You HAVE To Watch: Peacemaker
When I asked for reader recommendations on what to watch for the next You HAVE To Watch, Dan M. said “Peacemaker – best thing on TV currently – maybe best superhero show of all – definitely the weirdest messy superhero show that should not possibly work (even more so than Doom Patrol)…” Then he added “Aaand I did not see the comic before this post – cause it just got mentioned there…”
By coincidence, that day’s Least I Could Do answered my question and agreed with Dan M.
So, taking Dan M and Rayne’s recommendations, I watched Peacemaker.
Based on a Charlton Comics character DC owns the rights to, and a spin-off of The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker stars John Cena as the titular character, a vigilante who believes in peace so hard, he doesn’t care how many people he has to kill to get it.
Speaking of vigilantes, he’s joined by fellow DC costumed character Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), an unhinged killer who focuses his energies on killing criminals, like Deadpool meets Dexter. They’re working for a wetworked team assembled by Amanda Waller.
Other The Suicide Squad alum on the team are Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee). Economos is the team’s technician, like he was in the movie, but it turns out Harcourt is a field operative. She’s often the only agent in the thick of the action alongside Peacemaker. Rounding out the team are Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) the mysterious leader, and Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), the… uh… rookie? I’m not sure what her role on the team is, at least from the team’s point of view. But she’s Amanda Waller’s daughter, and a plant.
But that’s not all! We also meet Peacemaker’s family. His dad and weapon supplier (Robert Patrick), as well as a brother we meet through flashbacks, and his pet eagle, Eaglie (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). Eaglie, a feat of CGI advancement, steals so many scenes, and his two-handers with Peacemaker warm the heart.
Is It Soooooo Good?
And how! Even if you’re feeling superhero show fatigue, including superhero satires, and aren’t really into the DCEU, Peacemaker is something special. Here’s why.
So Dumb, But Surprisingly Smart
There’s a two minute bit where Peacemaker and Vigilante keep interrupting someone they don’t want to talk to by making long farting noises. It’s the peak of the show’s frathouse humour, but not the only example. A lot of the jokes are dumb. That said, basically every single one lands. James Gunn’s directing super power is finding clever new ways to tell the stupidest jokes.
That’s because James Gunn is a savvy director and a smart writer. He knows how to deconstruct a genre he’s working within, not to undermine the genre but to find new ways to present it. By that fart scene, we’re aware of the scale of the threat Peacemaker faces, and that it’s too far along for other DC universe heroes to figure it out and respond in time. So it’s not just funny watching John Cena scooping his butt air towards someone he’s mad at, it also sets the stakes. This man child is Earth’s only home.
Setups and Payoffs
I’m not going to make too many comparisons between Peacemaker and what Disney’s doing with its Marvel shows, but one valid criticism Marvel’s earned is it’s poor payoffs. For all it’s silliness and over the top action, Peacemaker takes its plot seriously. There’s genuine intrigue from the multiple crisscrossing subplots, and every character’s mystery gets resolved by the last episode. Furthermore, the plotline connecting all of these characters and their secrets has a major last minute reveal that might be the best subtle storytelling I’ve seen in a series like this.
It’s the mirror opposite of the Ralph Bohner reveal from Wanda/Vision. Instead of loudly asking a question and then basically insulting the audience for wanting an answer, Peacemaker whispers a question throughout the series and then casually answers it brilliantly.
Endearing and Engrossing
John Cena’s a good actor in the same way he’s good looking: I can’t tell. But I do know that the man is unbelievably watchable. It’s easy to dismiss Peacemaker as a one-dimensional character in a three-dimensional world. That’s why, as the show explores his vow, his family, and what he does, we learn why we should care about Peacemaker. But that only works because John Cena can switch between being a complete dufus with the body of a god (who may or may not be handsome) to totally relatable.
The rest of the cast balances being plot devices, comedic straight men, and likeable characters. There’s a scene where Peacemaker rips into Steve Agee’s character for making a mistake under pressure. Peacemaker lists all of the better options Economos could have chosen. It’s a solid minute of one man yelling at another, and another minute of an extended version of the scene after the credits. It’s an unbelievable mix of agreeing with Peacemaker, disagreeing with how he’s handling it but finding it nonetheless hilarious, sympathizing with Economos, and wondering how much of this is improvised.
I’m impressed with the writing and performance of the secondary characters. Given that everyone has a secret, there’s a need for dialogue to have either two truths or a truth and a lie. In cases like that, you often end up asking “If X is this character’s real motivation, why are they doing Y?” One of Peacemaker’s greatest achievements is that it stays true to the character’s secrets and to their behaviour in scene. Even if the secrets aren’t especially deep, the show’s attention to detail ensures they matter.
Dan M. has it right. This should be a niche show that gets a cult following. Instead, I think it’s the best example of a show that took a big swing and knocked it out of the park. People who don’t think they’d like this show should check it out. At least watch the opening credits. The intro concentrates the series’ “I don’t get it, but I love it” energy.
I’m ashamed that I didn’t cover Eagly much in this review, so I’ll end with this piece of wonderful Eagly art that Lar shared (remember to support Lar’s MS fundraising!).
Now you know,