Editor’s Note: This review is based on the first two episodes of the series.
James Gunn’s new HBO Max series Peacemaker is one of the most absurd, violent, raunchy, and foul-mouthed shows this reviewer has witnessed since The Boys first entered the streaming world. Yet, for every F-bomb, dick joke, and gallon of blood spilled, there are as many moments of emotional storytelling that truly connect with the audience on a deeply personal level. It shouldn’t work at all, but Gunn and his cast take this outlandish character and his new world and make it one of the first must-watch shows of 2022.
The main reason this show works is because no matter how ridiculous the humor is (and it is absolutely ridiculous), it never stumbles into the world of parody. Never do we get John Cena ever go so overboard you feel he’s going to look right at the camera and say, “Superheroes, am I right? WINK WINK.” All the humor, especially from Cena’s Peacemaker/Christopher Smith, comes from the fact that Cena plays everything so genuinely. Yes, Peacemaker is an undeniably horrible person, but he believes, sincerely, every single thing he says and does.
This honesty and sincerity bring a whole other level of hilarity and humanity to this character that was very one-note (but still highly memorable) from The Suicide Squad. This also plays huge into the wounds－the emotional ones－that he carries with him, both from the events of the film and from his highly dysfunctional relationship with his absolutely despicable father (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgement Day). Since we discover that Peacemaker is an honest-to-a-horrible-fault person, we can absolutely buy into him openly sobbing about the words Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman, Altered Carbon) said to him as well about how lonely he is in his new reality.
Juxtaposed to Peacemaker is Danielle Brooks’ new kid on the spy game block, Leota Adebayo. ***Spoiler Incoming*** Like Peacemaker, she is the daughter of a horrible person－Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. Like Peacemaker, she is constantly trying to please her mom as well as find her own identity within her mom’s world. Brooks is a revelation in this role as she, like Cena, is able to portray the comedic and conflicted sides of her character with such sincerity that she establishes herself as a truly sympathetic character.
Rounding out the cast are Chukwudi Iwuji as Clemson Murn, a mercenary running a team that manages Peacemaker, Jennifer Holland returning as the hard-edged and exhausted field agent Emilia Harcourt, and Steve Agee as the highly awkward computer whiz John Economos. Of the three, Agee shines the brightest in the earliest episodes as his dialogue is fantastic and his immediate chemistry with Cena propels a running joke that would’ve been highly annoying in lesser hands. In fact, the chemistry all these actors have together and the fact that it developed so quickly is astounding and a testament to their performances and the writing on the series.
Oh, and let’s not forget the true star of the series, Eagley (“voiced” by Dee Bradley Baker, Star Wars: The Bad Batch). This sometimes real, sometimes CGI, feathered sidekick of Peacemaker is just the sprinkles on the bizarrely charming cupcake that is this series. This character is both an extremely adorable and terrifying part of the team－depending on which character he’s around. James Gunn has a knack for making animals and animal-like creatures oddly endearing, and he once again knocks it out of the park with Eagley.
If you’ve read this review so far and are yawning at the examination of characters and emotions, let’s be frank: Peacemaker is a kick-ass show. The action, whether it be a fight scene or gunfight, is a visceral exercise in well-choreographed violence and physical comedy. The soundtrack, rife with ’80s hair metal (“when men were real men because they weren’t afraid to look like women”) and enough sophomoric sex jokes to fill a frat house. If you’re in this series for something big, loud, funny, violent, and adrenaline-fueled, this show is definitely for you as well.
Regardless of what you’re looking for in this series, Peacemaker is a must-watch. If you engage with it only on a superficial level, it’s a fun, ’80s metal-soundtracked, raunchy blood and guts action series that is guaranteed for multiple belly laughs. If you go a bit deeper, you’ll find this fascinating character study of people raised by horrible parents and how they try to process the trauma inflicted upon them. No matter how you view the series, Peacemaker is a highly enjoyable series that will have even the most anti-comic book/superhero genre fans singing the series’ theme song and smiling at the divine absurdity of this whole project.