Peacemaker review: Danielle Brooks has the More Intriguing Role

One of the movie’s antiheroes, Peacemaker, merited a series of his own beyond the fact that he was played by John Cena. Cena’s stickler of a killer was far from the most compelling character in a movie that otherwise relies on agents of chaos like Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Daniela Melchior’s endearing Ratcatcher 2, or conflicted journeymen like Idris Elba’s Bloodsport or Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag. Getting shot in the throat at the end of the movie seemed like a fitting end to the movie.

But less than six months later, we have an HBO Max series focused entirely on Peacemaker, who recovers from his injuries and sets off into the great unknown to find out more about himself, his world, and what it really costs him to kill everyone who stands in his way. Cena can flex his muscles in the first three episodes, directed by Gunn, which are available to stream now. Peacemaker can reevaluate his role in the American government as one cog in the giant machine. There’s plenty of time dedicated to making Peacemaker look capital a Awesome in the ways you might expect. Peacemaker is mostly just a giant baby, but it sometimes has some interesting moments. A desire for approval from his single-minded, racist father (Robert Patrick), childlike joy with his pet “Eagley” (a CGI bald eagle that defies all odds to become truly adorable), and abject confusion at how to function following the events of “The Suicide Squad” completely unmoor Peacemaker. For as sharp as Cena’s comic timing generally is, his best moment in these three episodes nevertheless comes when Peacemaker collapses on his shitty bed after an exhausting, embarrassing night and lets his face collapse in self-loathing mewls of pain.
However: I’m more inclined to follow “Peacemaker” because it’s not Peacemaker himself, but a new member of his team who proves her worth immediately, despite her skeptical coworkers’ warnings.

Danielle Brooks’ Leota Adebayo seems like a strange woman at first glance. When she returns home to her team’s motel after a mission, she finds her wife (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow) and their three adorable dogs waiting for her. During the third episode, however, it is revealed that she isn’t just Amanda Waller’s (Viola Davis) proxy, but her daughter, who has long been skeptical of her mother’s morally compromised career path. “Peacemaker” finds itself suddenly confronted by a narrative jolt completely outside its title character that, from my perspective at least, weaves in a completely new and extremely welcome narrative dynamic.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched Brooks’ performance on that show, which ultimately hinged entirely on her character’s journey to succeed, which was both tragic and hopeful. Brook’s ability to inject her material with the exact amount of levity or gravitas – or, impressively, both in a single breath – it requires is undeniable. The mere presence of Brooks in a scene makes her the center of attention, even if she is not meant to be. It makes sense to make Brooks the star of a high-octane, high stakes series like “Peacemaker.”

From a storytelling standpoint, this is also true. Adding in another journey of self-discovery provides a crucial balance to Peacemaker’s slow realization that maybe, just maybe, a no-holds barred white guy executing the government’s most dubious missions isn’t entirely the restoration of justice he assumes it is. Tying Adebayo to the DC Cinematic Universe so directly, and to one I think that an actor like Brooks imbuing the character with more nuance, especially as one of the show’s most enigmatic and mysterious characters, is a smart way to up the stakes of her story.

Peacemaker’s story isn’t that unexpected despite all the ways the film tries to make him different from what we might expect. When it comes to Adebayo, the hard-working daughter of a government operative who wants nothing more than to make a bunch of money and retire with her husband and dogs…you just never know what she’ll do and what she’ll end up doing. Superheroes are so oversaturated with the media right now that a TV show started with an explainer reel recalling the movie it’s based upon. What it could use more of is the element of surprise that a character like Adebayo can bring.