I’ll admit it… I am a John Cena fan. Not just the actor that everyone knows today. Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Cena got his start in professional wrestling. I remember seeing him as a baby-faced indie wrestler going by the name, The Prototype. Then he got his WWE contract, working his way up the mid-card ranks. His career almost ended there, had it not been for a certain Stephanie McMahon hearing his improv rapping skills.
That gave Cena the idea to stretch his creative muscles, repackaging his wrestling character as the Doctor of Thuganomics, and strap a rocket to his career. Years later, much like The Rock, John Cena is a household name due to this popularity.
When I watched The Suicide Squad last year, I was thoroughly pleased with the work that James Gunn and crew had done with the DC comic franchise. The humor was crude at times but was done in a way that felt organic. Nothing felt forced or done simply for the sake of being edgy. John Cena’s Peacemaker character had a good mix of humor, child-like innocence and edginess without coming across as being overblown.
The drawn-out invasion of the mercenary camp in which Peacemaker and Bloodsport compete for the highest murder count was hysterical. John Cena made the character funny and tragic as if he was so indoctrinated in his self-appointed arbiter of peace that he would do everything in his power to follow his orders without question.
It was almost a reflection of the political landscape in the country, with people following party lines regardless of anything. I felt in The Suicide Squad as if Peacemaker hated himself for turning on his friends, but in the end, had to do what he was told would keep the peace. That internal conflict was palatable and real.
This is part of the reason I was excited to hear that Peacemaker was getting his own series on HBO Max. John Cena was a big reason that the character got over with fans like myself. The writing helped greatly, as well. Yeah, Peacemaker was brash, foul-mouthed and lacked tact, but it was almost like watching a kid learn curse words for the first time. They want to use as many as they can to sound cool. And that fits the Peacemaker character perfectly.
The first three episodes of Peacemaker are now available on HBO Max. Five months after the events of The Suicide Squad left him clinging to life, Peacemaker is discharged from the hospital. Returning to civilian life, he is met by Amanda Waller’s (Viola Davis) operatives: Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), Brooks (Leota Adebayo), Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and Economos (Steve Agee).
Peacemaker is given the choice of taking on a new assignment, dubbed Project Butterfly, or returning to prison. Taking the assignment, Peacemaker meets with his father (Robert Patrick), outfits him with several new weapons even after chastising his son for being a failure. Soon, Peacemaker takes on the role of hired assassin, chasing down “butterflies” at the discretion of Waller’s team.
On the outside, this sounds like a fine show. And for the most part, Peacemaker is a true comic book-inspired show. But, and I hate saying this, James Gunn failed this character in these first three episodes. All three episodes were written so badly, I had a hard time watching them.
I understand that cursing and being foul-mouthed is part of the character’s DNA, but it was like watching a Jay and Silent Bob flick.
The worst part is it felt so forced, like Cena was having to work extra hard to make it sound like he truly wanted to say some of the words. When the character is written correctly, the words should flow nicely. Forcing crude humor and language just for the sake of being seen as “hip” comes off fake. With this being a comic book character, I want it to feel real. The poor writing killed it for me.
Still, even with the bad writing, John Cena pulls off a pretty fun performance. His relationship with Harcourt, Murn, Brooks and Economos seems to be budding. And there is definitely a feeling of tension between father and son. Peacemaker has an internal struggle with wanting the love and respect of his dad, but at the same time hating the racist a-hole that he is. It’s truly gut-wrenching at times.
After just three episodes, I give Peacemaker two-and-a-half out of five stars. I am not giving up on the show just yet, as I have seen shows flounder many times during the first few episodes before the crew finds their footing.
Janes Gunn is a very talented writer and director. I know he will right this ship and my next review will be all about how this show is a glowing success.
Check out Peacemaker on HBO Max. New episodes stream every Thursday.