The DC Extended Universe has seen a rejuvenation of sorts as of late. After a string of less-than-stellar films and the fallout from the departure of Zack Snyder, movies like “The Suicide Squad” and “Shazam!” have showcased the universe beginning to relax. “Peacemaker,” the spinoff series of the aforementioned “The Suicide Squad,” perfectly continues this trend, balancing violence with raunchy humor and genuinely heartfelt performances.
Set after his “death” at the end of “The Suicide Squad,” the titular Peacemaker (reprised by John Cena) is tasked with a new mission: stop an alien species called the Butterflies from eradicating humanity.
The plot, although simple, is bolstered by excellent acting across the board, as Peacemaker and his band of misfits work desperately to stop the impending threat. Yes, the team may be a simple set of conflicting personalities, but the interactions between members are a joy to behold. As viewers get to know Harcourt, Economous, Murn, Adebayo, Vigilante and Peacemaker they will fall in love with each character’s story, as James Gunn creates a powerful sense of empathy between the viewer and the screen.
Ironically, all these heartfelt moments contrast hilariously amidst the violence, which “Peacemaker” has plenty to serve. At its heart, it’s an action show, and through fierce gunplay — along with other necessary weapons — the crew tears through waves of villains in a gory fashion.
Yet, these characters are not just emotionless psychopaths — at least, not most of them. They are humanly scarred individuals whose subplots don’t always justify their actions, but do create a context.
This serves to be the show’s greatest strength. Where many other series showcase mindless and unnecessary action, “Peacemaker” aims for a form of realism (yes, realism in a comic book show with aliens) not often seen in the genre.
Much like “The Suicide Squad,” no character is safe. While these characters don’t drastically alter the rest of the DCEU, the aforementioned connection developed between audience and character allows for devastating emotional blows when characters are killed or go through traumatic moments.
Most impressively of all, the show still finds ways to be unapologetically funny no matter the mood of the scene. Dark and brood moments can be interrupted by a hilarious reference or gag, while not taking away from the scene’s tone. The ability to produce laughs in all forms is one of Gunn’s greatest strengths, as he delivers an unfiltered product that truly is his own vision.
A killer soundtrack is another staple of Gunn’s work. As unconventional as ever, the series (exclusively available to stream on HBO Max) is equipped with a variety of little-known rock songs, which always fit the mood to an astronomical extent.
Whether it be the bombasticity of the show’s title sequence to Wig Wam’s equally explosive “Do Ya Wanna Taste It” or a rather emotional moment to the tune of Faster Pussycat’s “House of Pain,” the soundtrack hits all the right notes, making the series all the better for it.
Perhaps one of its most exciting qualities is the series’ unflinching effort at tearing down expectations and norms of masculinity, particularly in Peacemaker’s story arc. Conflict with the White Dragon — Peacemaker’s bigoted father — presents the audience with a chance to watch the protagonist grow to accept and love himself for what he is, while still reminding them of just how twisted his mind is.
This complicates Peacemaker’s character, helping to redeem and humanize him despite his actions in “The Suicide Squad,” and portray him as more than what Cena in August described as a “douchey Captain America” when discussing the role.
While it may not reinvent the wheel, “Peacemaker” comes as close as anything can these days to doing so. A true display of work greater than the sum of its parts, this is an excellent sign for the future of the DCEU if management can continue to let its creatives stretch their legs.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.