Spoiler alert: Peacemaker, John Cena’s patriotic and clueless anti-hero, survived the events of The Suicide Squad movie from last summer. This is important to point out because, if you didn’t stay through the credits to see the extra scenes, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was well and truly dead.

It seems, however, that DC, HBO, and writer/director James Gunn had bigger plans in mind for him — as do the same government operatives that were pulling the strings in The Suicide Squad. In the extra scene shown in theatres, Peacemaker was seen laid up in a hospital bed, watched over by two Task Force X members, those that were helping to call the shots for the group of criminal-turned-hired guns, in a scene that leads directly into the TV show.

Now in a format stretched out for storytelling on HBO Max, Peacemaker awakens in that hospital bed and immediately sets out reclaiming his life. The first episode, “A Whole New Whirled”, is available for streaming through HBO (and also on Crave TV in Canada) right now, along with the next two episodes to really get the ball rolling. This review covers the premiere episode, with more to come.

Right away, the show strikes a different tone than The Suicide Squad. It’s still violent, mouthy, and irreverent insofar as what it will poke fun at (which is anything, immediately proven by an extended talk ranging from trust to other DC superheroes between Peacemaker and the hospital janitor Jamil, played by Rizwan Manji), but being an episodic tale it has more time to dwell on some subtleties of character.

Much of this is done by way of introducing Peacemaker to his new team: the returning Jennifer Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee), and the new team members Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuhi) and Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks). Allowing them to get to know Peacemaker, who occasionally wants to be known simply as “Chris”, allows the audience to get to know him a bit better as well.

Peacemaker also spends some time with his father Auggie Smith, played in a over-the-top style to match by Robert Patrick. It has been a long time since Cena and Patrick shared the screen in the WWE Studios production of The Marine, and their banter is miles beyond the rote hero/villain dialogue they offered in that movie as well. Smith has been taking care of a couple of things for his son, including his American-flag plastered car and his pet eagle, aptly named Eagly (Peacemaker does take some digs later on for the on-the-nose name of his pet).

John Cena, as Peacemaker, takes a breather with his best friend Eagly in a still from Peacemaker.

Smith is also in possession of a number of new helmets for Peacemaker, each with their own power-ups — like the sonic boom feature that gets showcased towards the end of the episode. The meeting of these men pulls back some more layers of the obviously needy Chris who is seeking something like affection from his father, while Auggie shows nothing but contempt for his son’s failures.

All of this unearthing of the man beneath the silver dome is the big gamble of this show: how will Peacemaker fare as a drawn-out character, taking on more focus than he did in his appearance in the movie? He worked wonderfully in The Suicide Squad as a buffoon among crazy people, and Cena played that role perfectly. Cena has always had a face and build made for comic-books, and watching him act against his public persona of motivational, inspirational platitudes adds a little meta-kick to the performance.

Time will tell, of course, but enough seeds are planted in the first episode to tease out some interesting character relationships, government subterfuge (Viola Davis makes a brief appearance as Amanda Waller, hinting at secrets plots within secret plots), and mysteriously powered feral villains — and if you’re not interested in any of that, there’s enough blood, guts, and frat-boy humour to fill the rest of the time.

Cena even has a go at a dancing-in-his-underwear scene that has to be considered an updated version of Tom Cruise’s tighty-whitie shuffle from Risky Business. Except with less clothing and more fighting afterwards.

Simply put, this show knows who its audience is and will likely satisfy anybody who liked The Suicide Squad. Check back with Slam Wrestling for reviews of upcoming episodes.

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