From the brilliant, at times warped mind of James Gunn, the first series of Peacemaker is a fun ride. That is, for a show that on the surface is all about dick jokes, ultraviolence; and what superheroes get up to behind closed doors.
Peacemaker has a surprising amount of pathos and heart to balance out its more extreme tendencies. A very game performance from a never-better John Cena in the title role, and you’ve got one of the most off-the-wall and interesting superhero shows to come out of either of the major houses in a number of years.
We pick up right where we left off with 2021’s The Suicide Squad. Peacemaker is lying in a hospital bed in traction, after having a building collapse on top of him in Corto Maltese.
Waking up, mostly recovered – he gives the hospital the slip. From there, he returns to Belle Reeve. From there, he faces more missions with Task Force X and the wrath of Amanda Waller.
After an amusing exchange with a janitor who reluctantly aids him, Peacemaker makes it back to his trailer. He meets up with his sidekick and occasional friend Vigilante, and together they celebrate his newfound freedom. They do this by shooting a bunch of guns and blowing things up. This is short-lived, however. A team of A.R.G.U.S. agents apprehend Peacemaker and tell him he will be able to continue his freedom. That is, if he helps them with an assignment codenamed “Project Butterfly”.
Family Is What You Make It
What follows is a story that is tonally very similar to Gunn’s efforts on his previous superhero adaptations for both Marvel and DC. By its very nature; a television series with a longer run time than a theatrically released film, it gives Gunn the opportunity to explore the character of Peacemaker (Chris Smith) much more thoroughly. Instead of the driven, misguided, and almost entirely unlikeable figure presented in The Suicide Squad, Gunn makes Chris into a tragic figure that garners sympathy. Especially when his back story is fleshed out to include his asshole of a father, Auggie – played with flair as always by Robert Patrick.
The great characterisation doesn’t end there though. Gunn takes each of the A.R.G.U.S. agents and gives them an interesting, fleshed-out backstory (with the possible exception of Vigilante, who works best as a one-note character). And they each have their own arcs within the narrative. The team goes from being at best strangers and at worst actively antagonistic towards each other, to forming bonds over their mutual trauma to become a makeshift family, another theme that is present in Gunn’s work especially when it comes to the Guardians.
Peacemaker doesn’t seem like the kind of show that should work, especially given how much of an abrasive jerk the title character was in The Suicide Squad.
The themes of the redemptive power of friendship, and how hard it is to change – especially when that involves cutting yourself off from toxic parents/family, or forgiving yourself for past trauma – are vital to Gunn’s work generally. Peacemaker feels like it crystallises these themes into a spectacular story.
From Zero to Hero
And it is this pathos that makes Chris Smith change as a character. Going from an unlikeable jerk who prioritises the word of a psychotic government agent over the lives of his teammates to someone who would take a bullet for them, Peacemaker’s arc is a satisfying one to watch.
Not that it’s the only reason to tune in. There’s plenty of brilliantly shot, well-choreographed action in Peacemaker to satisfy the red meat brigade, with both massive shoot-outs and one-on-one fistfights being handled expertly.
Of course how you feel about the comedy is subjective, as some of it can tend towards the low brow. However, the script is so full of jokes that if one doesn’t take your fancy perhaps one of the next five will. It can feel a bit relentless but personally, I enjoyed the level of humour that came through – and Gunn’s ability to know when to turn that on and off is another arrow in his quiver.
Ultimately, what could have been a disaster for WB is actually one of the best properties they’ve produced in a while. Gunn’s singular voice and vision shines through and proves why he’s one of the most in-demand writer/directors in this space. He’s aided by the very talented cast who imbue their characters with real life. Ironically, it makes Peacemaker – all cartoonish violence and crass humour aside – one of the most human and honest stories you’ll find on a television screen so far in 2022.
Peacemaker is now available to stream on Foxtel/Binge.
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