As a filmmaker James Gunn is known for blending the sweet and the sour. At the best of times you laugh while you cry, at the worst of times emotional moments lose their impact in the name of a laugh. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) had action, but it was 2021’s The Suicide Squad and it’s earned R rating that enabled him to up the ante on the violence, scattering blood and gore throughout nearly every scene. Peacemaker is a culmination of his style, except now all of those moments, those violent moments, those hilarious moments, those pop culture references dropped off the cuff, and even those moments of joy and sadness, get far more room to play.
Like a drunk jock shouting across a house party living room, ready to throw a beer from one end to the other, Peacemaker embraces the concepts of going long while also being just as juvenile. Extended fart jokes cap off an endless supply of dick and sex jokes. Pop culture references give way to an entire monologue dedicated to name dropping celebrities. Conversations about nothing constantly threaten to interrupt the plot and any attempt to have a serious conversation. Post credit scenes are there for every episode, but instead of teasing plot twists they provide extended versions of jokes. Surrounding that orgy of dick and sex jokes there’s a strange and wonderful musical number for the intro credits featuring “Do Ya Wanna Taste It?” by Wig Wam.
Christopher Smith, aka the Peacemaker, is a highly trained, incredibly capable killer who’s also kind of an idiot. That’s a running theme of the show, and not just for Peacemaker. His former behind the scenes crew from The Suicide Squad is now on the ground with him, alongside a new leader and a new agent. They’re all very capable at what they do, but since Peacemaker is a series that means that the extra run time grants every character a chance to make a whole collection of mistakes, all with their own degree of consequences.
The story picks up shortly after the post credits of The Suicide Squad, with John Cena returning as the titular Peacemaker. He’s now almost fully recovered from being shot and having a building collapse on him. The Doctor tells him to lay off his right shoulder for a couple of episodes and he’ll be just fine. He tries to go back home and start again only to find out Amanda Waller, leader of Task Force X (colloquially known as The Suicide Squad) has other plans for him. He would have to kill for her, go back to prison, or die (see The Suicide Squad to find out why he has a bomb implanted in his head).
On his side there’s the new team lead by Murn, played by Chukwudi Iwuji, a stoic former mercenary with plenty of red on his ledger. Jennifer Holland and Steve Agee return as Harcourt and Economos, supplemented by newcomer Leota Adebayo, played by Danielle Brooks. Vigilante, played by Freddie Stroma, is the unofficial tagalong, who’s just as wholesome as he is insane. By the end of the show every single one of them will have a chance to steal the scene and to fall apart.
In between there are plenty of action scenes that bring on the violence with camera work that moves with fluidity along with the stunts. Where The Suicide Squad felt almost sociopathic with its violence, Peacemaker feels more grounded in a brutal reality that emphasizes painful falls and hard hits. And, in maintaining the style, there’s still opportunities for jokes, whether it’s in the fight itself, the dialogue, or just in the movement of the camera.
Much like the drunk jock trying to catch the beer thrown across the house party, Peacemaker goes deep to a surprising degree. In the film The Suicide Squad, the character of Peacemaker was more of a foil to Colonel Rick Flag. He’s introduced as a madman, the kind of a killer that you’d expect to see on a squad of super villains. He’d kill anyone, any man, woman, or child, in the name of peace. The idea of Peacemaker is delivered as a joke before anyone says that Peacemaker is a joke, and as a character he becomes a representation of all that is terrible in Amanda Waller, the authoritarian leader who sees control as the same as peace.
Cena is sensational with a performance that embraces the joke while still being vulnerable. The idea of killing in the name of peace is just one of his personal demons to confront. The backstory of Chistopher Smith is just as important as his current relationship with his father, a white supremist played by Robert Patrick. It’s the kind of character development that takes the stone-cold killer and understands that inside he, like the crew he works alongside, is damaged.
While there are moments when it feels like the sudden shift in tone can give emotional whiplash, there are also times when the show lets these moments breathe. It lets that emotion sink in, and then once you feel the sadness that the characters feel, it asks you one simple question.
Do ya wanna to taste it?