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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HBO Max Renews ‘Peacemaker’ for Second Season

HBO Max has renewed “Peacemaker” — written and directed by James Gunn and starring John Cena — for a second season.

The eight-episode first season of the DC spinoff series premiered on Jan. 13 and will have its finale on Feb. 17. 

Gunn will direct and write all episodes for season two.

“Peacemaker” debuted as the No. 1 new original streaming series for social engagement on Twitter across all of television and remains the No. 1 social show year to date across Max Originals on multiple social platforms, according to HBO Max.

The series follows the explosive escapades of the character that Cena reprises in the aftermath of Gunn’s 2021 film The Suicide Squad — a compellingly vainglorious man who believes in peace at any cost, no matter how many people he has to kill to get it.

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“The brilliance of James Gunn once again shines with ‘Peacemaker.’ He took this character, brought to life by the inimitable John Cena, and created an exceptional series that’s simultaneously thrilling, hilarious and heartfelt, showcasing the humanity beneath this team of misfits living in a superhuman world,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content for HBO Max, said in a statement. “As the first original DC show to have its series premiere on HBO Max, we are thrilled that the viewers agreed to give peace a f***ing chance.”

“Creating ‘Peacemaker’ has been one of the true highlights of my life, both professionally and otherwise, with John Cena and the incredible creative team around me, as well as our partners at HBO Max,” Gunn said in a statement. “To have something we all love so much be loved by the audience in turn has been a wonderful experience. I can’t wait for folks to see where Team Peacemaker goes in season two!”

“I am incredibly honored and humbled by the response to ‘Peacemaker’ and the experience of playing this character,” Cena said in a statement. “Thank you to James Gunn, Peter Safran, HBO Max, the crew, and my castmates who worked tirelessly to make this unforgettable series.”

In addition to Cena, the season one cast includes Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Jennifer Holland, Chukwudi Iwuji, Steve Agee and Robert Patrick. Gunn wrote all eight season one episodes and directed five, including the first. Gunn, Peter Safran and Matt Miller serve as executive producers on the series, with Cena as co-executive producer and Stacy Littlejohn as consulting producer.

Based on characters from DC, “Peacemaker” is produced by Gunn’s Troll Court Entertainment and The Safran Company in association with Warner Bros. Television.

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.

F9: The Fast Saga

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $173.01 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and language.
Stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron.

By continuing the trend of its predecessors, the latest entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is a contender for one of the most absurd movies of all time. In addition to the franchise’s repeated assaults on the laws of physics, F9 adds long-lost family members and yet another character’s return from the dead.

Marking the 20th anniversary of The Fast and the Furious, F9 is the 10th film in the franchise, but the ninth in the main storyline, with 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw being a spinoff. It also features the return to the director’s chair of Justin Lin, who previously directed the third through sixth entries. Lin had previously directed the 2002 crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow, which could be considered the unofficial 11th film in the franchise as it introduced the character of Han (Sung Kang), who went on to appear in all of Lin’s “FF” movies and makes his return here, bringing the franchise’s main arc full circle as it prepares for its finale.

The story finds Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) living in seclusion with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and son, but he’s called back into action when it turns out his brother, Jakob (John Cena) is the leader of a clandestine group trying to steal a device that can hack into every computer on the planet. So the usual “FF” gang reunites for another round of car chases, explosions and quips from Tyrese.

The screenplay injects some pathos into the mix by exploring the sibling relationship between Dom and Jakob, in the form of flashbacks to when they were teenagers and their father was killed in a race, for which Dom blames Jakob. The flashbacks account for the “saga” aspect of the title as the film tries to connect nearly every character and plot thread from all the earlier films.

Once upon a time, these were movies about thieves in a street racing gang before it became about international missions to save the world. Now the characters are basically acknowledging they’re in a movie, joking about how they always survive against impossible odds, and pointing out the structure of the plot as a reason to switch sides for a third-act swerve.

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The film’s home video editions include a director’s cut that runs about six minutes more and improves the movie with important character moments, as well as another scene in Cardi B’s cameo.

Lin provides a good commentary track in which he discusses his return to the franchise, his desire to provide some weight to whatever drama exists in the franchise’s margins, and hints at future revelations.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-and-a-half-minute gag reel and more than 70 minutes of comprehensive behind-the-scenes featurettes.

There’s also a three-and-a-half minute featurette on the “Justice for Han” movement that influenced the film, and the fun four-and-a-half-minute “John Cena: Supercar Superfan,” in which the wrestler-turned-actor shows off several high-performance cars, including some used in the film.

The 4K disc contains the same bonus content as the regular Blu-ray.

 

 

‘The Suicide Squad’ Available for Premium Digital Ownership Sept. 17, on Disc Oct. 26

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will make director James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad available for premium digital ownership starting Sept. 17, followed by a Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release Oct. 26.

Written and directed by Gunn, the film is based on the DC Comics series about imprisoned supervillains who are recruited by the U.S. government for covert operations, and have a bomb implanted in their heads that will explode if they don’t comply.

A sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad and the 10th film in the DC Extended Universe franchise, the film finds government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sending the team to infiltrate the island nation of Corto Maltese to eliminate a potentially dangerous weapon.

Among the recruits this time around are Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the sharpshooter Bloodsport (Idris Elba), the jingoistic Peacemaker (John Cena), team leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).

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The cast also includes Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney and Pete Davidson.

The Suicide Squad earned $54.7 million during a domestic box office run in which it was simultaneously available for streaming on HBO Max for a month.

The Blu-ray, DVD and 4K editions will include the featurette “The Way of The Gunn.”

The Blu-ray and 4K combo packs will also include a digital copy of the film and additional extras such as a commentary with Gunn; deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; “War Movie,” “Horror Movie” and “Buddy Cop” retro trailers; “It’s a Suicide Mission,” “My Guns Bigger Than Yours,” “Harley’s Great Escape” and “The Fall of Jotunheim” scene breakdowns; and the featurettes “Gotta Love the Squad,” “The Way of the Gunn,” “Starro: It’s a Freakin Kaiju!” and “Bringing King Shark to Life.”

A spinoff series about Cena’s Peacemaker character is set to debut on HBO Max in January.

‘F9: The Fast Saga’ Racing to Digital Sept. 7, Disc Sept. 21

F9: The Fast Saga, the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, will come out with a new director’s cut on digital Sept. 7 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 21 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film has generated more than $600 million worldwide.

The release features the original theatrical version, the director’s cut and more than an hour of exclusive bonus content, including a behind-the-scenes look at the stunts and cars and a gag reel.

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In the film, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) thought he’d left his outlaw life in the rear-view mirror, but not even he can outrun the past. When his forsaken brother Jakob (John Cena, Bumblebee) unexpectedly resurfaces as an elite assassin, the crew comes back together to help Dom confront the sins of his own past and stop a world-shattering plot.

Franchise veteran Justin Lin, who helmed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth installments of the series, returns to the director’s seat for F9.

F9 also stars returning franchise cast members Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster and Sung Kang, with Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron.

HBO Max Greenlights ‘Suicide Squad’ Spinoff Series ‘Peacemaker’ Starring John Cena

HBO Max ordered the production of eight episodes for new action-comedy series “Peacemaker,” starring actor and WWE superstar John Cena, reprising his character from the upcoming Warner Bros. movie, The Suicide Squad.

The movie’s writer-director, James Gunn, will write all eight episodes of “Peacemaker” and will direct multiple episodes, including the first. Gunn and The Suicide Squad producer Peter Safran will serve as executive producers of the series, with Cena as co-executive producer.

John Cena

Based on characters from DC Comics, “Peacemaker” is scheduled to begin production in early 2021, prior to Gunn beginning work on the next Disney/Marvel Studios Guardians of the Galaxy film.

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While details about “Peacemaker” are being kept under wraps, the series will explore the origins of the character that Cena will play in the upcoming film, a man who believes in peace at any cost — no matter how many people he has to kill to get it. The series will extend the world that Gunn is creating for The Suicide Squad movie, which is scheduled to be released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on Aug. 6, 2021.

“‘Peacemaker’ is an opportunity to delve into current world issues through the lens of this superhero/supervillain/and world’s biggest douchebag,” Gunn said in a statement.

Casey Bloys, chief content officer for HBO and HBO Max, said Gunn has the unique ability to create an expansive universe while also bringing to life the soul and wit of each character.

“We look forward to a deep dive into the world of ‘Peacemaker,'” Bloys said.

‘Dolittle’ Coming to Digital March 24, Disc — Including 4K — April 7

Dolittle will arrive on digital March 24 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand April 7 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Dr. Dolittle, a man who can talk to animals. The cast also includes the voice talents of Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Selena Gomez, John Cena and Tom Holland, among others.

After losing his wife, Dolittle he locks himself away behind the high wall of his manor but is forced to set sail on an epic adventure when the queen falls gravely ill. Helping Dolittle in search of a rare cure are his animal friends — including Chee-Chee (Malek), an anxious, self-conscious gorilla; Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), an enthusiastic but bird-brained duck; the bickering duo of cynical, neurotic ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani) and the polar bear Yoshi (Cena); and a headstrong parrot named Polynesia (Thompson).

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The film earned $161.7 million at the global box office.

The 4K disc includes HDR+.

Bonus features include:

  • “Talk to the Animals,” a peek at the fun the cast had giving each of the animals their unique voice;
  • “Robert Downey Jr. & Harry: Mentor and Mentee,” about the unique bond the two actors formed on-set, and how Downey took the film’s young co-star under his wing;
  • “Becoming the Good Doctor,” about how Downey transformed into the iconic Dolittle;
  • “Antonio Banderas: Pirate King,” in which Banderas discusses what attracted him to the project, his experiences working with Downey and what he brought to the role of King Rassouli;
  • “The Wicked Dr. Mudfly,” about the nefarious villain Dr. Blair Müdfly with Michael Sheen diving into his character’s motivations for being Dolittle’s foil; and
  • “A Most Unusual House,” about the unique rooms and modifications that allow Dolittle to house anyone or anything, big or small.

 

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Paramount Brings ‘Playing With Fire’ Home Digitally Jan. 21, on Disc Feb. 4

Paramount Home Entertainment will release the comedy Playing With Fire through digital retailers Jan. 21, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and on demand Feb. 4.

The movie stars John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key and John Leguizamo as a team of firefighters who rescue three siblings from a wildfire and find themselves unprepared for the task of babysitting them as they try to locate the children’s parents.

Playing With Fire earned $43.3 million at the domestic box office.

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Blu-ray and digital extras include deleted scenes; bloopers; the featurettes “Lighting up the Laughs,” “The Director’s Diaries: Read by Star Cast,” “What It Means to be a Family” and “The Real Smokejumpers: This Is Their Story”; and Cena as Capt. Jake reading a bedtime story with an amusing twist.

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Bumblebee

 BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/2/19;
Paramount;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $127.2 million;
$29.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $34.99. UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action violence.
Stars Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Glynn Turman, Len Cariou. Voices of Dylan O’Brien, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Peter Cullen.

It’s hard to deny that the five live-action “Transformers” films have just about worn out their welcome even among the most avid fans of the franchise and toy line on which it’s based. With the movies for the most part having devolved into spectacles of mind-numbing action, incomprehensible plotting, unrecognizable characters and a jumble of references to the iconic “Transformers” lore established in the old cartoons and comic books, it was clear a change in direction was in order.

Bumblebee, directed by stop-motion animation veteran Travis Knight, is just the creative spark the franchise needed to re-connect with the audience, returning to the basics of the brand’s premise without over-complicating the story with an abundance of jokey characters and a fetish for the military industrial complex.

As the sixth live-action “Transformers” film, Bumblebee could be seen as either a prequel to the other five, or as a reboot, depending on what direction producers decide to take it in the future. There are obvious references to the other films embedded throughout, so if further movies didn’t materialize then it plays pretty well as a prequel, with some mental gymnastics employed to explain away moments where the story seems to completely ignore what has been established in the earlier films.

It’s somewhat evident that an earlier iteration of the movie was meant to more closely align with Bay’s world, particularly since a comic book prelude released before the film depicts Bumblebee working with the British secret service in the 1960s, playing off his involvement in World War II in the fifth film. Bumblebee, on the other hand, shows him landing on Earth in 1987, which isn’t necessarily inconsistent, but raises a few questions. An alternate opening sequence — included among the Blu-ray’s 19 minutes of deleted scenes — is a bit more vague about Bumblebee’s arrival on Earth.

So, in the same vein as X-Men: First Class, it wouldn’t be surprising if future sequels didn’t bother connecting to the existing continuity, though, recently one of the film’s producers indicated future installments would lean more toward the Bay continuity after all.

Bumblebee plays like a throwback to a 1980s Steven Spielberg movie, while the story is somewhat of a gender-swapped version of the set-up to the 2007 film, in which Shia LeBeouf came across Bumblebee in a used-car lot.

Fleeing from the Decepticon conquest of his home planet of Cybertron, Bumblebee crashes on Earth and loses his memory. Having taken on the disguise of a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle, he is discovered in a junkyard by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a mechanically inclined rebellious teenager looking for meaning in her life following the sudden death of her father. She repairs Bumblebee and learns that he’s an alien robot with the ability to transform into a car. And he’s being pursued by the U.S. military and Decepticon bounty hunters. With Charlie’s help, Bumblebee starts to regain his identity enough to remember the mission given to him by Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to protect Earth from the Decepticons so the Autobots can use it as a base to regroup.

The film comes to life with seamless visual effects that look great on Blu-ray, and a soundtrack peppered with some of the top hits of the 1980s.

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The girl and her living car angle might also bring to mind Herbie: Fully Loaded, which itself was an attempt to freshen up a shopworn franchise. For the most part, though, Bumblebee offers up a good chunk of the kind of “Transformers” fun that fans have been waiting to see since the 1980s, particularly the battles on Cybertron.

The Blu-ray also comes with a mini-comic featuring Bumblebee’s next adventure, in which he tussles with another Decepticon who has come looking for him. One of the extras on the disc is a motion comic containing this story with an extended ending that more explicitly ties Bumblebee to the events of the first Bay movie.

The disc also contains 10 minutes of outtakes, a four-minute profile of various “Transformers” characters with their “Generation One”-inspired designs, and 47 minutes of decent behind-the-scenes featurettes.