James Gunn’s Peacemaker series finds humanity in a villain

HBO Max Series Turns John Cena’s Suicide Squad Super Assassin Into A Real Boy By Giving Him A Team, A Mission And Serious Daddy Issues

PEACEMAKER (James Gunn). Premieres Thursday, January 13 on Crave, with new episodes each week through February 17. NNNN

The challenge of a Peacemaker series is the rehabilitation of its main character, a comic book supervillain who thinks he is a hero. Can a bad guy be a good person? Sure! But how to get him there?

Featured by writer / director James Gunn in The Suicide Squad last summer, Chris Smith – the guy with the big, shiny helmet, unquenchable bloodlust and absurd physiology of John Cena – is a brutal object of chaos. Transformed into a living weapon from childhood by his ruthless father, he was introduced as a nemesis of Idris Elba’s Bloodsport: where Bloodsport was a mercenary with a heart of gold, Peacemaker was just a blood assassin- cold. Make him someone who deserves to be supported? It will take time.

And so here is the Peacemaker series, a shamelessly ridiculous attempt to turn a comic book maniac into a real boy. It’s not much different from what Gunn did with Elba in The Suicide Squad, although Elba invested his so-called villain with a grumpy charisma that allowed him to become a leader. Peacemaker is not a leader; in fact, he’s the furthest from it, a die-hard follower who is fully committed to any mission that aligns with his own goals of mowing down as many people as possible.

Gunn doesn’t want to buy Smith out, at least not completely. The arc of the Peacemaker series is to find humanity within a character who is essentially an action figure: a person who believes himself to be righteous, but does not have the emotional reach to understand the complexity of the world around him. And how do you correct a character who is essentially a killer looking for an excuse?

The simplest solution is something like Dexter, where the hero is a serial killer who only kills other serial killers. Gunn chooses another direction, sending Smith back on covert ops into the care of his cranky handlers Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee), who were featured with him in Gunn’s Suicide Squad movie. They were all tasked with working with reformed mercenary Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) and his new assistant Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) on a mission of potentially global significance, although at present it is than a handful of people sitting in Smith’s Washington state. hometown, waiting for something to do.

Gunn plays on his strength here, reverting to his perennial themes of unlikely families, daddy issues, and the pitfalls of hero worship. (He’s also not afraid to repurpose an idea from The Suicide Squad that he first deployed in Slither, and that is starting to feel a bit run down.) And given that his conception of Peacemaker – a stubborn killing machine impervious to both mockery and abstract thought – looks awfully similar to Drax The Destroyer in his Guardians of the Galaxy movies, one wonders if Gunn is just playing the hits, this time on an 80s hair metal soundtrack instead of 70s pop.

But there is enough going on around the corners of Peacemaker that feels new and different. Cena is a comic book artist, but he’s also allowed to do little more than be the unconscious butt of everyone’s jokes this time around. Chris has things to sort out, like his relationship with his monstrous father (Robert Patrick), a seething racist who is disappointed in his son because he doesn’t have a higher body count for life. Chris also faces off against Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), an aspiring sidekick whose approach to crime-fighting makes Peacemaker look like a United Nations diplomat in comparison.

Gunn also gives roughly the same time to Brooks’s Leota, who has her own parental background within the DC Cinematic Universe. As a newbie to the world of Dark Ops – she’s essentially an interim – Leota becomes the audience’s surrogate, trying to keep up with all the weird science and super-stories everyone keeps throwing around while finding their place in. the greatest story. Brooks, who broke Orange Is The New Black, makes Leota feel authentic and human, grappling with her allegiances and the distance her new job places between her and his wife Keeya (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow from Another Life). And the relationship Brooks and Cena weave between their characters – no trust, exactly, but a sort of professional respect – continues to pay off, even as Chris and Leota’s goals change over the course of the series as Gunn graciously grows larger. the nature of the story. he tells.

Maybe he plays the hits, but the guy knows his strengths: His casting instincts are overwhelming, the musical choices feel organic rather than calculated, and the willingness to break the bank is always appreciated. Many modern superhero stories aspire to quasi-realism, to better anchor their characters in normal human relationships; Gunn goes the other way, finding humanity in an inherently absurd world.

It’s a show that has room for both an existential threat to all life on Earth and a scene where two people who hate each other put aside their animosity to appreciate the lyrics of Hanoi Rocks. Derivative or not, everything goes like a candy: I ​​burned the first seven episodes on two consecutive nights. I can’t wait to see how it all ends.