How a series I was dreading became my favorite comedy of all time. (Spoiler free)
Jakob Eiseman, Editor-in-Chief
Header Image: HBO Max
Not only is “Peacemaker” the best new show I’ve seen in 2022, it’s the best thing to come out of DC in a decade, the best HBO Max original, John Cena’s best role, best superhero series to date and the first series I’ve watched that didn’t have a single bad episode. Normally, when I review something for the Collegian, it’s because it’s new, trending or deserving of a spotlight for one reason or another. This is the first time I’ve gone into a review for this publication knowing I cannot be objective and that this is going to be an entire column of me hyping up this silly, awesome, heartfelt, stupid, amazing show.
“Eat peace, motherf***ers”
In August 2021, Warner Bros. released “The Suicide Squad,” a strange match-made-in-heaven situation that paired up the characters of the DC Cinematic Universe (DCEU) with director James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Slither”) known for his signature style of rapid-fire comedy and heartfelt storytelling. The film served as a pseudo-sequel to the 2016 film “Suicide Squad” that was absolutely abysmal and failed in nearly every way. I believe “Suicide Squad (2021)” suceeded because of its amazingly written comedic characters and that bounced off each other, spouting jokes nearly every minute of the film, but in a way that also endeared you to the squad and kept you emotionally invested in their stories and antics. Among this cast was a character named Peacemaker, played by WWE Wrestler and underrated actor John Cena. Just before I went to see “The Suicide Squad,” I had read that Peacemaker would be getting his own series on HBO Max written and partially directed by Gunn, so while I was watching, I kept a close eye on him, and I wasn’t entirely impressed to be honest. I walked out of that movie really anxious about how the “Peacemaker” series was going to stand alone, as I thought Cena was good in the role, but the character was weak and not the best among the group. Beyond this, the series was also going to feature an additional cast of characters that shared maybe five minutes of screentime in the movie and were annoying the whole time. I was anticipating a major flop.
To set up the series: Peacemaker is a wannabe superhero with daddy issues whose slogan is “I cherish peace with all my heart. I don’t care how many men, women and children I need to kill to get it.” Okay, it’s funny enough to see Cena in way too tight of a costume with a ridiculous helmet acting as a walking irony generator, but it was everything that surrounded this that led me to love the series so much despite my initial concerns. In the same way Gunn made me care about the team from “The Suicide Squad,” he wrote the main cast of characters in “Peacemaker” to be equal parts lovable and ridiculous, and by the time we got to the final episode of the series, if any of them died I was ready to riot. Whether it be the lovable Leota Adebayo played by Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black,”) the gruff military agent Amelia Harcourt played by Jennifer Holland (“Brightburn”) or the idiotic bloodthirsty Vigilante played by Freddie Stroma (“Harry Potter,”) every single character was heightened, but also grounded in real emotions and reactions, and made me laugh out loud and nearly cry every episode, almost in equal measure.
“What separates us from other killers is we only kill bad people. Usually… Unless there’s a mistake.”
“Peacemaker” follows a typical big-budget movie story from the current superhero genre that takes a character that isn’t good at being a hero and places them at the helm of a world-saving quest to kill aliens. All the makings of a cheesy, run-of-the-mill sci-fi story are here. But, it’s the way that Gunn bends the conventions of the genre and plays with these tropes that makes the story genuinely interesting, and also highlights both comedic elements and flaws of each main character. The story is broad, sweeping, sci-fi as sh*t and unapologetically violent and grotesque.
Every major plot point in “Peacemaker” seems to be marked with a perfectly choreographed fight scene, extreme display of violence or gross alien shenanigans. But, instead of the characters reacting how they would in a superhero movie, they acknowledge how gross, violent, scary or awesome these situations are. The characters constantly flip back and forth between the zany heightened comic characters you’d expect to straight, normal humans with real emotions and real reactions.
Gunn expertly writes the story of the show through the background, with only about one main set-piece scene per episode being dedicated to driving the plot forward in a major way, with the other scenes giving moments between characters, the aftermath of the last episode’s events or small side-stories that eventually culminate in their own conclusions toward the end of the season.
As for the obstacles along the way of the story, the antagonists in this series are impeccable. The main villains are mysterious, sympathetic and can act genuinely evil, but the sub-antagonists are just as well-created. One of the main villains is an unapologetic white supremacist, which means I hated him from the jump, and loved to hate him througout. But, the way they tied his one-dimensional bigotry to the characters close to him made for excellent growth when they eventually broke ties with him because of his ignorance. Also, one of the bad guys is a short man in a leather suit who throws Cheetos at people. Just saying.
“You don’t want to believe in miracles? That’s on you.”
The strange thing about gathering my thoughts for this review was that I realized I don’t have a favorite part of “Peacemaker.” The plot is genuinely interesting, the characters are actually lovable and sympathetic and the comedy throughout rarely missed a beat without getting me right back on board moments later. The fact that Gunn made me care so much about this silly character and his friends shows how great he is at his job. But, when I said Cena is an underrated actor I was serious. He is known for his comedic roles but he is a genuinely great actor that can display a wide range of emotions. Peacemaker as a character is deeply depressed, and many of the jokes that he delivers have an air of sadness as he is clearly pushing people away to avoid being emotionally vulnerable. By the end of the series, I feel like he grows as a character as a result of his opening up to the other characters, and I can’t believe I’m saying that about a character that has at least one fart joke per episode.
I’ve been writing reviews for the Collegian for four years now, and in all of the pieces I’ve written, I linger far too much on the negatives because it shows I did my job as a critic and as a journalist. But, “Peacemaker” is going to be the first review where that does not happen, and it’s also going to receive my first 10 out of 10 ranking for anything I’ve reviewed. “Peacemaker” is not a perfect show, and there are plenty of series that are far superior in terms of storytelling, drama and even comedy. But, I cannot praise the beautiful blend of action, comedy, emotion and story that HBO has achieved with this series enough, and it is fully deserving of a perfect 10. If you have HBO Max and are in the mood for a comedy, I highly recommend checking out “Peacemaker,” even if you’re not a fan of the whole superhero thing, which I understand, because this really does go past that into being a genuinely good character study and an amazingly funny piece of entertainment. Here’s to looking forward to a second season.
P.s.: If you ever click “Skip Intro” on “Peacemaker” you’re just sick and twisted.