‘Peacemaker’: James Gunn Says John Cena’s Character ‘Is Almost Every Guy I Grew up With in Missouri’


As the writer/director of The Suicide Squad, it was James Gunn’s choice to include Peacemaker (John Cena) in the roster. He did not yet know he would be creating an HBO Max series starring Peacemaker. Gunn said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel on Sept. 22 that producers gave him a choice of characters to spin off, and he selected Peacemaker. 

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Suicide Squad.]

John Cena sits with his Peacemaker costars
L-R: Steve Agee, Jennifer Holland, Chukwudi Iwuji, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma and John Cena) | Katie Yu/HBO Max

“Peacemaker is almost every guy that I grew up with in Missouri,” Gunn said. “He isn’t that much different than a lot of people I know. As terrible as he is at times, he’s also kind of common.”

Peacemaker plowed through The Suicide Squad with a lot of collateral damage, including other members of the squad. Gunn said he looks forward to exploring the character’s misguided heroics in more detail.

“I think that telling that story for a guy like that with those blind spots is important because everybody on TV is either totally good and totally perfect or they’re evil, oftentimes,” Gunn said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of great shows that aren’t like that. But I think that it’s fun to make a superhero especially, or supervillain, or whatever you want to think of him as, that has a lot of nuances.”

On the HBO MAX series, Peacemaker meets a new team of superheroes, some of whom he’s just as competitive with as he was Bloodsport (Idris Elba) in the movie. Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) returns to handle him and the team. The show also introduces his disapproving father (Robert Partick).

“Peacemaker has a lot of issues,” Gunn said. “I don’t sit down and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make this character likeable.’ I just sit down and I try to make a character as fully fledged as possible.”

Suicide Squad members Joel Kinnaman, Idris Elba and John Cena stand in front of an upside down truck
L-R: Joel Kinnaman, Idris Elba and John Cena | Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

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Gunn did promise fans of The Suicide Squad that the HBO Max series will pick up where they left off. Peacemaker ended up being a foil to antiheroes like Bloodsport. Bloodsport and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) had to fight Peacemaker in the end, and Flag didn’t make it. Peacemaker talked a big patriotic game, but he was involved in a major coverup. His TV show will be a chance for Peacemaker to have the character arc.

“One of the things, though, that made me want to tell the story of Peacemaker is that he has a lot to learn,” Gunn said. “At the end of The Suicide Squad, Bloodsport learns a lot. He’s a better person than he was at the beginning. A lot of the characters are much better than they were at the beginning, and Peacemaker has a lot to learn, and it wouldn’t take just one season of TV for him to learn that.”

As early looks at the show reveal, Peacemaker is still the same A-hole he was in the movie. He talks about butt babies and dances around in his underwear. A redemptive arc won’t water down Peacemaker, Gunn promises.

'The Suicide Squad' with John Cena, Idris Elba, Daniela Melchior, and David Dastmalchian
‘The Suicide Squad’ with King Shark, John Cena, Idris Elba, Daniela Melchior, and David Dastmalchian | Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

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“But it is that ability to learn that he does have, I believe, as a character,” Gunn said. “And it’s that ability to learn that, for me, makes him a little bit more likable. His blind spots, in some places, are pretty terrible, and then some places are just him being ignorant, and I think that’s an important distinction to make as well. He is open at the same time, sometimes, I guess, but we get to see that journey.  It’s just very, very basic.”

Peacemaker is coming to HBO Max in January.