If The Suicide Squad taught us anything, it’s that all the time he spent with Marvel hadn’t dulled James Gunn’s more outrageous sensibilities one bit. Despite retaining all the heart of the team dynamic of Guardians Of The Galaxy, it was obvious that the drive to concoct less family friendly scenarios still coursed through the director’s veins and he still wasn’t afraid to stick worryingly lovable sociopaths into decidedly murky, moral conundrums.
This brings us as delicately as one of the flailing dance moves seen in it’s amazing opening credits to episode 3 of Peacemaker, which finally sees the team embark proper on their mission to rid their files of a shadowy threat dubbed the “Butterflies” that sees a near unbroken stream of vagina selfies, torture, murdered children and some full blown sizeism for us to wrap our blown minds around.
Since being re-recruited by Taskforce X and being involved in many, socially questionable briefings by his motley and culturally diverse backup team, it’s finally time for Christopher Smith – aka. Peacemaker – to finally go on his first official mission for the mysterious Project Butterfly. Their first target is revealed to be United States Senator Royland Goff who is suspected to be one of these ill-defined Butterflies, however, as the team is finally – if awkwardly – starting to bond, they realise they’re being tailed by Smith’s jealous unofficial BFF, Vigilante.
Once the usual bouts of back-and-forth are done (a poorly timed debate on whether it’s the Berenstain or Berenstein Bears, for example), it’s go time, but when Smith finds out that Goff’s wife and children are also potential targets, Peacemaker has to put his motto of cherishing peace with all his heart and not caring how many men, women and children he has to kill to get it, to the literal test when the entire family are revealed to be Butterflies.
However, as his finger curls around the trigger, Christopher finds he can’t actually do it and suffers a full blown panic attack, citing some bullshit excuse that his sniper rifle hadn’t been engraved with the white dove of peace that Smith wears as his insignia (he’s had to draw it on with a Sharpie). Mission leader Murn is enraged that Amanda Waller has seemingly lumped them with a killer that can’t kill, but saving the mission is Vigilante, who has still been buzzing around the team like a fly around shit. Merrily splattering the brains of Goff’s wife and kids all over the dining room table without batting an eyelid, all the happy-go-lucky psycho has to do to finish the mission is take out the Senator, but the team hasn’t reckoned on diminutive bodyguard, Judomaster, to arrive and whup the living crap out of everyone present. Captured by Goff, Peacemaker and Vigilante face getting tortured unless the remainer of the team can band together and bust them out of a basement that seems to be protected by alien tech.
Three episodes in and James Gunn still manages to deliver the indie based, anarchic black humor that’s made Peacemaker so gripping so far and now that the missions are finally under way, the influence of the director’s earlier works are making more and more of an appearance. Take Freddie Stroma’s Vigilante who feels very much like Super’s sad sack, wannabe hero, The Crimson Bolt, if he was merged with his deranged teen, amoral sidekick Boltie as his gleeful willingness to murder children without a second thought is twinned with the goofiness of a grown man who genuinely believes that he can keep his secret identity when unmasked by gurning like an idiot. Likewise, when we finally discover exactly what the Butterflies are (unsurprisingly, they’re alien butterflies) and while your first thought may understandably leap to the mind controlling body horror of Starro from The Suicide Squad, a more accurate comparison is the zombifiying alien parasite from Gunn’s debut, Slither.
This almost full return to the director’s roots (on DC’s dime, no less), means that the personal interactions of the core cast are just as entertaining as the sight of an agonised Vigilante complaining to his torturer that his tools are too blunt while they gruesomely struggle to sever one of his toes.
Danielle Brooks’ Adebayo continues to be the good natured standout, a voice of sanity when confronted with the cynicism of her teammates or the toxic posturing of Smith; and her embarassing goofs (accidentally swiping to a picture of her partner’s gentials that accidently got uploaded to the team’s tablet during a briefing is a cringe inducing doozy) still mark her out as the person most likely to punch through Peacemaker’s constant douchebaggery. Even though Smith’s response to discovering that Adebayo is gay is ridiculously inappropriate (as usual) as he claims he’s an ally and citing a large lesbian porn collection as proof, she’s still professional enough to go all in on Smith’s rescue later on. In fact, even Vigilante suggests that Peacemaker should befriend her, although to fair, he only suggests it in attempt to help his buddy quell rumours of racism. Elsewhere, other members of the team are starting to come out of their emotionally constipated shells with the normally intense Murn admitting to Economos that he’s never expressed his emotions so he’s actively trying to make himself feel more empathy (not really how it works, but points for trying) and even Economos even gets in on the action by somehow subduing a wounded Judomaster.
Ah yes, Judomaster, the short but lethal standout of this episode who prances around in a natty green super suit and effortlessly hands the noticably bigger Smith his ass with maximum velocity. Sure, it’s a joke we’ve all seen before – the tough guy getting whipped by an assailant who is easily 1/3 his size – but the episode pulls it off beautifully with Peacemaker’s post capture trash talk (“I’m gonna keep you around, in case I snap my Achilles tendon, I’ll replace it with your whole fuckin’ body. That way you can help me flex my toes for the rest of my life.”) almost meeting its match due to how painfully accurate Judomaster can flick Flaming Hot Cheetos at his captors.
Gunn’s now three for three when it comes to the show which isn’t bad when you consider there’s barely a hint of Eagly in the episode at all (with all his Guardians and Suicide Squad work, this could be the first time in nearly 10 years that he’s directing something without some sort of anthropomorphized animal present), but with an alien invasion plot gaining steam and a subplot involving Smith’s racist father waiting in the wings I guess they’ll be no peace for the wicked.