A sequel series, to a movie I didn’t see, set in a comic book universe I’ve never cared about? Yeah, I had no intention of watching Peacemaker. But Jenn talked me into trying it, and I’m glad she did; it’s possibly the only DC property I’ve genuinely enjoyed from start to finish – and fortunately requires no special knowledge of what came before. The story follows Chris Smith, a.k.a. Peacemaker (Jon Cena), a self-styled superhero who is in fact something of a misguided serial murderer. Released from prison, Peacemaker is kind of a jerk, but he’s also a lost soul, still at odds with his racist white trash father Auggie (Robert Patrick) and with only an eccentric sociopath named Vigilante (Freddie Stroma) wanting to hang out with him. Or so it seems, anyway, until he’s recruited to kill for a government black ops outfit led by the dastardly Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). Murn’s sketchy task force is engaged in a mysterious, clandestine operation called “Project Butterfly,” which they’re reluctant to fully read Peacemaker in on. But as he alternately alienates and befriends his new colleagues, the truth about Project Butterfly gradually emerges, forcing him to commit himself – and confront his inner demons in the process.
Peacemaker is very much a James Gunn auteur project, rife with raunchy humor, stylish visual humor, overblown music video sequences, and contentious group dynamics. This type of material can be hit or miss for me, but Gunn is really on his game here. At first, Peacemaker seems an odd focal point for a superhero series: Chris Smith is a brash, right-wing redneck, and he and Vigilante are essentially dim, brutal serial killers. But they’re also funny as hell, plus, Cena’s winning performance and smart writing gradually layer humanity into Peacemaker, drawn out by his heartbreaking attempts to connect with his toxic father, and his loving relationship with his pet eagle “Eagley.” (Oh, Eagley is a fucking treat.) Peacemaker’s new colleagues on the task force also provide great support, turning Peacemaker into a hilarious workplace comedy about misifts coming together to save the world. Peacemaker’s fractious interactions with black ops veteran Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), tech ops nerd John Economos (Steve Agee), and conflicted newcomer Leota (Danielle Brooks) eventually give way to touching camaraderie as they reckon with their collective gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight persona – not to mention steady doses of sustained humor. The whole cast has phenomenal comic chemistry, with Stroma standing out as an outrageously funny, demented hybrid of Deadpool and Dexter Morgan. Of course, the ultimate violent spectacle, as the plot components come together, is the usual messy, pro forma mélange of action logistics and infodumps, but by the time Peacemaker and his battered, bloody gang hobble off the battlefield together, it’s hard not to feel their intense emotional connection. I never thought I could rally behind a loud-mouth Republican who listens to hair metal, but Peacemaker won me over.