PEACEMAKER Premiere Review; "Essential Viewing [With] A Career-Best Performance From John Cena"

PEACEMAKER Premiere Review; "Essential Viewing [With] A Career-Best Performance From John Cena"

Peacemaker arrives on HBO Max on January 13, and we're now sharing our verdict on the first three episodes (which premiere on the same day). Find out what to expect from The Suicide Squad spinoff here!

The Suicide Squad brought a lot of great characters into the DC Extended Universe...most of whom not even the most hardcore of DC Comics fans probably recognised. James Gunn had a few big names to fall back on (like Harley Quinn and King Shark), but for the most part, his movie made use of lesser-known villains like Bloodsport, Ratcatcher, and Peacemaker, and it was all the better for it. While the latter was perhaps the biggest asshole in that iteration of Task Force X, there were glimmers of a richer, more layered character beneath his bravado and quest for peace "at any cost." In HBO Max's Peacemaker, we finally get to explore who Christopher Smith is under the shiny helmet. While redemption for him is still a long way off, the first three episodes of the series deliver the sort of exploration of this character that justifies him getting his own show, all while kicking off this new era of storytelling for Warner Bros. in an exciting way. 

In the three-episode premiere - "A Whole New Whirled," "Best Friend, for Never" and "Better Goff Dead" - Smith finds himself once again forced to head into action for his country. This isn't the same Peacemaker we met last summer, and we soon learn that the price of his mission may no longer be one he wants to pay - or ever really did, for that matter. The events of Corto Maltese weigh heavily on Smith, and so he finds himself reluctantly doing what he must to remain out of prison while trying to process the consequences of his actions. That approach elevates Peacemaker into being a surprisingly powerful and moving character study, and even though a recap reminding us that he murdered Rick Flag makes it hard to root for the guy, seeing the fallout from that decision sheds new light on his actions and makes us question whether Peacemaker is the villain we once thought. In fact, the series serves as a surprisingly heartfelt and hard-hitting exploration of mental health at times. 

There's plenty of action to go with the more thought-provoking elements of the series, though, and the show really shines during those moments. Whether it's an insane apartment battle masterfully choreographed by James Gunn and set to The Quireboys' "I Don't Love You Anymore" or an edge of your seat showdown with Judo Master, Peacemaker delivers time and time again and has a big budget feel that ensures this never seems like "just" a TV show. Gunn's style of humour is still an acquired taste, but it's dialled down from The Suicide Squad so that those of you who perhaps didn't find that riotously funny will encounter jokes a tad more palatable. It's great to see the filmmaker embrace that Super-style of weirdness, though, and his tonal approach to this character proves a perfect fit. This is a very funny series so far and one that makes terrific use of situational humour and sight gags to leave you laughing out loud.

It's also worth noting that Peacemaker features arguably the greatest opening credits in television history. Equal parts absurd and hilarious, they're a perfect fit for a show that is as wonderfully weird as it is endearing and exciting. 

While the first three episodes benefit greatly from a director who clearly understands this corner of the DCEU, it's hard to escape the feeling that Peacemaker simply would not work as well had John Cena not been cast as the title character. This is, without a doubt, the former pro wrestler's finest work as an actor to date and being given the opportunity to better explore who Smith is means he's able to do more than reel off one-liners and have fun being despicable. Look, you still wouldn't want to be best friends with this guy (at least not as much as Vigilante does), but once we get a peek at what's beneath the surface, it's clear that this is a series that will take him on a transformative journey while aspiring to be more than just a funny show about The Suicide Squad's standout character. Cena makes this all look effortless, and whether he's hugging an eagle while desperately searching for his father's approval or getting the snot beaten out of him, it's instantly apparent he was born to play this character.

The rest of Peacemaker's cast also shines with Freddie Stroma delivering a star-making performance as Vigilante. This Adrian Chase is quite a departure from what many of you might be expecting (especially if you watched Arrow), but that's not a bad thing, and Gunn's reinvention of the "hero" helps make him one of the most enjoyable presences in the entire show. Danielle Brooks is superb, while Steve Agee, Chukwudi Iwuji, Annie Chang, and Robert Patrick all also deliver strong work in these opening episodes. However, it's Jennifer Holland who shines the brightest with an endearing performance that adds some depth to Emilia Harcourt and sets the stage for what promises to be a fascinating dynamic between her and Peacemaker. Holland is a talent, and someone it should be worth keeping a close eye on beyond just this series. 

These first few episodes of Peacemaker (all of which premiere the same day, January 13, on HBO Max) nicely set the tone for the series and cleverly establish this mission Smith has been tasked with in a way that will make you want to return the following week. At this stage, the main antagonists aren't the strongest, and it does feel like it could use a hook that better establishes it as weekly appointment/water-cooler viewing. Through no fault of the series itself, Warner Bros.' lack of a true shared universe makes the show feel a little unimportant in the grand scheme of things; whereas fans know something like Loki or Hawkeye will weave into an established narrative, Peacemaker feels very much alone right now in an obscure corner of the DCEU where big name characters are mentioned, but don't appear (as if they're too important, something that's plagued all of DC's television shows).

Still, there's nothing wrong with enjoying Peacemaker on its own merits and you'll find plenty to love. While it's not necessarily a groundbreaking first series for these HBO Max DC Comics adaptations, it has the potential to be something special in its own right, and it's undeniably refreshing to visit this world and not be in Gotham City or Metropolis. An additional four episodes were provided in advance (only the finale was missing), and rest assured that after this strong start, there's plenty of batsh*t crazy goodness to come. 

Peacemaker quickly establishes itself as essential viewing for fans of The Suicide Squad, but it's a career-best performance from John Cena and the greatest opening credits of all time that will make sure you want to come back each week.


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