Christopher Smith is a simple man with a simple mission: bring about peace by any means necessary, even if it means going to war. A moment’s thought might have revealed the problem with that philosophy, but The Peacemaker (John Cena) isn’t the sort of man to give anything a moment’s thought. This is probably why he wound up with a 30 year prison sentence and why he was recruited for Task Force X.
Fresh out of the hospital, Peacemaker finds himself assigned to a new squad, overseen by former mercenary Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). Working with veteran field agent Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), embittered techie John Economos (Steve Agee) and idealistic rookie Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), the new team is tasked with hunting down a mysterious group Murn only identifies as “Butterflies.” Unfortunately, Peacemaker’s second chance is immediately endangered by his best friend for never Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), his abusive father (Robert Patrick) and the fact that he’s an idiot.
The most miraculous thing about Peacemaker is that you don’t have to have seen The Suicide Squad movie to understand it. What little information from the movie you need to know is revealed in the first episode. Those who have seen the movie, however, can expect more of the same glorious madness that we’ve come to expect from James Gunn.
Gunn is on familiar territory with Peacemaker, having explored the world of C-list superheroes previously with his movies The Specials and Super. Despite that clear level of comfort, Peacemaker is not a predictable show. Gunn remains a master of the unexpected and there is at least one moment per episode that will inspire surprise, if not laughter.
John Cena proves the most reliable weapon in Gunn’s arsenal of comedy. Like Leslie Nielsen, who spent years working in reliable dramatic roles before finding his niche as a comedian in action spoofs, Cena plays Peacemaker with an earnest unflappability. Yet Cena finds the heart of Christopher Smith amidst all the testosterone and guts, presenting a likeable douchebag who, to borrow a line from singer Marian Call, “always meant well, but he’s going to Hell.”
The rest of the ensemble are equally talented and hold their own despite Cena’s dominating presence. Jennifer Holland and Steve Agee get to flesh out their roles from The Suicide Squad a bit, with Holland as the ARGUS agent on whom Peacemaker develops a completely unappreciated crush and Agee as the surly hacker who can’t hide his contempt for everyone he’s smarter than. Danielle Brooks steals several scenes, however, as the newbie who has her own mysterious reasons for being part of Peacemaker’s team, despite a complete ineptitude in all things relating to spycraft and life in general.
Peacemaker will not appeal to those who take their superhero shows very seriously and/or the easily offended. Suffice it to say, if you’re the sort of person upset by the idea that Bat-Mite exists in the same universe as Ben Affleck’s Batman, your blood pressure will probably be more manageable if you avoid watching Peacemaker. The rest of us will have another reason to get an HBO Max subscription.