James Gunn Says Vigilante Is Much More Of A Sociopath Than Peacemaker

In "The Suicide Squad," John Cena's Peacemaker is a pretty irredeemable jerk. After his third-act heel turn, it's hard to imagine rooting for him. So how does the "Peacemaker" HBO Max series make viewers not only cheer for Peacemaker, but feel empathetic towards him? James Gunn, who wrote the series and directed five of the eight episodes, uses a wide variety of storytelling techniques to make Christopher Smith, aka Peacemaker, more sympathetic. One that works surprisingly well is that the story surrounds him with characters who are more clearly evil. Chris' moral ambiguity becomes refreshingly progressive compared to both his white supremacist father Auggie (Robert Patrick) and his long-time friend and true sociopath, Vigilante (Freddie Stroma). 

"Peacemaker" is in-part a warning against any kind of authoritarian thinking, and while Auggie represents the blatantly horrible side, Vigilante provides a slightly more likable version to really force viewers to think. He's just like Peacemaker, except he's missing the ability for empathy. That makes him a great killer, but really messes things up when it comes to being a human being. 

A Surprisingly Sweet Sociopath

At a press junket for "Peacemaker" attended by /Film, Gunn explained that Vigilante was intended to be a version of Peacemaker without a moral compass:

"We have Peacemaker, who's a guy who obviously has a conscience. Despite the bad stuff he does, he does have a reasoning behind what he does. Yeah, some of it may be a rationalization for why he's venting his anger, but he does have a philosophy behind it. And Vigilante is a very different sort of 'hero.' I think that I created Vigilante for the show because I thought, if you really are a guy that puts on a costume and goes around and murders people, just cold-blooded murders people who you think are bad guys, who are you really? Who is this person really? He was an interesting character to play with because he is a sociopath."

Vigilante takes the ideas Gunn first played with in his 2010 black comedy "Super" and takes them a step further. In "Super," Rainn Wilson's Frank is a short-order cook who decides to put on a costume and start fighting crime himself. Frank discovers that while he's definitely not a big fan of people, he's still too human to be a good killer. Vigilante, however, never really had any humanity to begin with. Vigilante was recast halfway through production, with Chris Conrad stepping down and Freddie Stroma filling his shoes. Stroma's performance is essential to the character, imbuing him with a sweetness that contradicts his sociopath tendencies. It was important to Gunn that he be morally worse than Peacemaker, but still have redeeming qualities:

"He does not seem to have a conscience, and moreso, he doesn't seem to have emotions. He has a lot of issues. He's not really able to pick up on people's facial expressions. He's not very in tune with other human beings. And yet, despite all of this, there's this sort of, dare I say, sweetness about him that comes from Freddie's performance and comes from the fact that he, in such a vulnerable way, adores Peacemaker... He's a worse version of Peacemaker in many ways, but also not without things that we can like about him."

Gunn's series is all about redemption and who's worthy of it, so providing Vigilante to contrast Peacemaker's own growth is perfection. Besides, Cena and Stroma are more fun together than a grenade taped to a tank shell. 

New episodes of "Peacemaker" come out each Thursday, exclusively on HBO Max.