By: Emma Best, Peak Associate
Content warning: mentions of sexual harrassment in the second to last paragraph.
When James Gunn’s rendition of The Suicide Squad was released in theatres last August, it was surprising to hear that the first DC Extended Universe (DCEU) tie-in show would be about John Cena’s character, Peacemaker. The show was filmed in January 2021, a risky move considering audiences had yet to meet the character. However, it’s clear the risk paid off.
Peacemaker, and the rest of The Suicide Squad, are drenched in Gunn’s signature humour, vulgarity, and violence, now at an all time high with an R-rating and no Disney censors. The film combines an expertly curated soundtrack with a team of deep cut, lesser known comic book characters. Along with some returning fan favourites, The Suicide Squad brought vibrant colours to the typically dark and drab DCEU. The Peacemaker limited series is no different.
Despite the connections to the greater DCEU as a whole, Peacemaker stands boldly on its own. Without relying too heavily on pre-existing knowledge of DC Comics, the show allows new fans to enjoy it as it is: a funny yet heartwarming television show about found family. The fact that it takes place in a world where superheroes exist is merely a plus.
This isn’t all that surprising as Gunn achieved a similar feat when he brought The Guardians of the Galaxy to the screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gunn is known for taking obscure comic book characters and creating fun, character-driven stories. In Peacemaker, it’s still obvious the story takes place in the DCEU, but the setting and context never steal the focus from the characters and their own conflicts.
Peacemaker places the titular character, Christopher Smith, into a black ops team working to stop an army of parasitic aliens called “butterflies.” Smith must also fight his own personal parasite — his abusive, racist, homophobic father, Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), who takes on the white supremacist supervillain moniker, White Dragon.
Peacemaker might be an abrasive anti-hero who loves peace so much he’s willing to kill for it, but as we explore his past, we learn more about him. There is a complicated trail of adhering to some of his father’s beliefs. Smith soon comes to realize just how much of his father he has absorbed into his Peacemaker persona, and begins to reject his father, as well as the attitudes that show up in the way he talks to others and himself.
This development of Peacemaker is done primarily through the relationships he develops with his fellow team members. They all grow closer as the series goes on. This is done particularly well through the friendship between Peacemaker and Leota Adebayo. At first glance, she and Peacemaker are opposites. However, as the series goes on, it’s clear they have things in common. Adebayo’s foil to Peacemaker allows both of them to evolve throughout the show’s eight episodes, whether as a result of self-revelations or seeing an eagle hug a human.
While Peacemaker is a silly show that balances dick jokes with heavier, character-driven moments, it’s important to also recognize Gunn’s problematic past. It’s difficult to praise Gunn’s work considering his series of offensive tweets about pedophelia and sexual assault, which were unearthed in 2018.
Though Gunn has apologized, his continual success in filmmaking demonstrates the issue of visibly white men being treated with leniency. Peacemaker’s stellar cast and punchy writing are remarkable, but they shouldn’t distract from the larger conversation about representation in Hollywood.