Peacemaker: Season 1

STREAMING REVIEW:

HBO Max;
Action;
Not rated.
Stars John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Robert Patrick, Annie Chang, Lochlyn Munro.

Writer-director James Gunn’s talent for blending obscure comic book references with subversive humor and strong character dynamics is on full display in “Peacemaker,” a fantastic series that pulls no punches when it comes to deconstructing its source material.  

Spinning off from the end credits scene of The Suicide Squad, “Peacemaker” focuses on the title character played by John Cena, an expert marksman who promises to kill anyone who stands in the way of peace. However, his recovery from the events of The Suicide Squad have led him to re-evaluate his vow just as he’s recruited for a new mission that will put it to the test.

For his new assignment, Peacemaker joins a team tasked with assassinating a U.S. senator who may be under the control of aliens known as Butterflies. He also finds his confidence shaken by the lack of approval of his father (Robert Patrick), a massive racist who blames him for the death of his brother when they were just kids.

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The eight-episode series mixes characters established in The Suicide Squad with some memorable new additions, most notably Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), a cold-blooded killer who idolizes Peacemaker, and Eagly, Peacemaker’s pet bald eagle.

“Peacemaker” is filled with Gunn trademarks, such as dialogue that steers into mundane yet hilarious topics, and a soundtrack of killer tunes, including the iconic opening credits dance sequence set to Wig Wam’s “Do You Wanna Taste It.”

The show’s harsh language and graphic violence make it strictly for adult viewers, with a tone akin to “The Boys” in that it steers fully into exploring the psychological flaws of its protagonists, who are not exactly paragons of society.

The central plot even steers into questions about justice and free will that make it ripe for philosophical and political analysis as it heads into a second season.

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The Suicide Squad

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/26/21;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $55.8 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Jai Courtney, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jennifer Holland, Sylvester Stallone, Dee Bradley Baker.

Writer-director James Gunn’s subversive follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad resets the franchise by embracing the absurdity inherent in comic book movies.

Like its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is based on the DC Comics series about a team of supervillains who are blackmailed into conducting black ops for the American government through the threat of an explosive chip in their head. The 2016 edition, while a financial success, was panned by critics and audiences after it was infamously re-edited by a trailer company into essentially a series of vignettes set to popular music, trying to capture some of the magic that made Guardians of the Galaxy work so well.

So, for the sequel, DC just brought in Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. The hire came shortly after Gunn was fired by Marvel over some questionable tweets in his past, only to be re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he’s working on now.

The Suicide Squad is just another example of why he’s such a good fit for these kinds of movies: a keen understanding of the source material, and a willingness to poke fun at it without undermining the credibility of the story. Here, Gunn assembles a team of some of the silliest comic book concepts ever created, gives their characters emotional depth, and makes it all work.

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This is one of the bloodiest comic book movies ever made, but also one of the funniest, with Gunn expertly finding the balance between the two extremes, beginning with an absolutely insane opening sequence that will leave audiences without a clue of what to expect from this movie.

The story involves the team heading to a tropical island to dispose of a top secret project before the new military dictatorship can expose U.S. involvement in its development. Idris Elba grounds the mission as Bloodsport, a weapons expert. He has a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other weapons expert, Peacemaker (John Cena), as they try to outdo each other running up the movie’s body count. With his earnest penchant for killing anything that stands in his way to achieve “peace,” Peacemaker would seem to be Gunn’s metaphor for American foreign policy (though Gunn found the character appealing enough to write an eight-episode TV spinoff about him, set to debut on HBO Max in 2022).

Other standouts on the team include King Shark, literally a walking, talking man-eating shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), who uses her deceased father’s technology to control the minds of rats; Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was experimented on by his mother with an interdimensional virus that gives him the power to expel dots of deadly energy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of the few holdovers from the first movie, along with team commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government agent who will detonate their heads if they disobey her.

Like the first movie, the sequel has plenty of songs, but thanks to Gunn, they are well integrated into the structure of the film, rather than seemingly played at random.

The Suicide Squad is fun, vibrant and visually distinctive like a graphic novel come to life, though its hard-‘R’ sensibilities may not appeal to everybody.

The Blu-ray edition of The Suicide Squad comes loaded with hours of insightful bonus material about the making of the film, including a good solo commentary with Gunn.

There are also about 17 minutes of deleted scenes that don’t amount to much, so it’s easy to see why they were cut.

Also included are three fun retro trailers done in the style of 1960s war movies, 1970s horror movies and 1980s buddy cop movies.

The regular Blu-ray Disc of the film contains all the extras. The 4K disc includes just the commentary and one featurette, a seven-minute breakdown of Harley Quinn’s violent escape sequence.

Originally published as a streaming review Aug. 9, 2021.