There’s long been a question around storytelling: is it possible to tell an engrossing story where your central character is inherently unlikeable, or at least not a good person? It’s a tricky balance, but television has long proved an ideal place to tell such tales – just look at Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos. When it comes to Peacemaker, John Cena’s character in James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad, who’s also getting his own eight-episode series on HBO Max penned in its entirety by Gunn himself, the filmmaker doesn’t mince his words about how not-good a guy he is. “Peacemaker’s a piece of shit,” he says. “He’s not a good guy. And he wears the goofiest costume you’ve ever seen in your life.”
Maybe that’s why the Peacemaker series is the ideal place to explore such a, well, bad dude – delving deep into the character across multiple hours of story. “Peacemaker has a clear set of ideals that I find really interesting,” says Gunn, who has directed five episodes of the series himself. “You know: ‘I want peace no matter how many men, women and children I need to kill to get it.’ Sounds like nonsense, but it also makes a lot of sense. And you see in John’s performance how he does not feel good about it – something I thought was the seed of an entire eight-episode show.”
As well as being a character study which takes place in the wider DCEU (“He lives in the world of Superman, Batman and Aquaman, and that is not an easy thing for him to contend with”), the show will also involve “a big science-fiction story”, and delve into some real-world issues. “He represents a part of the world populace that is problematic to say the least,” says Gunn, “and puts him in a situation where he has to face the choices he’s made throughout his life and the extremity of his views.”
In fact, even the guy behind the metal mask doesn’t have the kindest words to say about his character. “This guy is a loud, obnoxious, bro-ey douchebag,” Cena tells Empire. “That sucks. But why? At what point did he become such a douchebag and what does that mean? There’s a lot to dive into there.” Prepare for the deep-dive into that douchebaggery in 2022 – and in the meantime, we’ll get acquainted with him in The Suicide Squad this summer.
Read Empire‘s full Peacemaker exclusive story in The Suicide Squad issue – on sale Thursday 8 July.