During the compromised, stormy reign of the DCEU, one of the few movies to actually hit screen that didn’t feel second-guessed to death by flummoxed studio heads was James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. In a way, it was a minor miracle that a flick featuring a Kong-sized starfish, numerous cold-blooded killers and a drowning weasel person made it to the screen with minimal tinkering (David Ayer certainly wasn’t so lucky) and better yet, it even managed to get a TV spin-off in the form of a show featuring John Cena’s break-out douchebag, Peacemaker.
In the light of the recent power shift that saw Gunn and Peter Safran the new bosses in charge of DC at Warners, it seems like a perfect time to belatedly cast an eye over the series (only a year late – that’s pretty good for this site) in order to celebrate our new DC overlords in style. Can Peacemaker bring the pain?
Five months after the events that transpired in Corto Maltese that saw the silver helmeted vigilante take it upon himself to start targeting his fellow members of Task Force X and receiving a bullet in the neck for his troubles, Chistopher Smith finally is discharged quietly from hospital and sneaks out, fingers crossed that he won’t have to go back to Belle Reve prison and serve the rest of his sentence.
However, getting home and reuniting with his hideously bigoted father and his beloved pet eagle, “Eagly”, he soon finds out that Task Force X hasn’t forgotten about him at all and want him to partake in something called Operation Butterfly which will require him to perform hits selected by his support team. Led by the shadowy Clemson Murm and containing Emilia Hardcourt and John Economos, two previous handlers who angered big boss Amanda Waller during the Corto Maltese mission, the group seems highly sceptical that this toxic, buffed up, man-child can pull things off, especially when he turns up to public mission briefings in a car painted with stars and stripes, wearing his full costume and with Eagly in the back seat.
However, as the acidic one liners and put downs inevitably ensue (this is a James Gunn project after all), the newest member of the team, Leota Adebayo, sparks up something of an ironic rapport with the bicep flexing idiot, sensing that under his posturing and socially unacceptable demeanor, there’s a vein of sadness that lurks under the surface.
Still, that doesn’t stop Peacemaker trying to hit on Hardcourt and then alternately taking home a mulleted skank after getting knocked back – but there’s more his conquest than meets the eye and on top of that, there’s more to Leota too as we discover her shadowy parentage…
While Gunn has since become known for his gleefully amoral superteam movies that doles out good natured brutality with a big goofy heart, the film of his Peacemaker most resembles is that of 2010’s Super, which helps him merge his big budget, comic book movie experience with the socially awkward, trailer park crime fighting he so stylishly ribbed in his second movie. Featuring a massively flawed individual who attempts to naively right what he sees as the world’s wrongs despite being blissfully unaware of his own mental issues, we’re very much in Gunn’s playhouse as he attempts to take this fascist, alpha-male, fuck rag and peel back the layers to try and examine the reasons why a grown man would take to wearing a shiny toilet seat on his head and believe he’s entitled to shoot people in the face. In fact, the first episode (and, I presume, the season at large) seems mostly dedicated to trying to force its marauding man-child to repeatedly confront the more problematic aspects of his code while having him staunchly defend himself with childish tirades.
As a result, the poisonous barbs are traded with brutal abandon while Smith tries to explain his way out of such accusations as racism (“I kill a proportionate number of white people too!”) while displaying a massive, unironic love for 80’s hair metal.
As first episodes go, A Whole New Whirl is an absolute banger, cramming in an incredible amount of detail while allowing us way more time to spend with our shockingly un-self aware lead as he blusters his way out of hospital with a typical lack of humility (he complains that his muscle definition isn’t showing up correctly on his x-rays) and attempts to restart his life while dodging endless calls from the insanely clingy Vigilante, a fellow slaughterer of “perceived” wrong doers.
Acting as the impossibly veiny glue that holds everything together, John Cena is exemplary, eager to drill to the core of a man who thinks it’s suitable wear his full costume when turning up for a team meeting at a very public diner while simultaneously being more than willing to make himself look like an idiot at any given opportunity. Yes, we get him back in his uncomfortably iconic tightie whities once again but we also see him frustratingly try to convince a hospital cleaner that Aquaman fucks fish (“FUCK AQUAMAN!!”) and get his ass handed to him by a feral powered hook up who throws him around like a rag doll despite being one third his size, but inbetween Cena’s herculean bouts of machismo-fueled buffoonery, Gunn also manages to squeak in flashes of genuine pain for all the assembled characters.
Introduced to Peacemaker’s vile father, Auggie, a man who is not only unrepentantly racist, misogynist and many other “ists” to name here, but is someone whose son desperately wants validation from due to a lifetime of kept in a state of arrested development thanks to constant disapproval and insults, we immediately start to see why our anti-hero is the way he is.
As we also start to explore our supporting characters, there’s also obvious signs that reality is going to start cracking Peacemaker’s facade fairly soon as he tentatively bonds with Danielle Brooks’ immediately engaging Leota Adebayo, a woman who is both black, gay and has a name Chris can’t immediately get his head round.
Nicely balanced, blatantly absurd yet grounded just enough to let the comic tinged tragedy bubble enticing under the surface, it seems Gunn’s onto another winner – especially when his show also comes equipped with easily the greatest open credits sequence of the year and yet another adorable, Groot/King Shark-type mascot in the shape of Eagly.
DC tends to do better on the small screen than on the large and it seems that with Peacemaker, the DCEU is no different as James Gunn utilises his off-beat sensibilities to tell anarchic super hero stuff that fits in snugly with the fucked up pleasures of Amazon’s The Boys.