'Peacemaker': James Gunn's 'The Suicide Squad' spin-off hits the ground running

After a hazardous escape from the building, Peacemaker wants answers about Project Butterfly…but he also wants a friend. Luckily, his old friend Vigilante offers a distraction.
John Cena's DC character Peacemaker gets his own spin-off in the latest Sky series (HBO Max/DC/Sky)

After what feels like an interminable wait, James Gunn's Peacemaker TV series is finally hitting the UK airwaves as the entire first season launches on Sky and NOW on Tuesday, 22 March.

Gunn is regarded as somewhat of a movie making maverick: a Troma director who turned the tables on Hollywood by tearing up the rule book. With Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy he turned Chris Pratt into a movie star, put Bradley Cooper inside a raccoon, and opened up the MCU to the cosmos. Then by crossing the rubicon to reboot The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros., he restored a lightness of touch to the DCEU.

He's now bringing his trademark dark humour and witty repartee to the small screen. The question is, whether or not this red band rated comic book splatter fest pays off, in an industry reaching saturation point.

Read more: James Gunn gets candid about Disney firing

Thankfully, early indications feel favourable, as this limited series consistently gets it right for all the wrong reasons.

Watch: Watch the opening titles for Peacemaker

With an opening title sequence that will go down in history, Peacemaker hits the ground running and never lets up. This show is gloriously insane from every conceivable angle, while John Cena holds court in the centre of this maelstrom, taking the definition of lunkhead to another level. Whether that means hugging an eagle, dancing around an apartment in his under crackers, or battling pint sized adversaries in green spandex, he remains a legend.

Aided immensely by some of the best dialogue James Gunn has ever written (Gunn writes every episode, and directs five out of the eight episodes), Peacemaker is fold-in-half funny, allowing John Cena to come across like some sort of comedic savant.

His meathead demeanour and clueless disregard for others, allows him to deliver deadpan putdowns with bone dry precision. Coupled with an innate physicality, carried over from his wrestling days, he is also a natural when it comes to slapstick comedy.

Peacemaker - Key Art (JPEG)
John Cena's Peacemaker was a highlight of The Suicide Squad (HBO Max/Sky)

Being beaten up, beaten down or careening off third floor balconies, there are few actors who make it look so painfully funny. A fact which wrong foots audiences and gives writer director James Gunn room for censorship baiting scenarios. Even so, with white supremacist superheroes, pint sized Green Hornets and graphic violence throughout, Peacemaker was never going to be subtle.

Elsewhere amongst the supporting cast, Jennifer Holland chalks up some serious points in the arse kicking department as Emilia Harcourt. Fending off unwanted advances and reducing male colleagues to ashes with her alpha female antics. Steve Agee’s John Economos is equally cynical, bearing the burden of a running gag and trading insults with Peacemaker at every opportunity. Chukwudi Iwuji’s Clemson Murn cuts an equally dour figure, as head of this infiltration unit, charged with babysitting our hero on a daily basis.

After the events from The Suicide Squad film, Peacemaker (JOHN CENA)
makes a miraculous recovery and returns home, only to realize that his freedom
comes at a price in the series premiere.
Peacemaker has a memorable opening credits (HBO Max/Sky)

Defined by their indifference to each other and anyone else, this undercover team are the most mismatched group of experts imaginable, who are ironically there to help. Over the course of this staggeringly inventive series, Peacemaker trades sarcastic asides with each one, garnering verbal abuse and grudging respect in equal measure. A bond which strengthens over time, even as the quota of carnage and slapstick violence begins to escalate.

Elsewhere, Freddie Stroma gives Cena a run for his money as Adrian Chase, an underwhelming superhero sidekick who feels like a cut price Deadpool. Perpetually complaining about his lot in life, or suffering at the hands of nefarious foes, their dynamic is crucial in keeping audiences engaged. As the series progresses not only do Stroma and Cena keep up the comedy quota, but they also allow room for some unexpected pathos, which cuts through those more outlandish plot points.

Watch: Everything you need to know about Peacemaker so far

There is also the matter of Robert Patrick on ball busting form, as Auggie the father figure from hell, who helps define our hero in the helmet. Their relationship and its complexities are where this show feels most awkward, as the Terminator 2 star portrays him with few redeeming features. Tyrannical, overbearing and dismissive throughout, his performance is possibly the most challenging. However, it is a measure of the actor that Auggie retains his humanity, in spite of overwhelming odds.

Read more: Dave Bautista quitting shirtless scenes

Beyond the complex performances and plain crazy plot lines, what carries Peacemaker forward is an undeniable sense of style. James Gunn makes bold choices, both in terms of dialogue and character progression, which intentionally push the boundaries of good taste.

Much of this is made possible by a leading man who walks the line between male chauvinism and clueless indifference effortlessly. A performance which allows Peacemaker so much leeway when it comes to comedy, that they can do anything they like.

The team sets off on their first mission to assassinate the Senator, but the job goes sideways thanks to the arrival of Vigilante, Judomaster and Peacemaker’s newfound conscience.
Peacemaker has already aired on HBO Max in North America (HBO Max/Sky)

With a second season already announced, Peacemaker’s popularity on one side of the pond has at least confirmed what many may have suspected: writer-director James Gunn has pulled off the impossible again, delivering a landmark show with lashings of inappropriate humour and a legend in the lead role.

On this evidence alone, audiences best prepare themselves for the second coming of John Cena.

Peacemaker launches on Sky and NOW on 22 March.

Watch a behind-the-scenes tour below.