NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the debut season of, “Peacemaker”, along with DC Extended Universe movie, “The Suicide Squad”, are present in this review
The DC Extended Universe had an otherwise sleepy year shaken up in a big way with the release of The Suicide Squad. Despite being the only all-new DCEU movie to hit the big screen last year, and despite it initially floundering at the theatrical box office, The Suicide Squad effortlessly redeemed its ill-received 2016 predecessor under the ingenious creative direction of Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, who switched teams during his temporary firing from Marvel Studios’ upcoming sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Gunn’s deranged masterpiece later went on to become one of WarnerMedia’s most streamed movies on HBO Max in 2021, only trailing Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong. This is due in large part to The Suicide Squad’s lovable cast of lead anti-heroes, who spearheaded an excellent R-rated romp for the DCEU canon, one that was even completed ahead of schedule, COVID-19 be damned.
In an odd way, COVID-19 even ended up doing The Suicide Squad several additional favours. Not only did it enable the movie to achieve its eventual sleeper hit success on HBO Max, but it also motivated a locked-down James Gunn to write a script for a spin-off series centering around one of The Suicide Squad’s lead characters, apparently out of sheer boredom. Gunn didn’t expect that WarnerMedia and DC would have any interest in his lockdown-motivated scribblings, but apparently, said scribblings were more than enough to get his offshoot series greenlit as a surprise companion piece to further build on The Suicide Squad’s events! Thus, we have HBO Max series (or Crave series, for us Canadians), Peacemaker, initially billed as a limited series, though one that eventually secured a Season 2 order toward its conclusion, alongside the promise of at least one more spin-off series from The Suicide Squad, because Peacemaker really is that good. Needless to say, James Gunn appears to have found his calling by delivering eccentric, yet brilliant satire through the DCEU, considering that even a time-killing mock project ended up contributing something truly outstanding to DC’s flagship cinematic universe, along with finally expanding it into television for the first time!
Most intriguing about Peacemaker however is that it doesn’t actually follow one of the triumphant surviving anti-heroes of The Suicide Squad. Instead, it revolves around the eponymous friend-turned-foe that ultimately betrayed Rick Flag and his criminal compatriots, only to get shot in the neck and crushed under a building shortly before Bloodsport, Harley Quinn, Ratcatcher 2 and King Shark fought to save Corto Maltese from a rampaging Starro the Conquerer. Despite that seemingly lethal fate for Christopher Smith, a.k.a. Peacemaker though, Chris ultimately survived these injuries against all odds, only to once again find himself under the crushing thumb of government overseer, Amanda Waller during his subsequent ‘escape’, once a new alien threat is detected hiding on Earth.
Right out of the gate, Peacemaker does a superb job of maintaining many of the high points from The Suicide Squad, specifically its biting sense of humour and gloriously brutal violence, while also taking itself in an intriguing new direction with its lead. Whereas The Suicide Squad aimed its satire at American foreign policy, dehumanization of the incarcerated and political deniability, Peacemaker goes for a more personal approach, as it explores the tragic backstory of Chris, and how he became the unhinged, borderline delusional killer that he was in The Suicide Squad. It may surprise you to learn that Chris wasn’t always such an immature, self-deluding brute, and is ultimately just as much a victim as any of his Task Force X allies were, despite Chris’ seemingly indefensible actions during the climax of The Suicide Squad, up to and including his killing of Rick Flag, a controversial action that greatly haunts Chris throughout Peacemaker.
Raised by a white supremacist super-villain and forced to kill from an early age, after he accidentally beats his brother to death during a staged fight, Chris lived a rough childhood in a trailer park, where his residence remains well into adulthood. His only escape from this pathetic existence consists of rough 80’s hair metal ballads, and shooting up innocent household appliances. Despite having no real friends to boot, and being bluntly dismissed by pretty much anyone he announces his supposed superhero mantle to, Chris is also inexplicably idolized by the vaguely psychopathic younger brother of a childhood acquaintance, that being Adrian Chase, played by Harry Potter’s Freddie Stroma. Adrian also happens to moonlight as a lethal crimefighter himself, specifically another lesser-known DC anti-hero, Vigilante. This gives Chris at least one crimefighting buddy when he’s inevitably roped back in with Waller’s people, two of whom, Jennifer Holland’s Emilia Harcourt and Steve Agee’s John Economos, being quickly recognizable as Waller aides from The Suicide Squad.
Using its troubled C-list superhero duo, Peacemaker deviates from the political commentary of The Suicide Squad to instead base its satire around toxic masculinity, and outdated notions of what does and does not define strength, nobility, or being a good person in general in the modern age. The series’ 80’s metal soundtrack and brash, boyish humour are thus, to that effect, delightfully ironic throughout Peacemaker’s eight-episode first season, as both Chris and Adrian serve as the tragic clowns to the perpetually exasperated government operatives that they’ve been forced to ally with. These two don’t completely grow out of their immature tendencies in the end, as they’re still shooting apart furniture by the end of Peacemaker’s season finale, but through finding a surrogate family unit, these two lonely and forsaken men do at least find themselves on something of a path to redemption, Chris in particular, after he starts to wrestle with the idea that he no longer wants to kill people in the supposed name of peace.
As much as Peacemaker can be deceptively emotional when it wants to be however, it must be stressed that both the action and the humour are outstanding throughout this series’ debut season. This is especially impressive, both because Peacemaker is the first TV series set in the DCEU, and also because it surprisingly doesn’t directly adapt any widely recognizable story elements from DC Comics lore. Even the show’s main Season 1 villains are completely original and invented by James Gunn, those being the invasive alien force known as the ‘Butterflies’. These butterfly-like aliens violently possess and overtake the minds of humans (think the Yeerks from Millennial favourite novel series, Animorphs, only far more vicious!), with their unknown agenda quickly provoking the attention of Amanda Waller and her government stooges. Apparently, not even Task Force X or the Justice League can adequately assess and neutralize the threat of the Butterflies in the end either, thus making the squabbling and messy Team Peacemaker the unlikely last hope of humanity.
This band of government-sanctioned losers may lack the pedigree of the World’s Finest, but their unorthodox mission still ends up delivering all of them the surrogate family they never knew they needed. It’s actually something of a triumphant taunt to the larger DCEU that Gunn’s hard R-rated storylines are currently running circles around most of this universe’s flagship superhero franchises, best realized through a humourous running gag wherein Chris constantly declares often blatantly false gossip about the DCEU’s familiar and not-so-familiar superheroes. It’s funny enough when Chris relays internet hogwash about Aquaman having his way with fish in aquariums, or Superman apparently having a scat fetish (oh yes, not even the Man of Steel himself is safe from Peacemaker’s proudly low-brow humour!), but even better is the fact that Chris’ unseen former ‘hero’ missions confirm that several more of DC’s weirdest personalities exist in the DCEU off-screen! Chris’ past confirms that bizarre DC characters like Bat-Mite and Matter-Eater Lad are part of the DCEU’s heroic history, while also finally giving overdue clarification that more conventional and recognized DC hero, Green Arrow also exists in the DCEU, and is apparently a brony. Who knew?
As much as John Cena’s headlining anti-hero, and his equally bumbling buddy, Vigilante most often steal the show in Peacemaker though, the series’ non-superhero supporting cast still shines throughout, and often contributes much of the series’ surprising emotional heft. Harcourt and Economos are finally given layered, well-developed personalities and career dispositions in Peacemaker, after largely being bit players in The Suicide Squad, and they’re further complemented by a Waller surrogate in Clemson Murn, a ruthlessly efficient mercenary that’s later revealed to be a Butterfly himself. There’s also a surprisingly endearing pair of detectives, Sophie Song and Larry Fitzgibbon, who chase Team Peacemaker’s damage throughout the series’ setting of Evergreen, one of many fictional towns from the DC Universe. This duo also serve as humourous tormentors to Chris’ Ku Klux Klan leader father, Auggie Smith, a.k.a. the White Dragon, played by Robert Patrick, who embodies an all-new version of one of DC Comics’ most controversial super-villains.
Arguably the most impactful new personality in Peacemaker however is Danielle Brooks’ female lead, Leota Adebayo, one of the main overseers of the humourously blandly-named mission, “Project Butterfly”, a humourous throwback to the gag surrounding The Suicide Squad’s mission name, “Project Starfish.” Adebayo, another original character that was made up for this series, is quickly revealed to be the daughter of Amanda Waller herself, in another major deviation from an established DC Comics character, but one that Peacemaker manages to nail. Adebayo’s politics are completely opposed to Chris’ own outlook on what is good, and that’s before considering Adebayo’s mostly stable life that includes a wife and several dogs, but over time, these two characters legitimately bring out the best in each other, and help each other overcome their demons. This comes to an especially exciting head at the end of this first season for Peacemaker, when Adebayo publicly blows the whistle on Amanda Waller’s dirty dealings, thus exposing the existence of Task Force X to everyone, something that’s bound to have major consequences in the DCEU’s future.
These characters and others are all brilliantly showcased during what’s already an easy contender for one of the best TV intro sequences of 2022 as well. Said sequence involves all of Peacemaker’s lead personalities displaying a stiff, straight-faced and intentionally awkward warehouse dance routine to the backing of Wig Wam’s rock anthem, “Do You Wanna Taste It?” Apparently, James Gunn wanted to create a TV intro that no one would ever want to skip, and I have to say that he succeeded! This intro riff never stops being funny, memorable and oddly empowering, as it’s also a nice way to flex the surprising diversity and charm behind all of the lead characters. I haven’t even mentioned some of Peacemaker’s most delightfully quirky characters as well, such as Nhut Le’s diminutive martial artist bodyguard, Judomaster, another lesser-known DC anti-hero that quickly becomes a persistent nuisance to Team Peacemaker, and Eagly, a semi-intelligent and thoroughly adorable pet eagle to Chris, who, amazingly, was also made up for this series, and doesn’t exist in DC Comics lore!
I could go on all day about Peacemaker’s many successes, as the series truly is a work of genius in pretty much every way! The only slight nitpick I could level towards this otherwise excellent first season is perhaps the fact that, like The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker’s first eight episodes do have a couple of slow spots. The season’s halfway point feels like a particular speed bump, but even then, that speed bump carries enough sharp writing and standout humour to nonetheless avoid feeling like a true drag. The following episode quickly picks up the pace again anyway, delivering another raucously impressive action sequence that involves, among other things, shooting up a reception hall, blowing up a horde of possessed factory workers, and eventually killing a super-strong gorilla with a chainsaw. If that’s not rock-n-roll, I don’t know what is!
Peacemaker represents the unfiltered inspiration of someone that’s quickly becoming the DCEU’s strongest creative force, and that makes for a fantastic first expansion to the small screen for DC’s flagship cinematic universe! Peacemaker not only sets an incredibly high bar as the first live-action DC series made exclusively for HBO Max (i.e. not counting Titans, Doom Patrol or Pennyworth, since those are live-action DC shows that later became Max Originals after premiering on other platforms), but even putting aside the series’ DC license, it’s still a thoroughly magnificent action-comedy series on its own merits. Peacemaker is a consistently surprising and irreverently enjoyable deconstruction of false strength and toxic masculinity, one that’s astonishingly skilled at pulling at your heartstrings at times, even while it features some of the most proudly ridiculous story ideas that the DCEU has dared to deliver at this point, including those seen in The Suicide Squad!
Christopher Smith may not be the hero he hoped to be, even after his challenging battle with the Butterflies, but Peacemaker is also adept at reminding us of the value of progress over perfection. To that end, the series provides a level of heart to the DCEU that this franchise previously struggled to consistently find. Thus, James Gunn officially stands as the hero that the DCEU deserves, and may his beautiful insanity continue to enrich this cinematic universe on both the big screen and the small screen for the foreseeable future!
- Effortlessly hilarious and brilliant satire
- Deceptively emotional character growth for Chris and his fellow heroes
- Destructive, ultra-violent action that maintains Gunn's mischievous flair
- A few slow spots halfway through the season