Peacemaker (John Cena) is back in action. Photo courtesy of HBO Max
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The Peacemaker TV series on HBO Max is exactly what fans might expect from a James Gunn created streaming show about John Cena's character from The Suicide Squad. Peacemaker gives those fans what they want, if few surprises, at least in the early episodes.
The show begins with a recap of the events of The Suicide Squad. Viewers who stayed through the movie's credits saw Chris Smith (Cena) alive in the hospital. The beginning of Peacemaker confirms the injuries he suffered in the movie were minimal, but Smith is still a wanted prisoner from Belle Reve prison.
So, to stay out of Belle Reeve, Smith must resume his Peacemaker anti-heroics. He'll have to work with Suicide Squad director Amanda Waller's (Viola Davis in the movie) assistants, including Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), John Economos (Steve Agee), Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) and Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). Peacemaker doesn't work well with others but that's part of the fun.
The Peacemaker series feels mostly like the Suicide Squad comedy scenes without the big action of a $100 million studio blockbuster. Politically incorrect is a generous way to describe Smith/Peacemaker. He's homophobic, racist and sexist, but give Gunn credit for finding clever new ways for the main character to express his very wrong opinions.
The dialogue is full of non sequiturs and irreverence towards the cliches of superhero missions. Characters also insult other DC heroes like Aquaman and Batman liberally.
Harcourt and Economos get more screen time in one episode than they had in the entire movie. Harcourt especially represents women in the world of macho, chauvinistic superheroes. She's still outnumbered, but it appears she will be the heart of the show. Peacemaker isn't in any hurry to teach Smith the error of his ways, though, but hopefully Harcourt is there to remind the audience Smith is wrong. Perhaps Adebayo will too once she's relieved of exposition duties.
Gunn adds a bit of drama and it mostly works at the right moments to deflate the absurd comedy. When he lets Peacemaker get sympathetic, the show can't quite figure out if it wants to be sincere or stay irreverent, or whether either choice works in the world Gunn built. At least there are occasional pauses in Peacemaker's bravado, even if they don't quite evolve into full vulnerability.
Like The Suicide Squad and his Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Gunn gave Peacemaker an awesome soundtrack, sometimes even with an accompanying dance number. Hopefully future writers and directors can keep his playlist going. In the early episodes Gunn wrote and directed, he appropriately uses hair metal to score Smith's antics, and not the usual top 10 '80s bands. He found some deep cuts that capture the vibe of Peacemaker and bring some attention to worthy artists.
When it comes to the action, the fights are a lot more frenetic than in The Suicide Squad. There's no graceful martial arts like Harley Quinn executed in the film. But, even if it's not fair to compare a TV series to a movie, Peacemaker's action falls a notch below the likes of The CW's Arrowverse superhero shows. Fight scenes are not as clear or epic as The CW pulls off weekly in several superhero shows. However, on HBO Max, the fights are punctuated by the absurd violence that computer generated visual effects allows.
Cena and Gunn are clearly having fun finding new ways for Peacemaker to be naughty. The extra time afforded a weekly series allows the supporting characters a chance to grow, too. If The Suicide Squad wasn't for you, neither will Peacemaker be, but fans of the movie shouldn't object to the series continuation.
Peacemaker premieres Jan. 13 on HBO Max.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.