Peacemaker is changing the DCEU in one exciting way
The DC Extended Universe may not be the same after Peacemaker, as the franchise’s future may lie in streaming TV.
Superhero movies sure are complicated now.
Take Batman, for instance. There was only one (1) Batman franchise until the inevitable reboot. But that’s not how it is in 2022.
This year there will be a new Batman movie starring Robert Pattinson. But Pattinson isn’t replacing the last actor to play Batman, Ben Affleck. In fact, Affleck will also return as Batman this year with another Bat-veteran, Michael Keaton. Neither will appear in a Batman movie but in November’s The Flash. Good luck explaining this to your confused uncle next Thanksgiving.
With the release of Peacemaker on HBO Max, the DC multiverse is even more confusing. The show is a spin-off to the 2021 film The Suicide Squad, set in the DC “Extended Universe” and centered on John Cena’s foul-mouthed, square-jawed anti-hero with a chrome helmet. It isn’t related to other DC shows on HBO Max, like Titans or Doom Patrol, but they all reference Batman just the same.
Whatever you think of the show — in my opinion, it’s pretty good — Peacemaker represents a huge leap for the DCEU. Its success could blow wide-open possibilities for the DCEU in ways not even fathomable right now. DC is still catching up with Marvel, but the advantages DC has over its competitor means streaming TV may be the next battleground for the Big Two.
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Unlike DC shows like The Flash (on The CW, not to be confused with the movie), Peacemaker is the first spin-off series of the DCEU. It’s too early to tell if it is a hit or miss on HBO Max; pre-release reviews have been more positive than negative. But given that the show picks up from one of DC’s lowest-grossing movies (insert acknowledgment of a pandemic here), Peacemaker may successfully declare war or surrender before its finale. Either way, it’s a bold choice of the DCEU for its first streaming show to have roots in one of its least buzziest movies.
Still, the show represents a giant leap of faith for the once exclusively theatrical DCEU. Aside from a few billion-dollar wins, the DCEU hasn’t outmuscled its rival’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel even got to the streaming game before the DCEU, with the MCU seamlessly entering streaming last year and demonstrating intelligent use of the medium. (It should be said that Titans and Doom Patrol premiered on the now-defunct DC Universe two years before the MCU on Disney+, but neither show has ties to the DCEU canon.)
With shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel has carved out space for characters who, for abstract reasons, could never lead their own movie. Marvel’s foray has also achieved what all studios that own a streaming service dream of: Keep audiences engaged and always thinking about the next big release.
WarnerMedia certainly would like Peacemaker to be as big as WandaVision — what studio wouldn’t? — but Warner didn’t go out of their way to make Peacemaker, either. It was only through The Suicide Squad writer/director James Gunn did HBO Max get a Peacemaker show.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gunn said working with John Cena during The Suicide Squad allowed him to see dimensions of pain in the character that the director wished to explore further. “Seeing John ... made me go, ‘There’s much more to this actor than I knew,’” Gunn said. When the Covid-19 pandemic eclipsed 2020, Gunn went into lockdown and wrote a Peacemaker TV show, “mostly for fun.”
His timing was incredible. Because also in 2020, Walter Hamada, President of DC Films, reevaluated DC’s strategy to begin entertaining spin-off shows for HBO Max. “With every movie that we’re looking at now, we are thinking, ‘What’s the potential Max spinoff?’” Hamada told New York Times in December 2020.
“Previously, in The Suicide Squad,” narrates John Cena, who plays Peacemaker reemerging from the ashes of the most recent Suicide Squad movie. As the film's events are summarized, there is something surreal about a major superhero movie getting the same recap treatment you typically get on network TV.
But unlike traditional TV and even Marvel’s streaming TV, where directors’ roles are diminished in favor of a writer’s room ruled by a showrunner (Marvel doesn’t even call its TV showrunners “showrunners”), Peacemaker is comparatively more auteur-driven than is typical in the industry. Gunn did not direct all of Peacemaker, but he did write every episode and directed the vast majority of it. On the day it premiered, he even described it as a show he’s been “waiting my whole life to share ... with you.”
Being director-driven has been DC’s one edge over the vastly uniformed MCU. However divisive the movies have been, it’s impossible to argue that movies like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Zack Snyder’s Justice League were not the singular vision of Zack Snyder. It’s simply been too long since a director had some kind of artistic ownership in a work-for-hire capacity. Film enthusiasts bemoaned the Transformers series a decade ago, but those were all without question Michael Bay movies. Even that notion has vanished in the Age of Marvel; more than any other studio, Marvel is guilty of employing exciting artists to work in an assembly line.
DC is far from the first studio to have streaming spin-offs of movies. But with Peacemaker, DC proves these can be more than just surefire ways to beef up subscriber counts. Gunn doesn’t creatively split the atom with Peacemaker — its themes of chosen family and bad fathers are familiar, seen in his Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel.
But it could lead to more artist-driven shows from the DCEU, where even the most overwhelming ideas can get more space to breathe in a flexible, accessible format. Hell, it could be the only way for Batman to make sense again.
Peacemaker is now streaming on HBO Max.