The Pitch: If you watched The Suicide Squad last year and got told that one of the characters would be getting a spinoff TV show, would Peacemaker (John Cena) have been your first guess? Even with the post-credits scene setting up the series, probably not. Nonetheless, James Gunn‘s first major TV project takes this blunt instrument of an anti-hero and uses him as the base for an at times strange, at times pretty fun action-horror adventure. (The term “superhero”… does not feel particularly applicable, in this case.)

“Previously, in The Suicide Squad…” That’s not a bit — that’s literally how the first episode of Peacemaker opens, treating the film like the true pilot episode of the series. (Which, it could be argued, it was.)

What’s important to remember from that movie, if August 2021 is understandably too fuzzy a memory right now, is that during the Squad’s wild-ass mission to Corto Maltese, vigilante hero Peacemaker, a.k.a. Christopher Smith, followed orders from Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and killed Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) to try to prevent government secrets from getting out. While initially presumed dead thanks to a bullet from Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a post-credits sequence revealed that Peacemaker survived, and the series begins with him returning home after his recovery.

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Unfortunately, his homecoming isn’t a very happy one, thanks to his bigoted asshole of a father Auggie (Robert Patrick) and his near-immediate recruitment into a new task force led by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). However, he’s pretty happy to be a semi-free man, reunited with his beloved pet eagle Eagly (CGI) and making connections with his new teammates, who aren’t exactly thrilled to have him on board. Unfortunately, an ominous threat is bubbling up, one which could have global implications.

The Gunn of It All: In looking back at Gunn’s career since his 2006 breakout film Slither, what stands out thematically is a fascination with genre, especially horror and superhero stories, coupled with a unique streak of sincerity, along with what feels like an innate urge to push the boundaries of taste whenever possible (which wasn’t all that often, when making PG-13 Marvel movies).

These elements combined to make his Suicide Squad feel like the ultimate expression of him as a filmmaker: plenty of ultra-violence and imaginative creature work, but underlying it all a lonely heart aching for family and connection. And it’s in this spirit that the best moments of Peacemaker come to life.

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Peacemaker (HBO Max)

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