The following story, obviously, contains spoilers for the 2021 film The Suicide Squad.
James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad came out in August 2021. It feels almost like yesterday. But in 2021 time (or, I guess, now, 2022 time) it also kind of feels like many years ago. So it may feel a little daunting to hit play on Gunn’s new HBO Max series Peacemaker, which follows the story of John Cena’s perfect character, without rewatching the movie first. But that’s what we’re here for. If you don’t have the time to spend 2+ hours immersed in Mr. Gunn’s bloody, vulgar and wild world (and it is definitely worth it–the movie’s still a blast), then we have everything you need about Peacemaker and The Suicide Squad before you see Peacemaker which serves both as a spin-off or quasi-sequel of the R-rated superhero smash hit.
Luckily, it’s not that much to recall; outside of Cena’s Peacemaker, we do have a couple more returning characters, but outside of that it’s largely new characters and a new storyline. It’ll be helpful to know the basics and stay on the same page.
Let’s just get to it.
So, uh, who is Peacemaker again?
Peacemaker, real name Christopher Smith, is a “superhero” (in his own mind, at least) who we first meet in prison when he’s assembled as part of a team (alongside Bloodsport (Idris Elba)) being put together for the latest black ops mission by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Bloodsport and Peacemaker are in an immediate rivalry. Both have the ability to be very accurate and deadly with their guns; Peacemaker claims that he would kill Bloodsport using a smaller bullet than his own.
Waller believes that Bloodsport would make a great leader. However, he seems defeated and wants to get on with his lives. They are both part of a team (one out of two) that travels to Molto Cortese to destroy Project Starfish’s lab. The other team dispatched to the island are all killed except for two people (Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)), which allows Bloodsport and Peacemaker’s team to arrive undetected. The movie shows the survivors for a while. It combines both teams at this point. One scene in which Bloodsport and Peacemaker show off how well they kill people is especially fun. Peacemaker makes it clear that he believes in peace and has a life motto for everyone. “I don’t care how many men, women, and children I need to kill to get it.” Yeah. Psycho.
Eventually, something is clearly off, and we all find out: Project Starfish is really Starro the Destroyer, a giant alien Starfish who’s been experimented on for 30 years, and also creates smaller versions of himself to take over humans’ bodies. Scary! However, Waller had secretly given Peacemaker orders to cover up the U.S. involvement in Project Starfish. Flag discovers this and is furious. He wants the evidence to be made public. Peacemaker finally kills Flag by hitting him with broken concrete. Before he falls, Peacemaker says “Peacemaker–what an absurd joke.”
At this point, everyone is saying the same thing: Fuck peacemaker. He continues to cover his tracks and tries to kill Ratcatcher 2, another member of the team that controls rats. This is because Bloodsport is a deathly afraid of rats. Bloodsport then takes Peacemaker out with a little bit of his own medicine. A smaller bullet from his gun punctures Peacemaker’s bullet and puts him in his neck. He is then thrown from the building. At this point, Peacemaker appears to be dead.
Got it. The Suicide Squad: What else do we need to know?
Yes. While all this is going on Molto Cortese we are also following the story Amanda Waller’s headquarters. Waller is running her corrupt mission as usual. When she gets too far, like every other time, and wants to explode the bombs inside our heroes heads, some of her colleagues take her out, including Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and John Economos(Steve Agee). They defeat her and knock her out, saving the day.
In a post-credits scene, we follow Harcourt and Economos down a hospital hallway where they find out that…Peacemaker is alive! Strangely, he didn’t get hurt from being shot in the neck and having a structure fall on him. They then discover that Waller has gotten them to Peacemaker in retaliation for her power-madness. (That’s what you have to do, I suppose.) This is the first glimpse of our core Peacemaker team.
Wait…are we supposed to root for this guy?
Ha. Yup! He was certainly not a good guy for The Suicide Squad. He is not much better in Peacemaker Neither! But think about how anti-hero centered shows work out sometimes; perhaps the best example of recent was Loki, which took someone who killed so many people in 2012’s The Avengers and made him someone we like, care about, and root for. Good writing can do that for basically any protagonist, and when you have as versatile a performer as John Cena, it won’t be hard with those dance moves–even if he’s basically a piece of shit.
Evan Romano Evan is an associate editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE.