Peacemaker First Reviews: The Suicide Squad Spinoff Series Is 'A Lot of James Gunn Fun,' Critics Say

John Cena reveals a softer side to his The Suicide Squad villain in a rollicking spin-off series that dials up the raunchy humor, while leaving some characters and story feeling under-developed.

by | January 4, 2022 | Comments

Peacemaker, the upcoming spinoff series of James Gunn’s 2021 feature film The Suicide Squad, follows an unlikely protagonist: John Cena’s brooding, potty-mouthed, muscle-bound super-patriot Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker. His modus operandi is to maintain peace, no matter the cost. So, basically, he kills a lot of people. For America.

Gunn wrote every episode and directed five, and the first three premiere on HBO Max on Thursday, January 13.

Peacemaker season 1 key art (HBO Max)

(Photo by HBO Max)

Directly following the events of the movie, Peacemaker is recruited out of prison by a shadow government group to hunt down a mysterious threat to America. Joining him on this bonkers mission is a rag-tag group of heroes (?) including Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), John Economos (Steve Agee), Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), and, of course, Freddie Stroma’s unhinged, yet extremely likable, Vigilante. Robert Patrick makes a few appearances as Peacemaker’s abusive dad Auggie Smith.

This is James Gunn’s first time running a television show of this magnitude, and the buzz is certainly high. But does his small-screen The Suicide Squad sequel save the day? Here’s what critics are saying about Peacemaker season 1:

How does it fit into DC’s cinematic universe?

Peacemaker series cast is led by John Cena (far right)

(Photo by Katie Yu/HBO Max)

Even for comic-book geeks, the crush of winking jokes and coy references to more respectable quadrants of the DC universe begin to feel overdone, narrowing the project’s appeal. – Brian Lowry,

But like its comrade in HBO Max weirdness Doom Patrol, Peacemaker takes a fundamentally irreverent approach to the superhero genre as a whole and to DC Comics in particular. Peacemaker claims that Superman has a poop fetish and name-checks obscure comics characters like Bat-Mite and Matter-Eater Lad. Where Disney+ shows like Loki are cogs in a much larger Marvel storytelling machine, Gunn seems to have been left alone in his own filthy corner of the DC universe. – Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

While the end result isn’t flawless, the first seven episodes make up for it by being violent, endearing, and absurdly entertaining, all while showcasing the untapped potential of TV that is set within the main DC Extended Universe. – Jenna Anderson,

Argue all you want, about what’s been seen on Disney+ so far (and the less said about the embarrassing DC/The CW, the better), but “Peacemaker” does not make a case for its main character’s existence beyond the big screen, let alone as the front and center lead. – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

How is John Cena’s performance?

John Cena in Peacemaker Season 1 - Episode 2

(Photo by HBO MAX)

By now it’s not a surprise that Cena is a gifted comic actor — more versatile and game than Dwayne Johnson, even if the Rock’s magnetism is undeniable — and Gunn (who writes and/or directs most of the episodes himself) leans on his star’s verbal gifts as much as his physical ones. – Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

While Cena already brilliantly made Smith his own in The Suicide Squad, the unembarrassed dimension he is able to bring to the series never ceases to be mesmerizing to watch. In a way, this series feels like the unintentional culmination of Cena’s entire career — as a wrestler, as an action-movie star, as a comedic actor, and even as a commercial spokesman. – Jenna Anderson,

James Gunn clearly delights in challenging likability, and his greatest weapon is Cena. There is no hesitation or fear in his performance. Cena throws himself into Christopher Smith with a theater kid’s energy, growing impossibly larger in his already impossibly large frame. He fills his character to its edges, never shrinking even when the scene might intellectually call for it, but Cena is smart enough to ignore the inclination. – Brad Gullickson, Film School Rejects

What about the rest of the cast?

The most compelling among them is Leota Adebayo, played by Danielle Brooks, who joins Peacemaker’s new crew led by Clemson Murn (a dryly humorous Chukwudi Iwuji) and finds herself in an unexpected position to somewhat wrangle him but also witness him at some of his most vulnerable moments. – Carly Lane, Collider

Perhaps the biggest, most interesting casting surprise here is Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase aka Vigilante, a comic book character who has been reconceived here as… well, as he never has been before. A kill-happy and sometimes whiny dork, he is as far removed as can be from the Dashing Hunk Persona that Stroma previously honed on UnREAL and Bridgerton, and because of that his scenes with his hero, Peacemaker, are a reliable hoot. – Matt Webb Mitovich, TV Line

The ensemble cast fill but don’t transcend the character types they’ve been assigned — the tech-y nerd, the lady badass, the no-nonsense leader — though Danielle Brooks does succeed in flooding the picture with warmth whenever she’s onscreen as a conflicted newbie. – Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter

How are the action sequences?

Nhut Le in Peacemaker Season 1 - Episode 3

(Photo by HBO MAX)

Each episode features at least one absurdly choreographed fight scene, whether it’s the lumbering Peacemaker struggling against the diminutive but quick Judomaster (Nhut Le), or Peacemaker getting some graphically violent assistance from his pet eagle/best friend, Eagly (a marvelous CGI creation). It is not a show for the faint of heart, though Gunn and his collaborators frequently manage to make the gore part of the joke. – Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

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. – Fred Topel, United Press International

The violence ends up being a different kind of visceral tone from The Suicide Squad’s bloody deaths and hot dog–style dismemberings, especially when juxtaposed with the mundane rural setting of the show, but the result is still impactful and feels like a natural evolution from Gunn’s days working in horror. – Jenna Anderson,

Does James Gunn’s writing and directing deliver the goods?

Filmmaker Gunn wrote all eight episodes and directed five (including the premiere), and his no-holds-barred style is on full display here. The language can get downright raunchy, the insults are crude (and at times racist), the violence is messy, and skin (other than Cena’s jacked torso) is occasionally on display. That makes for a rolicking premiere that mixes a dash of exposition with copious amounts of quips and action. – Matt Webb Mitovich, TV Line

There are intermittent shining moments, briefly-glimpsed reminders of how Gunn can also thrive in the earnest elements within exaggerated, comic book-rooted comedy — and of course, the soundtrack undeniably slaps. – Carly Lane, Collider

And again, this entire series is on-brand for James Gunn. DC gave him a playground and he takes full advantage of it! – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Like so much else of creator James Gunn’s work in the super-something realm, the series is equally interested in provoking giggles at exploding heads or dick jokes as it is in wringing tears for its poor tragic weirdos. And while it more or less succeeds on both counts, it struggles to stand out in a sea of other superhero content doing much the same thing — often at the hands of Gunn himself. – Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter

The series is very much a James Gunn endeavor. It’s aggressively profane and sophomoric, ridiculously violent, and every part of its construction was undoubtedly stitched together with giggles. Underneath its proud irreverence is sorrow and a confused protagonist struggling with immense regret, desperate for affection. – Brad Gullickson, Film School Rejects

Any final thoughts?

John Cena, Steve Agee, Danielle Brooks, Chukwudi Iwuji HBO MAX Peacemaker Season 1 - Episode 3

(Photo by HBO Max)

Peacemaker, if you can stomach the title character’s lunkheaded views (and temporarily forgive if not forget his actions in The Suicide Squad), is a lot of James Gunn fun. – Matt Webb Mitovich, TV Line

“Peacemaker” doesn’t exactly miss, at least for those predisposed to buy into it. But even allowing for that, and Gunn’s shotgun approach to comedy, nor does it completely find its target. – Brian Lowry,

But what makes Peacemaker such an interesting and compelling character is his unrepentant awfulness, and the series choosing to back-pedal on what could be considered his defining traits only makes for an aggressively fine follow-up. – Carly Lane, Collider

If The Suicide Squad wasn’t for you, neither will Peacemaker be, but fans of the movie shouldn’t object to the series continuation. – Fred Topel, United Press International

Even in a wildly oversaturated market for tales of hypermuscular men and women punching their way to justice, Peacemaker stands out. You’ll wanna taste it, even the parts that are in incredibly bad taste. – Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

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