James Gunn’s Freak Flag Flies Too High

James Gunn needs creative constraints. Under the famously restrictive thumb of Marvel, he produced one of the MCU’s best and funniest films with Guardians of the Galaxy. But when he’s free to let his freak flag fly, well, it flies high and it flies freaky. His sense of humor is weird and it’s gross (it got him fired, temporarily, from the MCU), and apparently he’s been given much more freedom at DC. I noted in my review of The Suicide Squad that Gunn often tried too hard to be edgy, and the jokes coame across as awkward rather than transgressive. Such is also the case in his latest DC project, Peacemaker—now streaming on HBO Max—a TV show that shows promise at every turn, only for Gunn’s bizarre sense of humor to ruin it time and time again.

John Cena stars as Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker, a trained killer who is dedicated to achieving peace, “no matter how many men, women, and children” he has to kill to get it. Following the events of The Suicide Squad, Smith’s belief in his mission is shaken and he no longer wants to kill, but he’s dragged into a black-ops mission targeting humans whose bodies have been turned into hosts for aliens. Together with a rag-tag team of covert specialists, Smith is tasked with hunting down these aliens before they can achieve world domination.

Cena brings such heart and earnestness to the role that it’s tough  to dislike the character, even as he spouts one crass line after another. One can only imagine what he could have done if he’d been given better dialogue. Robert Patrick provides a fascinating and frightening performance as Smith’s racist father, Auggie, who used to be the head of the Aryan Brotherhood and was a supervillain named White Dragon. The choice to make Peacemaker’s father a white supremacist is original to the show, and seems like an opportunity for commentary about the sins of fathers and maybe even America’s racist past, but the show passes up such opportunities almost entirely. 

Chukwudi Iwuji gives a stand out performance as Clemson Murn, a mercenary with a secret who is now trying to do something good with his life by leading the mission to stop the aliens. And Danielle Brooks’ Leota Adebayo serves as the heart of the show, with Brooks giving a heartwarming performance as the daughter of the most dangerous woman in the world trying to escape her mother’s shadow. 

The basic storyline of the show is excellent, and that plus the aforementioned performances have been enough to keep me watching. But I still occasionally feel like I’m wasting my time. The script often reads like the writers’ room includes middle school boys who just discovered swearing and sex. Gunn is clearly trying to create the DC version of Deadpool, but can’t quite figure out how to land the same kind of rapid-fire R-rated dialogue that Ryan Reynolds gave as the Merc with a Mouth. So, he seems to have decided the novelty of a superhero using the f-bomb and talking about sex will be enough to elicit laughs. But it isn’t. And it won’t be. And no matter how good Cena may be as Peacemaker and no matter how interesting the plot may be, unless DC decides to tell Gunn to tone it down, it will be tough to stay invested.

Comments (24)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More