2021’s The Suicide Squad hosted a lot of celebrity cameos and obscure DC characters who briefly appear to serve as cannon fodder. That’s fairly on brand for the Squad, which cleared a lot of C and D-list villains out of DC’s archives during its long run. One of the bigger names in the movie was John Cena, who played another fairly obscure character called Peacemaker. Although he seemingly died at the end of the movie, no one dies forever in comics, and that includes the comic book-based movies. Now Cena is back as Peacemaker in an 8 episode run on HBO Max, written and directed by James Gunn (Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy). The chaos starts off with “A Whole New Whirled.”
The show opens with scenes from Suicide Squad, catching us up on Peacemaker’s DCEU past, and then goes to the end of his hospital stay. He has an odd scene with a doctor, and an even odder scene with a janitor where the topics include Aquaman, smoking weed, racial equality, and homicide. Finally released, Peacemaker puts on his uniform, which is soiled and bloodied from the events of The Suicide Squad. He great “escape” from the hospital shows us an unusual cab ride, the bizarre place he calls home, and a lot of voicemails from Vigilante. The Vigilante has been the name of several DC Comics characters, and at this point, we don’t know which it is. This is about when we get the opening credits, which are truly unique and I won’t spoilt what happens in them.
Next up is a lesbian couple checking in at a hotel. This seems disconnected from everything else so far, as they talk about settling in, new jobs, and disappointment. Then one of the couple, Leota Adebayo, gets a call summoning her to work, and we start to see where this fits in. Peacemaker’s homecoming is less than he would have hoped for, and goes from disappointment to frustration to breaking and entering to armed confrontation as he meets up with his new team. This lets the newer characters (and a few familiar faces from the movie) introduce themselves and gives an idea of the basis for the show. We learn that Abedayo talks too much, that the team doesn’t really like her or Peacemaker, and there’s a joke about Mothra as well as a reference to Peacemaker having a jetpack, which happened in the comics. We also get a brief glimpse of a dart board with a picture of DC villain Eclipso on it. Eclipso was the main villain in Stargirl’s second season, but in the comics, killed a host of minor heroes, including Peacemaker.
The team agrees to meet later for dinner, which seems like an odd choice to me. “Hi, now that we’ve pointed guns at you, we’re supposed to work together. See you for dinner?” Peacemaker goes to his father’s place, has a run-in with a neighbor that gives us a Batman reference, and we start to get a feel for how this deeply flawed man came to be who he is. His father, Auggie (played by Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 and X-Files fame, among so many other things) is not at all a good person. The only time they have a bonding moment is over something fairly horrible. Auggie seems like nothing special until Peacemaker brings up needing some new equipment. Then this suburban house reveals it has a few impressive secrets, and Auggie is more than he seems. While all this goes on and we meet Peacemaker’s sidekick, the rest of the team sets up in a new place and isn’t happy with the accommodations.
If you’re setting up a new covert unit, meeting for dinner in a restaurant seems like a bad choice, but that’s what they do. Peacemaker gets there late, makes things even weirder, and the camera spends some time on a rather odd busboy. There’s a passing hint at his name, which tells comic readers roughly who he is, and wow this is a very different version of the character. After more time with the awkward busboy, who clearly doesn’t know how to talk to people, the dinner breaks up and Peacemaker gets a few lines with Adebayo. Later, as he drives around with his sidekick, he sees Harcourt, another team member (and a character from the comics). Harcourt goes into a bar, deals with some unwanted attention, and unleashes her less-than-pleasant personality on Peacemaker as he clumsily hits on her. We see that she can absolutely handle herself before she storms off and Peacemaker meets up with someone else in the bar.
Things begin taking a turn for the weirder as the episode starts getting close to the end. Abedayo has a video chat with someone we’ve seen before, and we learn she’s keeping at least two important secrets. Peacemaker, on the other hand, shows that he can’t even have a normal one-night stand. After they’ve had their fun, Peacemaker wanders around her place decidedly out of uniform, peruses her record collection, and starts an odd dance number. This gets interrupted when things take a turn, and whoever this woman is, she’s not what she seemed to be at all. It’s the big action sequence for the episode, and it ends with a big fall, an ongoing display of superpowers, and a gory end. Considering the last thing we see is Peacemaker sitting there dazed and a lot of police on the way, I suspect their “covert” mission is off to a bad start.
What I liked: John Cena is just fun to watch. He refuses to take himself seriously, and throws himself into whatever role he has. He embraces the absurdity of this show, and makes it work. Adebayo is an interesting new character, and I wonder when her secrets will come out (and for that matter, what her second one is, as it was only hinted at). Jennifer Holland did a great job as Harcourt, establishing herself well with minimal screen time. Robert Patrick is another talented performer, and I’m interested in learning more about his Auggie and his surprising skills. Name dropping Aquaman and Batman helps fix the show in the wider DC Universe, along with the scenes from, and references to, the Suicide Squad.
What I didn’t: The early scene with the janitor didn’t seem to serve any point aside from showing how weird they could be. I’m not sure why they seem to have made so many changes to who Vigilante is, but I’ll give them some time to flesh that out.
This was entertaining silliness with some good action near the end. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5, and will certainly check out the rest of the series.