Patriotic and Profane: Is Peacemaker’s best defense a good offense?

Sometimes rude and crude, sometimes hilarious - James Gunn's Suicide Squad spin-off begins on HBO Max...

Having unexpectedly survived his recent mission with the ‘Suicide Squad’, Christopher Smith (aka Peacemaker) has been recuperating, but leaving his hospital bed he’s brought back into the questionable world of deniable covert wetworks. He will be part of a subversive team assembled to deal with ‘butterflies’ – but in this case those aren’t insects, they’re people who Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) deems worthy of being assassinated to keep the balance of power stable (or at least in her own interests).

No-one on the team really wants to work together and none of them are impressed with Peacemaker’s outlook on life – to establish world peace however many people he has to slaughter to do it – but they are all committed to stay alive and bring their unique talents to the table and their missions.

Can a team that slays together, stay together and can Peacemaker, eager to avoid prison, put his ego aside long enough to reconnect with family and survive the attempts of his enemies (and perhaps even colleagues) to erase him permanently? 

 

*spoilers*

Boba Fett, a supporting character casually killed off and supposedly digested for a 100 years in Return of the Jedi recently returned to screens to be the face (and helmet) of what would once have been an unlikely spin-off… so perhaps it’s no real surprise that DC anti-hero Peacemaker somehow survived last summer’s balls-to-the-wall Suicide Squad movie despite having been shot in the neck and a building collapse on him, to be the face and helmet for another part of a franchise. Yes, if you stuck around for the film’s post-credit scene you’ll know that John Cena’s bizarrely dysfunctional character was saved by the dubious forces under Amanda Waller and was recuperating ready to handle a new mission. And this week, episodes arrive on HBO Max, with a ‘mature audiences’ tag that might be better served as a deft production targeting ‘Immature audiences of an adult age’.

Personally, I prefer a more restrained James Gunn presentation – for me the Guardians of the Galaxy films walk the line well – subversive and sneaky and somehow appropriately inappropriate without vaulting over the line into mere shock-value. But with Suicide Squad and perhaps even more so with Peacemaker, Gunn indulges himself to varying results. For Peacemaker, the dialogue is somewhat hit and miss, one minute flippant and clever, the next just lewd and crude for the sake of a cheap adolescent laugh. But it’s a potent mix and if you’re aware of the expected tone going in, there’s much to like from the beer-and-pizza result. Of course, going the more explicit/hard-hitting/not-for-kids route for superheroes isn’t wholly original territory. Back in the 1980s Watchmen was a somber portrait a world weary of costumed vigilantes (and the HBO series won major accolades three decades later) and The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel depicted an aged Batman and Superman slugging out their social-intervention policies. Lately, ‘adult’ productions have gone for the more darkly-humorous side. Apart from the Suicide Squad movie itself, there’s The Boys and Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass then the familial-foibles of Jupiter’s Legacy (the latter being a refreshingly subversive superhero comic on its debut but an eventual tv adaptation that somewhat missed the boat).

Former wrestler and now busy actor / presenter, John Cena is managing to cultivate a territory that feels like the love-child of Ryan Reynolds and The Rock, more than happy to be the butt (sometimes literally) of a self-deprecating joke and here, the decision to have everyone play the most ridiculous and extreme things ‘straight’, makes some of the scenes better than the dialogue alone. Cena is the under-rated lynchpin holding it all together, giving us a character you should loathe because of his attitudes and behaviour but one where you quickly see there’s no actual evil and malice involved, just a warped view of right-and-wrong from some truly committed to his bizarre cause. That’s helped along when Robert Patrick debuts as his father, an unapologetic redneck/supremacist for whom his son is a disappointment for not being more radical. Look closer than the salty surface and you’ll see Gunn isn’t celebrating their deficiencies, he’s turning the spotlight on them to show how ridiculous such views actually are.

While relying on some basics and ignoring the ‘urinal-shaped’ helmet of its ‘hero’, the series otherwise looks expensive. A chunk of that budget must have gone on Eagly, Peacemaker’s ‘sidekick’ and loving bird of prey. Only a few pixels short of being perfectly rendered, it’s kudos to the FX department that you can invest in the bird as much as any of the completely human stars.

The opening credits (with bizarre dance-routine) is an indication that this is going to be… interesting. The action/fight choreography is there in the amount you would expect, but executed better than one might have anticipated. Jennifer Holland’s hardcore Emilia Harcourt nonchalantly smolders across the screen and casually takes down a group of sexist reprobates in a bar fight that lasts only seconds because she runs out of bones to break and later, when Peacemaker is attacked by a post-coitus carnivorous enemy, the close-quarter combat also works well, Cena’s previous occupation paying dividends.¬† The other members of the cast acquit themselves well enough. By the time the pilot has ended, we want to know more about Chukwudi Iwuji, Steve Agee, and Danielle Brooks’ assorted and disparate agents who have been reluctantly seconded to the new wet-works team.

As it’s unlikely to attract those not already familiar with the core and concept, Peacemaker may not grow it audience, but it should retain them. It’s all very silly and not always consistent, but it knows the audience and demographic it’s going for and then targets them with air-strike precision and no apologies.

 

 

'Peacemaker' (HBO-Max pilot review)
8.8
'Peacemaker' (HBO-Max pilot review)
  • Story
    8
  • Acting
    9
  • Direction
    9
  • Production Design / FX
    9
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HBO REVIEW

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