“Peace in our time” — that’s the catchphrase, right? Wrong! That comes from Marvel, and any comic book fan will be quick to tell you that there are worlds of differences between them and DC Comics, which now can add the HBO Max original series Peacemaker to its growing roster of live action adaptations. The show follows Christopher Smith, also known as Peacemaker, a star-spangled slaughterhouse of a man who begins the show with an unquestioning loyalty to his government superiors. As a whole, I think that the series filled its allotted eight episode run with the right blend of comedy, action and nods to the original source material. There is enough of each of these components for any fan to appreciate, and as a fan of the source material just as much as the live action adaptation, I greatly enjoyed the show’s attention to detail and faithfulness to the comics.
The greatest strength lies not in the bulging muscles of its main star, but in its humor, employing a quirky wit that has become a staple of James Gunn’s films. What worked so well in previous films such as Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad is once again widely prevelant in this series. Gunn has a certain knack for finding obscure comic book characters, casting actors to fit his vision and making you care about them while jamming out to a great soundtrack. Right from the bizarre opening credits, which feature actor Robert Patrick looking even more robotic on the dancefloor than he did in T2: Judgment Day, we know what to expect from this wonderful blend of old school campiness and modern truculence. Gunn and his crew don’t falter once in fulfilling their potential for this season.
To me, the most enjoyable character on the show was the eponymous Peacemaker himself, portrayed by WWE superstar John Cena. The professional wrestler has racked up several comedic roles in the last few years, although his performance here — a continuation of his breakout role in last summer’s aforementioned The Suicide Squad — stands heads above the rest. His complete lack of self-awareness makes him the butt of many jokes on the show, although it is within this sphere that he also shines in a more dramatic sense. Through flashbacks, the audience learns why he seems to be perpetually stuck in a hair metal-infused 80s nostalgia trip. While we might mock his goofy anachronistic references, once the trauma behind his character trait is revealed, one can’t help but feel sympathy for a man that was first introduced to us as a violently efficient agent of truth, justice and the American way.
Another standout character is the government liaison Leota Adebayo, played by Danielle Brooks. Her arc seemingly mirrors facets of Peacemaker’s own, in ways that are subtle enough to be appreciated, yet not too offhand in its delivery. Leota spends the season coming to terms with her mother, the cruel and impartial government agent, Amanda Waller. Likewise, Peacemaker is coping with the trauma that his own father, the white supremicist supervillain Red Dragon, has inflicted on him over the years. Both of these parents — one a literal supervillain and the other a tenebrous government official — have continued to cast nefarious shadows over their children’s lives.
The show is not all about proving parents wrong, though. While one might find it a tad excessive to have comic relief in a show that is already comedic in nature, Freddie Stroma’s Vigilante and Nhut Le’s Judomaster add just the right amount of camp to their scenes. Gone is the brooding and serious portrayal of Vigilante that fans were treated to on the Arrow TV series. In his place, this Adrian Chase represents a misguided and of course violent attempt at a superhero. Creator James Gunn described this version of Vigilante as “a guy who dresses up in a costume, and goes around and kills people he says are doing something wrong … he’s a sociopath, but he’s got this sort of sweet aspect to him.” This works because the show really doesn’t have a lot of room for the dark and brooding types. Likewise, the Judomaster character shines as a semi-disposable villain with just enough funny fight scenes to make him relevant, but not overstay his welcome.
This series is what DC Comics needed from their live action adaptations. While there were many issues with Joss Whedon’s handling of the Justice League movie, the intent to insert humor into what is generally thought of as Marvel’s depressing counterpart is not unfounded. From Superman killing his enemy to Batman using guns, DC needed something lighthearted and fun. While this story deals with complex themes, it also brushes past them with fart jokes and eagle hugs. It might not be the “peace in our time” that we deserved, but it was the Peacemaker we wanted.
Tom Sandford is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].