Stars: John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Robert Patrick & Annie Chang.
Director: James Gunn
Review by Damocles.
I trust James Gunn. He speaks an universal language.
When it comes to James Gunn projects, I can expect a lot of things. Gruesome kills with plenty of gore, touching emotional moments with wounded characters, weird sci-fi shit, a cute animal and a banging score.
Peacemaker: Season 1 delivers on all those fronts. After seeing the character of Peacemaker in 2021’s The Suicide Squad and Cena’s enthusiasm for the role, I couldn’t help but be curious about the show. The moment I heard Gunn was on board to direct and write most of the 8 episodes, I knew that I had to watch it.
Ever since The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it’s been impossible for me to hate any of Gunn’s work. He has such an arresting and charismatic stylistic direction behind the camera that captures a very vivid imagination and a killer ear.
I’m just a big fan of his work and I adore the escapism that his films offer to so many people.
Peacemaker is one of those shows that demonstrate how, in spite of the smaller budget, scale and setting, the talent of a film-maker will always shine through and put an emphasis on other areas.
With an 8 episode format, Gunn was allowed freedom to really explore every character and flesh them out, as well allow them to bounce of each other in ways that wouldn’t be allowed in a 2 hour film. All of the cast are quite vividly realised and you really get to empathise and sympathise with them over the course of the show.
That has always been TV’s greatest asset. You get more scenes with the characters you like, the ability to believe in their inherent traits becomes more natural and you’re always excited to see them again. These characters become more like friends, whilst their movie counterparts are more like heroes you idolise.
But then, the issue becomes about pace. How do you keep your audience engaged throughout the whole run-time? This is where some shows like The Mandalorian: Season Two (2020) can really falter if there isn’t a real precise story that keeps the narrative running at an even pace.
Fortunately, Peacemaker doesn’t run into that issue. Gunn is able to keep himself on track, whilst positively indulging in some of his favourite film-making excess. The jokes are rampant throughout the series, without taking away from emotional moments and as always Gunn blend fun action scenes with a practiced eye that doesn’t sacrifice visual clarity for dynamic camera movements.
But this show is as much Gunn as it is John Cena. His performance in the show is dramatic and wide-ranging. He throws himself into the character so completely, that he somehow make an inherently douchebag character likable and relatable. Cena’s dramatic range is on full display in this show and there isn’t anything he can’t sell. From hilarious monologues, to improvised lines, Cena’s charisma and commitment to the role is commendable and worth watching.
The cast that surrounds him, is equally deft and fun. Brooks’ Adebayo is a wonderful surrogate for the audience, her character development and sanity among all the insanity, an useful narrative tool to discover the world as well as offering some intriguing critiques on the comic book world. Steve Agee’s performance as Economos is oddly touching and wonderfully compelling for someone like me, who have always sided with the nerds and their daily struggles.
But it is Robert Patrick and Freddie Stroma, as the White Dragon and Vigilante respectively that really made the show fun and electric.
I don’t know how to make a character so despicable, yet intelligent, but Patrick plays the White Dragon with aplomb and a menace that I didn’t think was possible. I loved that there were no redeeming him, that he remained the same cruel, twisted figure. Whilst it could be one-dimensional, I thought Patrick gave him depth by being wily and oddly understandable, through his cruel actions to his son.
What can be said about Stroma’s portrayal of Vigilante that hasn’t been lauded everywhere? He steals every scene he is in, with his naive psychopathy and mirror to the worst of Peacemaker’s excess. His jokes, energy and insanity is reminiscent of Deadpool, only a bit more nuanced and less obnoxious. This is a much more intriguing character study into psychopathy than it is meant to be some over the top joke. So much of his presence comes across as slightly unsettling and tone-deaf, thus adding to his hilarity value without resorting to fourth wall breaks.
From a technical standpoint, Peacemaker is a well-executed show. There are no real stand-out cinematic moments, after all, it is a TV show, but everything is framed nicely and I particularly liked the overall setting of suburban Americana. There is something telling about how the entire show takes place in a quiet American setting, with a lot of forests, car-parks, cheap motels and trailer parks, that give the whole Butterfly plot a strange unsettling feeling.
I will also say that I appreciated how well-executed the VFX/CGI effects are. Eagly is beautifully realised, as are the butterflies and the “cow.” It shows how you can still create an effective alien invasion whilst working to the limits of the budget. The gore is also hilariously over the top and gruesome, which is exactly how I like it.
But by far my favourite element of the show is the heavy inclusion of metal music.
As a relatively passionate metalhead, I was blown away by the consistently excellent choices Gunn made in picking metal music for scenes. The 44 songs that Gunn has hand-picked for the entire series are an incredible playlist that covers classic metal songs to more obscure Swedish glam-rock and hair metal. And it works as a beautiful cohesive score that showcases both Peacemaker’s taste and how he expresses himself in more tragic moments.
I mean, any series that features super obscure bands like The Hellacopters or BAND-MAID (who I have been an avid fan of since they first arrived on the scene) has to have excellent taste in music and the fact that Gunn made the opening of the show a dance number to Do Ya Wanna Taste It by Wig Wam reassured me that this series was going to be as fun as it gets.
Overall, I had so much fun with this series, and was actively looking forwards to the next episode every single week. It was everything I’m sure Gunn and Cena wanted the series to be; funny, tragic, outlandish and ultimately a good time watching a ridiculous superhero concept with a banger score.
A scene to recall: I don’t think I’ve ever seen something as equally epic, tragic, horrifying and beautifully badass as the scene when Sophie-Goff enters the station, her butterfly army taking over everyone to the song: Monster by Reckless Love. My jaw was on the floor.