You know all those series on Disney+ that expand on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and connect their feature films? Yeah, “Peacemaker” isn’t really that ambitious. Sure, it could have an impact on future DC projects, I suppose, but this project from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Suicide Squad” director James Gunn feels much more content to stay in its own lane and do its own thing, for better or worse. An unexpected spin-off of Gunn’s August 2021 film, this eight-episode action/comedy puts Christopher Smith aka Peacemaker (John Cena) on another mission with a few familiar characters from the film and some engaging new ones. It’s an odd show in that it’s like a footnote to the film—less ambitious, less funny, less action-packed—but it’s also enjoyable episode to episode, scene to scene. Cena’s cartoonish charm is perfect for a muscle-head superhero who thinks that the best way to achieve peace is to kill all of the people trying to stop him from doing so, and he’s assisted by some charming, enjoyable performers. Every episode has a clever twist or two, and there are some very funny scenes. Does Peacemaker need his own show? Not really, but when has what we need ever mattered in the increasingly excessive world of men in tights?
If you remember, Peacemaker was basically dead at the end of “Suicide Squad,” but comic books (and the movies based on them) have never been too concerned about that before. Brought back to life, he ends up working with some of the crew who overthrew Waller (Viola Davis) at the end of the movie, including the burly Economos (Steve Agee), who Peacemaker nicknames “dye-beard,” and tough-as-nails Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), who sees right through Peacemaker’s macho schtick. The team is filled out by the stoic leader Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) and a new member named Adebayo (the great Danielle Brooks), who brings a secret to the squad. And don’t forget Peacemaker’s animal sidekick, Eagle-y.
Before long, Peacemaker and his new team of outcasts—Economos and Harcourt are convinced they got this assignment because of their mutiny—stumble upon an alien invasion, allowing Gunn’s Troma background to come out and play. Having said that, much of “Peacemaker” is tame when compared to the lunacy of the film that inspired it. When it does allow itself to go off the rails in an action scene, it springs to life, but I’m not sure anyone needed a “Peacemaker” that’s this talky. Of course, maintaining the pace of the film couldn’t work for eight roughly 40-minute episodes, but “Peacemaker” definitely suffers from that common modern problem wherein it seems a little thin for its ultimate running time. The first couple and last couple episodes blaze—the middle often feels like filler.
At least the filler is often pretty funny. Freddie Stroma is great as Vigilante, the Robin to Peacemaker’s Batman, even if the hero never really asked for him. He’s kind of like a superfan who decided he wanted to go on killing sprees with his favorite hero. Robert Patrick is effective as Auggie Smith, Peacemaker’s vile father, a virulently racist character who formed the worst parts of his son’s personality. Much of the season is about Chris realizing that he has no peace in his life not because of the world around him but the home in which he was created. As for the main cast, Cena gets more to work with than he did in the film (including so much glam rock accompaniment) and he’s a likable lead, capturing the naïve inadequacy of Peacemaker without turning him into a caricature. Brooks is the audience surrogate who comes to understand and even appreciate the Suicide Squad's dumbest member, while Holland makes for a convincing action hero.
Ultimately, “Peacemaker” is enjoyable enough to be an entertaining diversion during a time when much of the country can’t go outside because of the pandemic or the weather (or both). It’s hard to explain why it's a bit forgettable—lack of ambition, thin plotting are probably to blame—but give me this kind of low-key goofy charisma over the self-seriousness that sinks so many superhero TV series any day. While shows like “WandaVision” and “Hawkeye” are trying to rewrite the Marvel universe, Peacemaker is over here saving the world in a way that only he can. With an eagle.
Seven episodes screened for review.