Film & TV

‘Peacemaker’ is Ridiculous Fun

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Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and an introspective character study are what HBO Max’s “Peacemaker” has to offer.

Branching from the 2021 lively reboot “The Suicide Squad,” the show follows John Cena (“Blockers,” “Bumblebee”) reprising his role as the titular character embarking on a journey of self-discovery, with the assistance of a covert black ops team.

What might seem like a straightforward premise quickly grows from a grounded comedy to a bizarre adventure involving alien invasions, neo-Nazis and mind-controlled gorillas. The zany but serious tone is set early on with the inclusion of a dance number during each episode’s title sequence, during which the cast remains completely stoic.

Written by James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Super”), who also directed five episodes, each of the eight episodes is packed to the brim with Gunn’s patented sense of self-aware comedy. 

Character conversations follow anything from niche rock songs of the ‘80s to the sex lives of the Justice League. These ridiculous back-and-forths are only made funnier when characters themselves talk about how pointless these discussions are to the topics at hand, adding a bit of realistic humor.

Gunn’s unique directing seemingly continues to evolve. With “Peacemaker,” Gunn mixes in the fast-paced shot-to-shot perspective seen in sitcoms like “The Office” with dramatic closeups and wide angles. 

Courtesy of HBO Max John Cena plays Peacemaker in James Gunn’s latest superhero adaptation.

This mix of styles enhances the viewing experience of “Peacemaker.” It allows the audience to feel the lighthearted interplay of the cast’s banter, just as much as the more intimate moments in the series. 

It wouldn’t be a Gunn project if the absurd conversations and events weren’t intermixed with a layer of tangible emotion, with each character going through some sort of emotional journey. Peacemaker himself comes to terms with the loss of his brother and the evil actions of his father, making him the beaten person he is.

Cena’s performance easily steals whatever scene he’s in. Always being the loudest and most bullheaded in the room, his character is the brunt of the comedy just as much as he’s the cause of it. 

Cena carries the dramatic with just as much devotion. Occasionally coming off as a man who never matured from childhood, he brings a pinch of sadness and a cup of empathy to a character that before this series was pretty unlikable due to his actions in “The Suicide Squad.”

Of course, Cena isn’t the only member of the cast. Other brilliant performances come from Freddie Stroma (“13 Hours,” “Time After Time”) as the endearing and psychopathic Vigilante, Jennifer Holland (“Brightburn,” “After Ray”) as the ass-kicking Emilia Harcourt and Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is the New Black,” “Close Enough”) as Leota Adebayo, daughter to boss Amanda Waller.

The top-notch action and acting would already be enough to be sold on the show, but what makes it such a fun watch is “Peacemaker” wears its inspirations on its sleeve.

Gunn is no stranger in sharing his love of comics and the superhero medium, even having Suicide Squad comics writer John Ostrander cameo in the 2021 film. “Peacemaker” has its own surprising cameos but it also has a very palpable love for its source material.

Regular comments and references are made to DC’s sandbox of eclectic oddballs. Kite-Man, Matter-Eater Lad and Bat-Mite all get individual shoutouts and digs for their lunacy. It’s these strange and forgotten characters that Gunn has a clear affinity for, leading to him making “Guardians of the Galaxy” a household name, bringing “The Suicide Squad” off the brink of irrelevancy and introducing “Peacemaker” to an audience who had no idea he existed.

It seems audiences are resonating with these misfits just as Gunn does “Peacemaker” has already been renewed for a second batch of episodes, with Gunn also being attached to several upcoming Marvel and DC projects in the future.

“Peacemaker” isn’t just a fun time for anyone who’s a fan of comics or misfit toys, it’s a show that’s about second chances and what it means to be human. It just so happens to also be a show about a man with a toilet bowl on his head.

“Peacemaker,” rated TV-MA, is streaming now on HBO Max.

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