I gotta admit; I’m really surprised to be writing any of this. I’ve seen … four James Gunn projects, I think? The two Guardians of the Galaxy movies and his Suicide Squad movie, which introduced Peacemaker as a character. I understand he’s in the comic books; if I’ve ever encountered him there, I don’t recall it. Most of Gunn’s projects have landed in the same spot in my head: that was entertaining, and I’m done thinking about it now. He tends to over-rely on music to drive his emotional beats forward, which it turns out is way more annoying if you’re watching with closed captions on so that all the lyrics appear on the screen, but that’s not a huge thing and it’s literally my only general gripe about his work.
Peacemaker is the best thing he’s ever done, and it’s not close, and — and this is the part where I’m really surprised to be writing this– it’s mostly because of John Cena’s literally unbelievable, as in “I don’t believe he’s really this good,” acting talents. I don’t know much about Cena, really; I know he (used to be?) a pro wrestler but that’s not something I really follow, and he made no particular impact on me in The Suicide Squad. But his charisma and his incredibly malleable face carry this show. I think the best thing to compare him to is Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool; it is so obvious that he loves playing this character that his enthusiasm is infectious and it carries through on every frame of the show that he’s in. He is not exactly surrounded by acting slouches– the only two I’m familiar with are Robert Patrick who has a grand old time playing Peacemaker’s racist-as-fuck evil supervillain father and the awesome Danielle Brooks playing Leota Adebayo, otherwise known as Amanda Waller’s daughter, but everybody is doing solid work here. Freddie Stroma, whose real name is Frederic Wilhelm C.J. Sjöström, is a particular standout as Vigilante, a character I’d be perfectly happy to see another spinoff for.
But back to Cena. He is playing a big dumb douchebag, and that’s probably being kind to the character. But he manages to play the big dumb douchebag in such a compelling fashion that not rooting for him is inconceivable, and he’s in control of himself enough that every time Peacemaker feels the slightest twitch of an emotion you pick up on it. I don’t think that I’ve ever said this about an actor before, but the ways he uses his eyes and his mouth to convey emotion are just amazing. I know that probably sounds weird, but watch the show. I swear, he’s doing something different here, and to find this performance in the middle of this violent, profane, shouty middle-school testosterone-fest of a comic book show is really something special. It’s getting to be very rare for me to make it through any kind of TV or movie nowadays; I regularly will watch an episode or two of something, proclaim it to be something I really like, and then never watch it again– so the fact that I was eagerly looking forward to watching the entire season is really worth reinforcing. If you have HBO Max, definitely check this out, and if you don’t have HBO Max, if you have any other reason to pick the service up for a month, go for it.