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Peacemaker Review: HBO Max's Superhe-bro Series Is a Showcase for a Duncey John Cena

The Suicide Squad spin-off is loaded with potty humor and maybe some character growth

Tim Surette
John Cena, Peacemaker

John Cena, Peacemaker


James Gunn's wonderfully deranged 2021 film The Suicide Squad was more than just a do-over for the abysmal 2016 superhero team-up film Suicide Squad; it was like a backdoor pilot for some of the characters to be spun off into their own properties, much like Marvel is cashing in on every single character it can (at least four new Marvel series are scheduled to come to Disney+ this year). The first The Suicide Squad vet to get that treatment is John Cena's Peacemaker, a meathead with a powerlifter's thighs for biceps and a 4chan message board for a brain whose self-imposed mission is to bring peace at all costs... no matter how many people he has to kill to get it (his words). 

Having escaped death in The Suicide Squad thanks to a post-credits scene, Peacemaker (and Peacemaker) comes to HBO Max fresh out of prison and hired by the government as an assassin for a special mission: to take out some very bad, uhhh... things. (The Suicide Squad had a giant alien starfish; this has the cryptic Butterflies.) He's joined by the special ops team who worked for Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) in The Suicide Squad, including Steve Agee's tech wiz and Jennifer Holland's NSA agent, as well as new characters like the team's hard-ass boss Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) and new recruit Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks). 




  • John Cena is a dang star
  • The cartoonish violence is great
  • Doesn't take itself seriously
  • Amazing opening credits


  • The pilot is bumpy
  • Not all the jokes land

It doesn't take long for Gunn to drop you back into his jock-humor, classic-rock world — Peacemaker's first concerns are that his muscles aren't showing up on his x-ray and that he should kill fewer minorities and more white people — but it does take a bit for that world to become entertaining. After a rocky beginning to the first episode, Peacemaker finds its groove when it has established its own world within Gunn's world. That comes from developing Leota, who quickly becomes the most interesting character with room for growth, as well as the rest of the team, and Peacemaker's clinically insane superhero friend Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), a Deadpool wannabe driven by what might be a lethal combination of loneliness and hubris. 

And once you're in that absurd, action-packed, NSFW world, it's hard to resist. There are references to hair metal bands like Cinderella, revolting sex jokes (of course Peacemaker owns a Fleshlight) and gratuitous sex scenes, exploding bad guys that spray viscera on our heroes, and, most delightfully, a completely deranged opening credits sequence complete with awkward choreography. Insignificant banter is everywhere and covers everything — from meme-y chatter about the correct pronunciation of "The Berenstain Bears" to talk of superhero spandex that's so tight you can see the details of their hoo-has and doo-dads — making Peacemaker more of a comedy than anything else, and dependent on your level of maturity, funny or not funny (Gunn beat me into submission with his sophomoric sense of humor by the middle of Episode 2).

But there's a faint trace of something bigger going on here as a character study of Peacemaker and today's liberal youth movement. Peacemaker's antagonistic relationship with his right-wing, white supremacist father (Robert Patrick) sets up a story of a simple-minded lughead — before they know him, Peacemaker has a reputation of being racist among the team — coming out from under a veil of hate and superiority that's been placed there by his rural, sheltered upbringing. Cena, who is making his case for the next pro wrestler-turned-A-lister action star, harnesses an effective push-and-pull as a moron who is beginning to see the light but falls right back into the darkness when he can't help but talk about how many times he made a woman cum. It's a simple idea that provides just enough room for Peacemaker to grow without losing what makes him best: his idiotic sense of self-worth. 

Premieres: Jan. 13 on HBO Max with three episodes, new episodes weekly
Who's in it: John Cena, Steve Agee, Danielle Brooks, Robert Patrick
Who's behind it: James Gunn, writer/director of The Suicide Squad
For fans of: The Boys, oddball superhero shows
How many episodes we watched: 4