We had our doubts about Peacemaker, the HBO Max spinoff series based on John Cena’s character from 2021’s The Suicide Squad. But I’m happy to report that those doubts were entirely unfounded. Series creator James Gunn has successfully taken a seemingly irredeemable character and sent him on an emotional journey that made us love him—all framed in a blood-soaked, action-packed, cheekily irreverent main story that makes for top-notch entertainment.
(One big spoiler for The Suicide Squad below. Some spoilers for Peacemaker, but no major reveals.)
Gunn wrote the series for fun during his downtime in 2020 and ended up pitching it when DC Films approached him about a spinoff series for one of the characters in The Suicide Squad. HBO Max ordered Peacemaker straight to series. When the first teaser dropped last year, I admitted to being a bit skeptical. Cena’s performance in The Suicide Squad was terrific, but he wasn’t exactly a sympathetic character—or a particularly complex one. On the other hand, Gunn clearly felt there was more of the character’s story to tell, and that instinct proved correct.
The eight-episode series is set five months after the events of The Suicide Squad, specifically after the post-credits scene, in which we learned that Peacemaker—aka Christopher Smith—had survived what appeared to be a fatal shooting. That scene hinted that the US government still had some use for him, and in the show, he ends up being recruited for a new mission: the mysterious Project Butterfly, led by a mercenary named Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). He gets assistance from A.R.G.U.S. agent John Economos (Steve Agee) of the Belle Reve Penitentiary, National Security Agency agent and former Waller aide Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and new team member Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks).
The cast also includes Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) as Chris’ crusty father, Auggie Smith, who thinks his son is a “nancy-boy”; Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase (aka Vigilante), a sociopathic district attorney who fights crime and thinks he’s Peacemaker’s BFF; Annie Chang as police detective Sophie Song; and Nhut Le as Judomaster, a bodyguard and martial arts specialist. And of course, there’s Eagly, Chris’ beloved American bald eagle companion, voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
Cena turns in a truly standout performance; he brings a surprising sweetness and vulnerability to his portrayal of a character Gunn once described as “douchebag Captain America.” Chris is wrestling with his guilt over killing Rick Flag in The Suicide Squad, and he’s haunted by Flag’s last words: “Peacemaker. What a joke.”
He is also forced to deal with his own tragic backstory over the course of the season, including the loss of his brother, and that backstory is surprisingly poignant. If you were raised by a white supremacist thug like Auggie Smith—who trained his son to be a killer and misses no opportunity to remind Chris that he’s a worthless waste of space—you might have grown up into a jingoistic mass murderer for hire, too.
Chris’ growing uneasiness with the Peacemaker persona he created manifests early on when he balks at killing a senator and his family on Murn’s orders. (Vigilante has no such qualms about killing women and children.) The family turns out to be “butterflies”: an alien species from a dying planet who use human bodies as hosts and seek to dominate Earth. Chris does take out his fair share of butterflies as the mission heats up, but he also befriends one of them and keeps it in a jar in his trailer.
It’s that inner mushy side that repeatedly earns his father’s ridicule, but it also makes Chris someone worth rehabilitating. Eagly loves him, after all, and if you can’t trust the instincts of an American bald eagle, what can you trust? Deep down, Chris just wants to belong, and one of the best arcs of the season sees him eventually finding a family of sorts in his Project Butterfly teammates.