PEACEMAKER Review: A Surprisingly Heartfelt Exploration Of Trauma & Toxic Masculinity... With Dick Jokes

PEACEMAKER Review: A Surprisingly Heartfelt Exploration Of Trauma & Toxic Masculinity... With Dick Jokes

Peacemaker is set to premiere on HBO Max on January 13, and you can find out what we made of the first season (minus the finale) of James Gunn's The Suicide Squad spinoff right here...

"You're 85% a piece of shit," Jennifer Holland's Emilia Harcourt tells Christopher Smith (John Cena) at one point during HBO Max's Peacemaker - and this is after she's warmed to him.

As we learned in The Suicide Squad, Smith is not a very nice guy. In fact, he's a murderous, jingoistic douchebag who has no problem killing any man, woman or child who gets in the way of his mission to achieve peace at any cost. And yet, there was just a small glimmer of pathos beneath the ruthless facade, and it's that elusive 15% James Gunn's small-screen spinoff is most interested in exploring.

Peacemaker picks up a few months after The Suicide Squad's post-credits scene, which revealed that Smith had survived his grievous bullet wound (and having a building crumble on top of him), and would soon be re-recruited by Amanda Waller to "save the [frick]ing world." After being discharged from the surprisingly cop-free hospital, he's coerced into joining a new team led by the aloof Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) and briefed on his new mission: Assassinate a group of individuals known as Butterflies. Smith's new workmates include The Suicide Squad returnees Harcourt and John Economos (Steve Agee), rookie Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), and the completely deranged Adrian Chase/Vigilante (Freddie Stroma).

Truth be told, the overarching storyline is probably the weakest part of the show. Without spoiling too much (though the trailers drop dome pretty major hints, anyway), the world-ending threat faced by our protagonists is a tad too familiar, and Peacemaker would have benefitted from shaking things up a bit in this regard. The series really shines as a character piece, and it's a testament to the writing and Cena's superb performance that we genuinely do find ourselves rooting for this broken individual.

Making Smith likeable is no easy task, but the charismatic WWE Superstar-turned-actor pulls it off with a complex, layered turn. Chris's redemption is not rushed (it's not even a given), and even though he is haunted by his actions on Corto Maltese and his part in the death of his older brother, Peacemaker retains a fairly despicable streak. Even putting the whole mass murderer thing aside, Smith is sexist, crass, borderline racist, and clearly delusional. But after meeting his father, you may find yourself wondering how he didn't turn out even worse.

Peacemaker-Screenshot

Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick) is an evil man. A defiant white supremacist who raised his children in his own image, now disgusted by his surviving son's refusal to follow in his footsteps. Although Chris clearly pines for his dad's approval, he does not hold the same twisted ideals, and his overriding need to break free from Auggie's control and move on with his life proves to be the most compelling aspect of Peacemaker.

Smith's teammates also play an important role in the healing process, as the wannabe superhero forges friendships he never thought himself deserving of. Brooks' Adebayo is the standout, but Holland, Agee and Iwuji also offer fine support (even if a certain decision involving one of their characters could prove to be divisive). Putting all of these mere humans to shame, however, is Eagly. Smith's avian sidekick steals every scene he's in... once you accept the fact that he behaves more like a taloned puppy than a majestic bird of prey.

Unfortunately, the addition of Vigilante is a misstep. Though Stroma is excellent in the role, asking us to get behind this imbecilic psychopath is simply a step too far. Whereas Smith has reservations about taking a life no questions asked, Chase revels in the opportunity to do so, delighting in slaughtering "criminals" for the slightest infraction. One could argue that introducing such an irredeemable character helps to underscore Peacemaker's more positive traits, but he is not presented as a villain. Chase may be portrayed as being somewhat pathetic, but he is very much a valued member of the crew, and his teammates eventually warm to him in much the same way they do Smith.

The humor is also a little hit-and-miss. Tonally, the show is quite similar to The Suicide Squad, but Gunn leans more heavily into the juvenile gags, and, while Peacemaker is frequently hilarious, there might be one chode or poop joke too many for some. That said, the comedy rarely offsets the drama (a recurring issue in the genre).

As the season progresses and an inevitable confrontation looms, things begin to get more serious for our outwardly clownish antihero, and you might be surprised to find yourself pulling for him with every fibre of your being.

HBO Max's first DCEU-set series is not going to win over any James Gunn detractors, but fans of the filmmaker's gleefully OTT style are in for a treat. Peacemaker is every bit as gruesome, heartfelt, sophomoric and consistently entertaining as you'd expect. But at its core, this is a story about a damaged man doing his best to escape his toxic programming and become a better person... even if he is a bit of a dick about it!

The first three episodes of Peacemaker will be available to stream on HBO Max from January 13.

PEACEMAKER Review (HBO)

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