TL;DR – There was a surprising amount of charm on show here but also an almost equal amount of frustration.
Disclosure – I paid for the Binge subscription that viewed this series
Post-Credit Scene – Each episode has an end credit scene
Peacemaker Review –
Recently my day-time contract ended, and I have a bit more time during the day to catch up on things I missed before starting my next one. In this catch-up mood, I wanted to look at things that I had heard good things about but still had questions about. The first thing on this list was Peacemaker, a spin-off of The Suicide Squad film, which I liked, but based around a character Peacemaker (John Cena) that I didn’t. I was interested to see just how that juxtaposition would work, which was intriguing.
So to set the scene, it has been months after the events on Corto Maltese, and Peacemaker has recovered enough to be let out of the hospital. Seeing as no one is there to take him back to prison, he takes the chance to run out of the hospital and back to his home, a trailer painted with the American flag. But of course, he was not free as members of A.R.G.U.S. black ops squad “Project Butterfly” drew their guns on him. They need a psychopath to stop the ‘butterflies’, and Peacemaker is perfect for the job, just as long as Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), daughter of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), can leave some incriminating evidence if the whole thing goes sideways. Now from here, we will be looking at the episode and season as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
The first thing I was to talk about is the production design because it excels in every way. I have seen a lot of digitally created animals before, from the realistic depictions in RRR to the more anamorphic in The Jungle Book. However, I have never seen it nailed as well as they do here. I know that Eagly (Dee Bradley Baker) is a digital construct, but so much work has gone into making it feel like a real character with emotions and personality. I am not sure that an eagle’s wings can hug a man as they show here, but I don’t care because that might have been one of the most touching moments I have seen all year. This same design strength can also be seen in the Butterflies’ design. They look utterly alien while also being something you could almost see flying around in a jungle somewhere. This is important because they must hold up in the extreme close-up, and they do, even that ‘cow’.
All the music works in the context of the show, and this is from someone who is not a hair metal fan. It worked because they directly incorporated it into the show’s narrative, with it hitting one of the core emotional points of the series, and yes, the opening title number was as good as everyone said. Also, the film’s visual look of being rundown, trying to pretend not to be rundown, was a visual reinforcement of the many of the characters’ emotional progression over the series. One thing I do want to highlight before we move on is all the outstanding work the stunt team did throughout the series. There are several large-scale action sequences throughout the series, and every action beat lands.
One of the most surprising things for me was how the show managed to have interesting character arcs for most of the main cast. Of the returning cast, we have Peacemaker, which was presented as nothing but a jingoistic prick. The rest, like Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and Economos (Steve Agee), didn’t have much to do than be the comedic backdrop in the film. However, as we go throughout the series, we see more nuanced performances as they grow. Harcourt became a leader, Economos found his courage, and Peacemaker, well, that is a more difficult question. I liked that while you get to see more of what formed Peacemaker’s life and the abuse that forged him and turned him into the prick he is, he is never absolved from what he did in the past. There is growth, but no false 180˚ shift in his personality, improvement, not absolution. I think this is helped by the positioning of his father, Auggie (Robert Patrick), as being a truly unrepentant white supremacist and a literal White Dragon. It is okay, in fact it is important, that some characters have no growth because that is real life. John Cena brings an impressive performance, where you can see him commit in every moment, even if not every part quite lands. There is a sheer force of will here that I am not sure many other actors could pull that off as convincingly.
Of the new characters, I liked the conflict Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) went through in the series. She is also dealing with the baggage of an intense parent that is used to manipulating people. Finding who she is in that world was one of the best currents running throughout the series. I am not quite sure what exactly Freddie Stroma was doing as Vigilante, but it weirdly worked. Like finding the line where you are okay with the character getting brutally tortured but would not want to see them die. On that front, Christopher Heyerdahl is always a delight, and I loved every moment of his weird performance. There is a solid supporting cast across the show, but I think the MVP for me was Annie Chang as Sophie Song. I loved her banter with Fitzgibbon (Lochlyn Munro) and the way she grew into the confidence needed to take down a meta-human when everything is against you.
However, talking about Song means we have to talk about my big frustration with the show, which stems from the plotline around the Butterflies. We learn pretty early that the Butterflies are like a body snatcher situation but with almost adorable alien insects. We then understand that they are so crucial that you need to kill kids to contain it, the worst kind of threat. But then the show spends much of the remaining runtime going back and forth about whether they are genuinely evil. Look, this might just be me, but once you have a threat that is so grave, you need to kill kids. Walking that back feels disingenuous. More than that, the show’s final act involves the Butterflies infecting Song and the other police, killing many of the characters that worked well, and then killing them again in the finale without any thought, even if that scene set to Reckless Love’s Monster was intense. They tried to undercut this a bit by having them act almost like zombies in sections, but then this just devalued the Butterflies as characters, and this does not even touch on the mess that was this show tackling climate change. I bring this up because not only did it impact the final episode for me, but every moment I found myself really vibing with the show, it was one of the things that would pull me out.
In the end, do we recommend Peacemaker: Season One? Well, first, I need to say that if you didn’t like the tone or the violence/sex/language of The Suicide Squad, then this will not be the show for you because it is the exact same tone and maybe a little more. If you did jive with the film and James Gunn’s work in general, then I would recommend checking this out.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Peacemaker
Directed by – James Gunn, Jody Hill, Rosemary Rodriguez & Brad Anderson
Written by – James Gunn
Created by – James Gunn
Based On – Characters created by DC
Production/Distribution Companies – The Safran Company, Troll Court Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, HBO & Foxtel/Binge
Starring – John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee & Robert Patrick with Annie Chang, Lochlyn Munro, Elizabeth Ludlow, Rizwan Manji, Nhut Le, Christopher Heyerdahl, Alison Araya, Lenny Jacobson, Antonio Cupo, Mel Tuck, Rochelle Greenwood, Zak Santiago, Neil Webb, Quinn Bennett, Liam Hughes, Veena Sood, Crystal Mudry, Dee Bradley Baker & Stephen Blackehart and Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Ezra Miller & Jason Momoa
Episodes Covered – A Whole New Whirled, Best Friends, For Never, Better Goff Dead, The Choad Less Traveled, Monkey Dory, Murn After Reading, Stop Dragon My Heart Around & It’s Cow or Never