Peacemaker may not have been the most expected The Suicide Squad spin-off character, but James Gunn’s DCEU show makes any cynicism feel laughable.
James Gunn’s Peacemaker may not have been the most expected spin-off of The Suicide Squad, even with John Cena in the lead role, but the HBO Max show blows any cynicism over the choice out of the water. While Cena’s character was a divisive choice in the wake of The Suicide Squad‘s release – particularly with the likes of Ratcatcher and King Shark available (and Harley Quinn still the biggest bankable brand in there), that actually feeds into how unexpectedly brilliant the show is. In very real terms, nobody was or is ready for the new Task Force X spin-off.
It was probably Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 who would have been most fans’ choice to play the lead of a spin-off of The Suicide Squad – no doubt with the added possible bonus of a King Shark team-up, given her chemistry with Sylvester Stallone’s hulking fishman – and Peacemaker would have come a firm bottom. It wasn’t that Cena’s peace-loving maniac was a bad character per se: he was perfectly formed for what he needed to do, and a strong foil for the macho BS clash of egos with Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. But he didn’t have either the cool or the likeability factor usually reserved for spin-offs. On reflection, it will probably feel like James Gunn’s decision to use Cena’s Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad spin-off was a defiant choice because of the challenges. Gunn, after all, isn’t known for taking easy punts.
But even with the appeal of taking someone as thoroughly problematic as Peacemaker, the spin-off had some serious challenges to overcome. Not least because this is the first DCEU spin-off TV show and could set a lucrative precedent for Warner Bros and HBO Max if more were encouraged to follow. And almost astonishingly, Gunn hasn’t just achieved it, he’s surpassed every expectation to make a TV show in Peacemaker that goes so far beyond the usual amplification of what made the character in focus fun that it’s like a joke. Yes, Chris Smith is still a dirtbag, but Gunn has gone to the same well that made Guardians of the Galaxy‘s collected a-holes to give Peacemaker an origin, a heart, and even, remarkably, some depth. The dick jokes still come thick and fast, but there’s nuance to them. Yes, the oxymoron is intended. Fundamentally, Peacemaker makes any suggestion that Gunn chose the wrong character laughable.
Strictly speaking, along with perhaps Harley Quinn – who Warner Bros wanted in The Suicide Squad no matter what – Peacemaker is the most James Gunn of DCEU’s slate of characters. He’s a reject, living in the shadow of his father, struggling with his self-image by puffing himself up like a balloon and he does still live to a moral code, just as all of Gunn’s meanest and baddest characters tend to. It might not be aligned with everyone else’s, but Gunn’s characters never come without a set of principles. Even in the first three episodes, which are bloody, outrageous, and full of innuendo that ranks somewhere just above puerile, there is enough to suggest you need to get to know Peacemaker more. To… love him?
Gunn’s great story-telling trick is that he can make anyone care about anyone. A vulgar, ill-tempered raccoon? A slightly idiotic Han Solo wannabe with a criminal record and a severely maladjusted emotional intellect? A tree? No problem. He made Weasel, a fully CG furball with googly eyes and literally zero impact on the plot, one of the most memorable things about The Suicide Squad. Who else can claim achievements like that? And Peacemaker may be his finest achievement yet because he didn’t start from a blank slate; he started from a position of having red in his ledger – people actively disliked John Cena’s Peacemaker. People actively grumbled about him getting his own spin-off after The Suicide Squad. People were not ready. Because when the marketing team came up with “F*ck! It’s Peacemaker“, they really meant that.
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