(dir. Tim Miller)
|20th Century Fox|
“You're probably thinking 'This is a superhero movie, but that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kebab.' Surprise, this is a different kind of superhero story.”
We’ve been down the irreverent superhero road before with mixed results. From the good (Kick-Ass), the okay (Super), and the bad (Hancock), R-rated deconstructions of the superhero movie are difficult to pull off well without their so called maturity coming across as juvenile, and their shots at the genre coming across as mean-spirited mockery. Enter Deadpool, the long-gestating take on one of Marvel’s most popular characters in terms of readership, a character whose meme-ready, and off-beat sense of humor and 4th wall-breaking has made him the most popular X-men character, surpassing even the likes of Wolverine. On the subject of roads we’ve been down before, 20th Century Fox has already attempted to bring Deadpool to the big-screen before with Ryan Reynolds in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that take on the character turned out to be a debacle that shared little in common with his comic book roots. Despite the reception to that film, Deadpool became a passion project for Reynolds, one that seemed unlikely to ever happen until test-footage was “unofficially” released and fans clamored for Tim Miller’s R-rated take on the character, until that’s exactly what we got. Despite being a studio production, Deadpool is the biggest fan-film ever made, and that ain’t a bad thing.
Just when good-natured and mentally unstable mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is ready to settle down with the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He volunteers for an experimental treatment, only to find himself prisoner to an elusive organization that seeks to activate dormant mutant genes and create an army of super slaves. Disfigured and more unstable than ever, Wilson escapes and dons the guise of Deadpool to hunt down the people who ruined his life, and hopefully get his face fixed.
Tone and heart go a long way in making Deadpool one of the year’s earliest success stories. This is one of the rare-instances where bait-and-switch marketing actually lives up to both sides of the joke. For months now we’ve seen the teasers and billboards championing Deadpool as a must-see romantic comedy. It was a clever bit of marketing to get couples into theaters on Valentine’s Day weekend, but of course the trailers told of a movie splashed in ultra-violence and raunchy humor. As it would turn out, Deadpool is a romantic comedy, one made of dismembered body parts and peak levels of inappropriate behavior, but oddly sentimental and sweet all the same. The heavy-reliance on a love story is actually quite a departure from the comics where Deadpool’s selfish and self-serving behavior drives the majority of his story arcs. This departure goes a long way in terms of making Deadpool a character we can root for in spite of, or perhaps because of his twisted humor and extreme levels of violence. Deadpool has never been one of my favorite characters, but Miller and screenwriters, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, give him a cause to fight for while still maintaining the character’s sense of identity and Bugs Bunny-like antics.
Every central plot beat in the film is framed by Wade’s love of Vanessa, and the charismatic performances from both Reynolds and Baccarin sell that romance better than most superhero movies. Breaking the narrative mold of origin story films, Deadpool switches back and forth between Wade’s present day storyline of revenge and his love story with Vanessa, until we meet up in the middle for a blend of both. This not only balances the film’s emotional stakes and action, but also prevents either the meet-cute romance or action from becoming tiresome or repetitive. In true Deadpool fashion, the film displays an awareness of its own inter-workings with references ranging from studio budget, Reynolds’ career missteps, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and other clever commentary that I dare not spoil. This awareness easily allows the film to maneuver the clichés and tropes of the genre, and while some may see it as a means of beefing up the film’s simple narrative, these tricks go a long way in terms of making the film’s narrative seem more complex than it actually is. The supporting characters: TJ Miller’s Weasel, Ed Skerin’s Ajax, and Gina Carano’s Angel Dust, also allow for the film to take some amusing avenues in both the departments of comic relief and villainy, and give Deadpool a range of characters to play off of.
Deadpool’s lack of complexity is refreshing and it creates an efficient superhero yarn that doesn’t rely on world-building, subtext, heavy thematics, or world-ending threats. When you look at the film’s plot laid bare of all of its self-referential gags, call-backs, and deviations, we’re left with a film about a guy who just wants to get his face fixed so he can go back to his fiancé. It sounds silly when the film is looked at from that angle, but silly is exactly where this film’s priorities are. This is a film that is so comfortable in its identity that even the jokes that don’t land, and some of the obvious first-time filmmaking techniques, only serve to work in the film’s interests. The film uses “fuck” and “dick” like a 12-year old who just learned he can swear around his friends without anyone giving him the side eye. It’s occasionally annoying, but the film even owns up to that factor, commenting on Wade’s occasionally annoying nature and penchant for saying nonsensical things. Some would say that the film’s ownership of its faults are the filmmakers’ attempts to avoid criticism, and they wouldn’t be wrong; but it’s so engaging to watch a film that doesn’t try to force the audience to ignore its limitations, but to laugh at them instead, and I can’t help but commend Deadpool for that because I laughed a hell of a lot.
Tim Miller may be working under the pressures of a limited budget and his own inexperience, but he boldly uses the X-Men lore like no X-film director before him. He embraces the wild and weird nature of the comics, clinging to its pseudo-science, humor, and soap-opera elements. While Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are the only X-Men to feature in the film, they feel more like the characters that people have loved over the decades than most of Singer’s take on characters. This isn’t to say that Deadpool is the best X-verse film, but it does show a willingness to engage with areas that we rarely see and avoid taking itself too seriously…ok, Deadpool doesn’t take itself seriously at all. In addition to a clear-love of the source material, Miller shines in the film’s action sequences, delivering a hand-to-hand combat fight scene that ranks alongside The Winter Soldier. While there are still a few kinks in editing and cinematography to work out before the film’s inevitable sequel, Miller certainly proved that he was the right guy for the job.
From the moment we see Deadpool’s fantastic opening credit sequence, it’s unmistakable that Miller and Reynolds have created something special for fans and soon-to-be fans alike. This isn’t the best superhero movie ever, not even close, but this was made for a very specific audience who will bestow upon it that very title. This is a film about, and composed entirely of love (and dick jokes.) It took Ryan Reynolds four prior attempts to find a superhero franchise worthy of his particular brand of humor, and in Deadpool he has finally found his calling and I think he knows it. I suspect we’re going to see Ryan Reynolds' butt in red spandex for a long time to come. Sophomoric and charming, Deadpool is a blast to watch, even more so because I know that this is what Deadpool’s biggest fans have been waiting for.
Caution kids, Deadpool at play.