You Anymore”, and it’s where the audience sees the character finally pulling back the curtain on his feelings, instead of hiding them through his huge ego, which he does repeatedly during The Suicide Squad. He feels more insecure than ever when asked to assassinate a U.S. Senator and his family after they are revealed to be butterflies. Peacemaker loves to boast the fact that he can attain peace by killing children, but when he is faced with the situation head-on, he shakes and gives up, even if he sees that the Senator’s children aren’t “normal” kids and need to be killed for the sake of the world. Lucky for him, Adrian Chase/Vigilante (Freddie Stroma) isn’t afraid of killing anyone and helps him complete the mission.
Vigilante is another hero who hides his own insecurities through his sociopathic persona. As Adrian Chase, he can’t hold on to a proper conversation without embarrassing himself, but as Vigilante, he’s able to numb his embarrassing demeanor through extreme violence, to which he has no problem with killing anyone he sees. He likes to believe he’s Peacemaker’s best friend, sending him a plethora of messages on his phone, but Smith prefers to push him away and mock him every time he has the occasion to. They aren’t a dynamic duo, but deep down, Peacemaker shares affection for Vigilante, as he’s always here for him no matter what (even if he doesn’t want Vigilante to). Their relationship is one of the most entertaining aspects of the show so far, and they both bring terrific levity during the series’ visceral action sequences.
Gunn hasn’t lost his “visceral” touch from The Suicide Squad, constantly keeping the camera moving in inventive new ways to pull the audience in during action scenes, even if they aren’t as fluidly edited this time around (but editor Fred Raskin does manage to keep them as tight as possible). The best action sequence out of the three episodes has to be the fight between Harcourt, Peacemaker, Vigilante, and the exaggerated Judomaster (Nhut Le), whose laughable costume doesn’t make him into a threat, until he’s thwarted in the middle of the action and takes down everyone he sees. Gunn knows how to mount tension, and when to release it in a way that consistently feels satisfying, as the heroes explore their own abilities fighting the butterflies, even if they don’t necessarily know who they are fighting and how to kill them. Their sheer cluelessness makes for great comedy through moments of high-octane action, even if the comedy doesn’t necessarily work all the time. James Gunn does have the tendency to make a joke last too long then it’s supposed to, and there are instances where a funny joke gets immediately ruined by overstaying its welcome. Sometimes less is more, but most of the jokes in the series are quite funny, and that’s mainly due to how great every single actor is.
Peacemaker marks John Cena’s best-ever role, as he’s found a character he can not only have complete fun with but convey a range of emotions that films like F9, The Marine, and Bumblebee prevented him to do. Recently, though, he’s been an absolute riot in comedies, and Peacemaker represents the best of both worlds for him: an action-driven role where the main character is a complete and utter buffoon and uses his buffoonery to hide his own insecurities. It’s an incredible role, and Cena relishes every single minute that he can out of the character while having a tremendous amount of fun with his co-stars Jennifer Holland, Chukwudi Iwuji (rumored to play the High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3!), Steve Agee, and Danielle Brooks who all bring their A-Game in the first three episodes. Holland, Brooks, and Iwuji, in particular, are major supporting standouts, whilst Agee’s Economos is more hit or miss with the material he receives. The “dye-beard” running gag wasn’t funny, but he shares one of episode three’s best moments when he’s able to knock Judomaster out.
The first three episodes of Peacemaker marks a greatest hits compilation for James Gunn, with a rock-filled soundtrack, including Band-Maid’s “Choose Me” in one of the show’s funniest scenes yet. The opening credits sequence already puts any other 2022 film or TV show’s opening credits to shame, since it’ll be very hard to top the series’ self-aware nature, but Gunn goes deeper than re-presenting Peacemaker as “douchey Captain America.” He’s not, and will be confronted with more personal challenges than he ever thought possible, especially when the series may set up Robert Patrick’s White Dragon as the main antagonist of the series. Time will tell in which direction the show will go (all bets are off), but the television side of the DCEU is off to an incredible start. “Peacemaker, what a joke”? Not so fast…
The first three episodes of Peacemaker are now streaming on HBO Max.