John Cena, the new HBO Max 'Peacemaker': meme, 'foodtuber' and controversy in China

The blows that wrestling fighters receive will be scripted, but they really hurt. tell it to John Cena, WWE warrior laureate for 20 years and hypermuscular actor since not long after. The punches that escape the script, the jumps into the void and the injuries —such as a pectoral tear, narrativized ‘a posteriori’, which left him out of the ring for months— have settled on him to form a personality between comic and cursed that is trading on the rise in today’s audiovisual. From now on, Cena has his own HBO series: ‘The Peacemaker’.

The project comes out of ‘The Suicide Squad’, a failed 2021 summer blockbuster based on DC Comics characters, where Cena got the role of the Peacemaker, a vigilante so moved by peace that he is willing to kill as many men, women and children as it takes to achieve it. James Gunn, the director and screenwriter of the film, recovered the former wrestler for a series focused only on his character, which has just been released on HBO Max.

Many wrestling figures find a place in Marvel and DC movies

Born for his role, Cena is co-executive producer of the series that tells, in eight episodes -all also written by Gunn-, what happens to the Peacemaker after the events of ‘The Suicide Squad’. In the first episode, the vigilante wakes up from a coma in a hospital in the United States thinking he is free, but the government recruits him again for a new mission. The deal, just like in the movie, has a trick: if he refuses, he will return to the jail where he was imprisoned and if he rebels and flees, they will kill him.

Cena has a golden opportunity to engage with the ugliest edges of his character, as an ex-soldier, small-town and ultra-conservative father who turned him into the deadly murderer he is and who awaits him when he comes out of his coma. The series has unapologetically inherited the tone of ‘The Suicide Squad’, a brutal entertainment that James Gunn gave to the competition after being fired from Marvel for some old offensive tweets – and then rehired for another ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie.

John Cena returns to be ‘The Peacemaker’. (HBOMax)

Precisely, Marvel and DC have also found a place for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista, other figures from the WWE wrestling company, the same quarry of John Cena. For decades, the company has produced an inexhaustible league of scripted fights that extend their grotesqueness from the ring to the dressing rooms and locker rooms of the fighters, who end up being more icons than athletes. In Spain, the phenomenon has been transgenerational, broadcast for years on various networks and always supported by the unforgettable comments of the announcer Héctor del Mar, who died in 2019.

The prototype and the doctor

Born in West Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1977, John Cena spent the nineties obsessed with rap and its culture, enthralled by a marginal and violent circumstance —of vital importance in the emergence of the genre— that was not his. According to the actor, the harassment he suffered for this ‘hobby’, frowned upon in his stratum, it led him to begin a brief career as a bodybuilder and from there jump into wrestling.

In 1999, he began fighting in a minor league under the character ‘The Prototype’, a supposed cyborg with dyed hair with whom, despite everything, he managed to captivate a WWE scout. There, finding himself unable to connect with the audience, he shed his skin. When Stephanie McMahon — granddaughter of company founder Vincent J. McMahon — caught him making impromptu rap rhymes on a business trip, the creative department turned him into a walking parody of the white rapper, dressed in baggy t-shirts, chains and backwards caps. At that time he called himself ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’, something like the Doctor of ‘Matonomy’.

In 2021, Cena starred in an uncomfortable controversy in the Chinese film market

Become an increasingly popular champion, he was WWE itself who paved the way for John Cena to the cinema, with films produced by the company itself. ‘The Marine’, in 2006, was the first. Since then, while his ‘wrestling’ character became less and less badass and more military, he has exploited his acting vis in several romantic or family comedies, with small cameos and as a voice actor. ‘Fast & Furious 9’ —where he plays the long-lost brother of Vin Diesel’s character— and ‘The Suicide Squad’ last year earned Cena the title of past action star par excellence.

During that time, he recorded an entire swanky rap album, was the most generous philanthropist ever to work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Seriously Ill Children, and spawned two of the internet’s most absurd memes. Dinner has declared who knows the latter and who takes it with a joke. His character of ‘The Peacemaker’, racist and sexist to the core, could not do better with the actor’s grateful sense of humor. The opening credits sequence of the series is the ultimate proof of this.

In the series, the Peacemaker is recruited for a new mission. (HBOMax)

Committed to expanding WWE across the globe, Cena began learning Mandarin almost a decade ago. The gigantic Chinese market is candy for any Western audiovisual business, but it also requires treading on delicate ground. John Cena could have won the country over completely when, in 2018, moved to the Yinchuan region to shoot a movie with Jackie Chan for which there is no release date. There he found a new facet of himself, that of ‘foodtuber’: for a few weeks, the actor recorded himself while trying Chinese street food or shopping at the local market, some videos later published by WWE itself.

However, last spring, Cena starred in an uncomfortable controversy with that same public he was trying to cajole. In a promotional interview for the latest installment of the ‘Fast & Furious’ saga, the former wrestler spoke of Taiwan as a country, something that bothered the Chinese audience, where they are reluctant to recognize the independence of that state. Cena apologized in Mandarin in a video that he posted on the Chinese social network Weibo. The controversy hardly tarnishes an acting career that the professional seems to want to focus entirely on from now on. Last September, Cena last stepped on the WWE canvas.

When saying goodbye to the company that was his home and springboard, perhaps he remembered —because they met, of course— the words with which the longed-for Héctor del Mar always said goodbye to his ‘wrestling’ broadcasts on our televisions: “I’m here because I came, because I’ve come, here I am. If you don’t like my singing, as I’ve come, I’m leaving”.

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