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SYFY WIRE reviews

Critics say James Gunn's 'Peacemaker' is somewhat softened, but still fun, meta DC adventure

Peacemaker arrives on HBO Max Thursday, Jan. 13.

By Josh Weiss
John Cena 4

The tagline for James Gunn's Peacemaker TV show urges viewers to "give peace a f—ing chance."

We'd expect nothing less from a Captain America wannabe who wears a shiny toilet seat helmet, keeps a Bald Eagle for a pet, and insists that countless men, women, and children need to die to ensure the future of American prosperity. There's just one problem: the deplorable dude audiences first met in The Suicide Squad last summer isn't the same antihero on display in his own small screen spinoff.

The review embargo for the series has officially lifted and while critics are digging the "self-conscious" tone, memorable theme song, noteworthy character dynamics, and killer soundtrack, they can't help but notice how Gunn has filed Peacemaker's sharp fangs down to near-harmless nubs. As a result, it sort of cheapens his about-face in The Suicide Squad, which led to the unexpected death of Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag.

HBO Max has already hinted at this via the trailers, which reveal that Peacemaker (played by the returning John Cena, who also serves as a co-executive producer) suffers an existential crisis with regards to own ideologies steeped in blind patriotism and toxic masculinity. However, some critics are wondering why take a deep dive into such a detestable individual if the end goal was to strip him of his detestability.

Danielle Brooks (Leota Adebayo), Freddie Stroma (Vigilante), Jennifer Holland (Emilia Harcourt), Steve Agee (John Economos), Chukwudi Iwuji (Clemson Murn), and Robert Patrick (Auggie Smith) co-star.

Head below to see what critics are saying...

"Peacemaker makes the character more likable, at the cost of making him less interesting ...  In its quest to shed new light on a character who came out of his last movie looking dangerously close to outright villainy, Peacemaker loses too much of the darkness that made him compelling in the first place." -Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter

"As the first potential spinoff devised from The Suicide SquadPeacemaker is definitely a less bombastic series, dealing more in relationships than action overall, but it might have also proven more successful if it wasn't so focused on trying to render its lead more of a likable douchebag. It's possible he may have been too good a villain in his first appearance, because the series itself doesn't serve as enough road for him to fully change course in a satisfying narrative way." -Carly Lane, Collider

"Can the unique style of comic book fare that filmmaker James Gunn turns out sustain itself on an episodic basis, spanning eight-ish total hours? The answer is… pretty much, though your experience may vary depending on how you personally feel about what Peacemaker aka Chris Smith (winningly played by John Cena) did, and who he killed, on the big screen." -Matt Webb Mitovich, TVLine

"Gunn — who wrote all eight episodes, and directed several — appears far more enamored with the overall atmosphere than in advancing the story, indulging in detours and musical flourishes along the way. That includes a grim subplot involving Peacemaker's dad (Robert Patrick), a White supremacist whose history is dark even by the show's anything-goes standards." -Brian Lowry, CNN

"Yes, there are a small number of growing pains, but they are vastly outweighed by the creative and entertaining things that the series does right. Like the countless DC Comics solo series of the 1980s, Peacemaker proves an essential point about the DCEU — that when you showcase the weirdest possible fringes of a fictional universe, it helps the entire universe feel much bigger and more complete." -Jenna Anderson,

"The Peacemaker series feels mostly like the Suicide Squad comedy scenes without the big action of a $100 million studio blockbuster. Politically incorrect is a generous way to describe Smith/Peacemaker. He's homophobic, racist and sexist, but give Gunn credit for finding clever new ways for the main character to express his very wrong opinions. The dialogue is full of non-sequiturs and irreverence towards the cliches of superhero missions. Characters also insult other DC heroes like Aquaman and Batman liberally." -Fred Topel, United Press International

"Between the blood and guts, the slapstick, the political satire ... and the musical digressions ... there is a lot going on here. Yet the series functions as a sincere character study of its flawed hero — and the unfortunate souls who have to work alongside him — just enough for the joke to never quite wear thin. Even in a wildly oversaturated market for tales of hypermuscular men and women punching their way to justice, Peacemaker stands out. You’ll wanna taste it, even the parts that are in incredibly bad taste." -Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

"There are scenes that are fully asides about random things the characters discuss that had me rolling with laughter and it never derails the pacing of the main story. Somehow, James Gunn has outdone his big-screen work with this profanely hilarious comic book story that is better than Deadpool, better than The Suicide Squad, and possibly better than anything else the DCEU has put out so far. I love Peacemaker so much and those opening credits so much and cannot wait for more." -Alex Maidy, JoBlo

"Gunn carves out distinctive dispositions and hang-ups for all of his primary players, the better to have them clash with each other in various mix-and-match combinations, creating a lively and combative atmosphere of extremist superhero mayhem. Self-conscious but never smug, sociopathic and yet also sweet, and timely if never preachy, it’s the very sort of no-holds-barred, tongue-in-cheek endeavor that’s become Gunn’s specialty." -Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

"Its biggest hurdle is how it feels a bit like an afterthought, the spinoff no one asked for rather than a bold new story. However, thanks to the strength of the ensemble, along with some of the wildest action sequences seen in recent memory, the series does deliver a lot of joy, along with the continued reminder that as Gunn’s work as a storyteller continues to mature, it gets better and better. It’s not just that this is a great ensemble of actors — it’s that Gunn knows how to let them shine." -Liz Shannon Miller, Consequence of Sound

Peacemaker arrives on HBO Max Thursday, Jan. 13.