Peacemaker - How To Make Heroes Fun Again



The 2000s and 2010s showed complete domination of superhero media. Marvel’s Infinity Saga alone has 22 movies in it, and while we were awaiting DC’s 95th Batman movie, we got James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. A soft reboot of the David Aya movie several years prior, it took a ragtag bunch of characters and gave them a world-saving quest that they were arguably ill-equipped to deal with on their own. You might be saying to yourself that it sounds a little like Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s a fair comparison. Both, of course, have the same director at the helm, and both have some misfit heroes doing their thing.


DC is undeniably the more gritty, edgy media outlet, as you can tell by the necessity to really squint to see what’s happening in any of the movies. Even the bright colours of The Justice League are muted a lot in their movies. Marvel did a similar thing, but while the outfits are a little more dull in the movies, there isn’t a filter making things darker. Then comes James Gunn with The Suicide Squad to let us remember that he’s wacky, stylistic, and oozing with personality. Everything was vibrant, absurd, colourful, and the humour felt natural instead of every character having a snarky one-liner (seriously Marvel, not everyone has to be witty to be engaging). Years of gritty voices, world-ending threats, and declarations of their own name have really burnt the idea of comic absurdity in people’s minds. Seriously, these are people in spandex doing circus tricks while fighting aliens over shiny rocks, what isn’t crazy about that? Gunn brought that absurdity to the forefront again and it became amazing. You don’t have to be serious to be taken seriously.


Peacemaker is a direct continuation of The Suicide Squad, as it takes place after the titular character, played by John Cena, wakes up in the hospital after being shot by Bloodsport (Idris Elba) in Corto Maltese. But the question remains; is it actually good?


Spoilers ahead. Watch the series first.


Pros:


The casting is absolutely incredible. John Cena was one of the biggest surprises of The Suicide Squad in how good he actually was in the role, and here is no different. The format change makes the job harder, as you do have to carry a series for a lot longer than you do a movie, but the casting behind Cena was also damn good. Steve Agee, Viola Davis, and Jennifer Holland all reprise their roles from The Suicide Squad (John Economos, Amanda Waller, and Emilia Harcourt respectively), and they play their characters in very much the same way. Economos being the snarky computer guy, Waller being the brutal commander behind the scenes, and Harcourt being the no-nonsense badass.


However, they introduce new characters too. Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) plays the fish out of water who also happens to be spying for Amanda Waller, her mother, Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) played the stern leader up until his death, and Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), Peacemaker’s obsessive best friend who is murderous dialled up to 11, but whimsical, who is so protective of his secret identity that he even denies it to the team a lot of the time.



Then we have the villains. Robert Patrick plays the sinister white supremacist Auggie Smith, Peacemaker’s father. He designs all of the tech Peacemaker uses and has essentially a pocket dimension where he stores everything, including his own suit. In the past he was the racist, homophobic, add literally any other negative qualities here, “hero” the White Dragon, who has a bunch of neo-nazi followers more than willing to kill in his name, called the Aryan Empire. I think Robert Patrick could actually kill someone with that iconic T-1000 stare.


The other villains in the show are simply known as “The Butterflies”, a parasitic alien insectoid race that burrows into people through their mouths and possesses them, erasing who they were. Though they do seem like secondary antagonists compared to Peacemaker’s father, they are a credible threat, despite their intentions revealed by the end of the series. They rely on the “milk” of a caterpillar-like being they call “the cow” to survive, as they can’t consume our food. Another DC kaiju, but this one doesn’t attack or anything.


The soundtrack to the show is just incredible. James Gunn is now renowned for his ability to pick out gems from any era to provide a good soundtrack and give context to it. In Guardians of the Galaxy, it was Star-lord’s cassette tapes from his childhood on Earth, now it’s Peacemaker’s glam rock and hair metal from the music he and his brother used to listen to as kids. We’re treated to lots of classics, even a fantastic cover of “Pumped Up Kicks”, but then we have 2 stand-out songs that are integral to the show. Hanoi Rocks’ “11th Street Kids”, which is what the group calls themselves after one of the missions, and then there’s Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It”, which serves as the theme song. Tell me that this opening isn’t the best damn thing to ever exist.


Peacemaker has a pet eagle called “Eagly” and it’s just awesome. The CGI genuinely looks fantastic, and when I first saw it I thought it was just a well-trained eagle.


The writing is something I wanted to talk about at length, as it is the best thing about this show by a country mile. I call it “the Heart in Darkness”, and it’s something James Gunn does perfectly, both here and in The Suicide Squad. The contents of both media pieces are dark, and both show horrific sides of humanity that we have to deal with.


The experimentation on Starro the Conqueror in Corto Maltese was awful, and when it says “I was happy floating in space, staring at the stars”, it was genuinely heartbreaking. It gave an obscure, bizarre DC villain from a bygone era a genuine voice. He wasn’t a force of chaos, he was an innocent victim. His actions by the end of the movie, where he possesses many citizens and soldiers can be seen as an act of revenge for the torture he endured. But the scenes where you see the Squad members having fun in the club, talking about their pasts on the bus ride (that window scene was genuinely moving). The characters had a genuine bond with each other, which is why it hurt seeing Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang die in the opening scenes because we knew he had a good relationship with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie).



This trend also continues in Peacemaker with the 11th Street Kids. The group has to establish bonds with each other, and when they all listen to Hanoi Rocks after a successful mission, they are all vibing to the tunes, smiling, and enjoying themselves just being together. It feels like a friendship, and the photo with all of them together is so damn touching. These are questionable people doing even more questionable acts, but they are also people, and it’s so damn amazing to watch them create a friendship that way. It feels organic and almost pure. From memory (so I may be wrong), but Marvel didn’t place any of these slower, more fun scenes where the main characters just hang out together except for the scene where they all try to lift Mjolnir, and even then it’s a pissing contest (which The Suicide Squad does better between Bloodsport and Peacemaker). The scene at the very end where Economos arrives at Belle Reve, opens his laptop, then places a framed photo of the picture Harcourt took in the RV, and then smiles and chuckles to himself is so heartwarming. Seeing Peacemaker in regular clothes stay in hospital until Harcourt wakes up from her injuries is wonderful, and Leota’s reunion with her wife is really sweet to see.


The point I’m making is that the “Heart in Darkness” works in these small, character-driven narratives where the plot isn’t trying to jigsaw itself into a universe that is still several pieces missing. James Gunn is fast becoming my favourite director, and I hope he is given more chances to showcase his talent for this style of writing. I can’t wait for Guardians of the Galaxy 3.



My last point about the writing here is just how funny it is. Peacemaker name-drops many DC superheroes and villains. The opening exchange with the janitor of the hospital where we declare sincerely that “Aquaman f**ks fish” is actually hilarious. He also claims that Wonder Woman made the “F-me eyes” to him at a party while talking to children in show-and-tell. He says that Batman is just as responsible for Gotham’s suffering because he doesn’t kill his villains, and when the Justice League actually shows up at the very end, he lambasts them for being late and that the mission was done, all this while he’s carrying Harcourt’s unconscious body away. Take notes, Marvel, this is how you make a cinematic universe feel natural and not forced.


Cons:


There are uses of racist and homophobic slurs, and also sexist phrases used in the show, but they aren’t used a lot, and would come with the nature of the villain being a white supremacist. It wasn’t a dealbreaker for me personally, but some people may find it off-putting.


The show is currently only on HBO Max, which isn’t available in the UK, so I had to use a VPN to watch it. That isn’t the fault of the series though.


To Conclude:


We are currently being spoiled for shows in the 2020s. Arcane was absolutely incredible, and Peacemaker comes in and stands alongside it as a likely contender for one of the best series out there. I’m looking forward to what happens in the next season, and I hope it continues to be as tight, dark, funny, and heartwarming as this one was. Well done James Gunn, cast, crew, and everyone who looked at a poster. You brought a D-list DC anti-hero to the forefront and gave them a wonderful story. I hope you get the chance to do this more. Peacemaker was one of the best series I’ve ever watched.


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