'Peacemaker' review: John Cena barley keeps tedious superhero comedy buzzing
Courtesy of HBO Max
Watching the career trajectory of John Cena from pro-wrestler to A-lister mega movie star has been fun to witness. Whether it’s letting himself loose for a jolly butt-chug in “Blockers” or the main adversary to Vin Diesel in “F9: The Fast Saga,” Cena, like his Dwayne Johnson contemporary, knows how to entice his base and occasionally step outside his comfort zone. In James Gunn’s wild and uproarious summer romp/reboot “The Suicide Squad,” Cena’s anti-hero Peacemaker stole the show with his quick zingers and oblivious presence to all the weird stuff happening around him. It only makes sense, in this corporate synergized world, DC Comics would steal a page from the Marvel playbook and try to boost subscriber numbers via their streaming outlet HBO Max. Hence the creation of the new series “Peacemaker,” a one-note show that’s serviceable to the DC Cinematic Universe but fails to capture the energy or laughter of Gunn’s previous offerings.
“Peacemaker” is happy, it seems, to be in on the joke, winking to the audience any chance it gets by acknowledging how silly the genre has become. Hurls and insults about Batman and Superman are sporadically thrown around as Gunn, who created and wrote the series, seems thrilled he gets to play in the DC sandbox before returning to his “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise at Marvel. But “Peacemaker” exposes a bigger problem: in a minor role with an ensemble of zany characters, Cena's witty banter and heavy R-rated dialogue felt like a breath of fresh air. Stick him in a nearly eight-hour episodic scenario with lackluster supporting players and suddenly Cena is struggling to carry the load. There’s no Idris Elba or Margot Robbie to bail him out.
Cena, to his credit, keeps the majority of “Peacemaker” breezy if only because the characters’ cluelessness adds a layer of spontaneity to the episodes. In the show, Cena’s Peacemaker has just awoken from a coma after the events of “The Suicide Squad” landed him there (rest assured, the first episode provides a fun recap to bring audiences up to speed). The ultra-muscular and slightly racists/misogynistic hero gets pigeonholed by a covert black-ops military detail to basically hunt down and kill bad guys with his bald eagle sidekick, named Eagly, in toe. Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Danielle Brooks, and Chukwudi Iwuji make up the team in a variety of roles from the smitten tech guru, hard-ass veteran, to the obligatory angry captain who screams and yells a-lot. Some of them are holdovers from “The Suicide Squad” but there’s not much from them to latch onto. Just the same tedious material ad-nauseum until a four-minute sequence around Louis C.K’s scandal exemplifies how out-of-touch the series is. It’s like a group of fourth graders went into a writer’s room and created their ultimate R-rated fantasy.
When the dust settles, after the action inevitably ends in broken glass, broken arms, or brain-splattered chaos, “Peacemaker” saunters into the sunset with dull speed. This after making sure they hit every derogatory punchline or belabored joke before sending audiences to the following episode. Cena is a solid screen presence who is the glue holding this wobbly foundation together, but I’m not sure he or the writers can make peace knowing their show could use a dose of hyper-caffeinated goofiness. At least the opening credits, featuring the actors doing a fun choreographed dance to “Do You Wanna Taste It,” a metal rock anthem dutifully in Gunn’s wheelhouse, hits the mark. The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the series.
PEACEMAKER debuts on HBO Max Thursday, January 13th.