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A shot the end of the Peacemaker opening credits, with the whole cast posing Photo: HBO Max

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James Gunn wants to ‘vanquish the skip’ intro button with Peacemaker’s musical opening credits

Peacemaker’s musicality ‘has ramifications’ for the show’s finale

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“Do you really wanna, do you really wanna taste it?”

If guitar riffs are already blasting inside your brain then you have clearly watched the Peacemaker opening sequence. If they aren’t, it’s worth stopping to go take a watch beforehand. The 1980s rock-inspired dance sequence takes up more than a minute of every episode, complete with flashing lights and dance moves equal parts showy and profane. To Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It,” the cast of Peacemaker robotically moves from gorilla-like arm curls to pelvic thrusts.

It is exactly as James Gunn imagined it.

“I really wanted to do a dance number where everybody was doing something incredibly ridiculous, and looked incredibly serious while they were doing it,” Gunn tells Polygon. Among other things, he envisioned it as a way to “vanquish the skip forward button” and allow people to see the credits of those who worked on the show.

“I thought it was something that would, you know, be a signpost for people that this isn’t just your normal DC or Marvel TV show.”

Like all of Gunn’s music cues, Wig Wam was written directly into the script. Gunn says the song managed to hit a lot of his buttons: It encapsulates the attitude of the show, the lyrics have “ramifications further on” in the series, and it is also just a song he unabashedly loves.

Plus, the song feels emblematic of the title character: The 2000s Norwegian glam metal band behind it missed the peak of the genre, but managed to find some approximation of it that feels new. Same, too, with Peacemaker, who — raised by a gruff and racist white father — only knows how to kill, but longs to help.

The needle drop feels both discordant and entirely borne of the ethos of the show, at once ironic and completely straight-faced. It’s an important cue for the rest of the series, particularly to Peacemaker, aka Chris Smith.

Peacemaker and his dad standing at a garage doorway in a still from the pilot of Peacemaker Photo: HBO Max

“I think that some of the rock ‘n’ roll stuff that he’s into has actually been a more positive influence on him than, say, his father has been,” Gunn says of his musical influences for the show. He points out that in The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker dances with Ratcatcher 2, “which is the only moment he’s happy in the entire movie.” Throughout the first season of Peacemaker, Chris similarly finds small moments to dance or even perform music.

“It’s just a part of the story, it’s a part of who the character is [...] I think that it’s just a part of his sort of secret joy that he has with him, you know, that he only practices by himself, for the most part, his relationship to music is a very private thing.”

John Cena, who plays Peacemaker, also prefers his musicality to stay in private. His dance number at the end of the pilot (filmed, according to Gunn, on Cena’s first day on set) involved dancing to The Quireboys’ “I Don’t Love You Anymore” in his underwear. It’s a set-piece that Cena was less than thrilled to shoot.

“I don’t dance; it’s something I’m not very comfortable with,” Cena tells Polygon. “[And] even in a COVID, restricted environment watching you do your thing.”

Still, he managed to embrace the moment as an “end zone celebration dance for the Super Bowl” on Peacemaker’s end.

Peacemaker dancing in the first episode of the show. He’s shot through an open wall, holding up the number three with his back facing away from the camera. Image: HBO Max

“I think it’s more of an expression of him being happy or having a flash of fulfillment or meaning. And that’s why it doesn’t need to take any shape or form, it can be off key,” Cena says. “It shows a very human side to Peacemaker [...] and I appreciate James for trying to push me into that uncomfortable space because it doesn’t need to be anything more than it is; it’s just a freedom of being fulfilled.”

Cena felt more confident when filming the opening, flanked by the main and supporting cast of Peacemaker in the organized dance number. At least in that case, many people felt just as surprised as he was at what they were being asked to do.

“Well, the first time I heard about the dance sequence, James was pitching it to me while he was writing the script. And I was like, ‘Cool. I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Jennifer Holland says. The few hour-and-a-half-long rehearsals were done after filming wrapped for the day, with little insight into what the finished product might actually look like. “[James] was explaining some sort of like, emotionless, weird thing. And I was like, ‘Let’s do it; sounds great.’”

Gunn brought in a choreographer to help translate his ideas for movement into an actual routine — quite literally miming the awkwardness he hoped to evoke with the sequence. Given that their rehearsals all took place in a production office, showing up to a high school auditorium for the (full) day of shooting came as a shock.

Robert Patrick (who plays Chris’ dad, Auggie) felt like he was “going to screw it up” and just remembers being very focused on those in front of him; Steve Agee (John Economos) was in awe of the “crazy” fluorescent purple lights. Chukwudi Iwuji, who plays Murn, perhaps summed it up best: It was like shooting an MTV music video, and made for an experience he’ll never forget.

“I say that was truly one of the most joyous days of filming, I can remember. Purely joy, just gleeful, crazy joy,” Iwuji says. “[Though] I feel like my wife might leave me soon if I don’t stop singing that in the shower. She might just say enough is enough.”

The first three episodes of Peacemaker are now streaming on HBO Max. New episodes drop every Thursday.

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