Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein
Director: Tim Miller
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
If Paul Rudd's goofy central figure in Ant-Man was the unlikely superhero you'd be happy bringing home to mom, then Deadpool, played by king of snark Ryan Reynolds, is the anti-hero at the frat party getting wasted, dropping f-bombs, and having sex with you're girlfriend. As such, there's something initially novel about a superhero movie aimed away from the four-quadrant mentality. Meaning, Deadpool is an exceedingly vulgar, ultra-violent, and self-aware comic book picture which lays it's cards on the table right away with a winking opening sequence, complete with placeholder credits like "Produced by Asshats", "Directed by a Toolbag" etc, inviting the audience to chuckle at the movie's faux meta-cleverness. It's almost as if the filmmakers are saying, this film may be bad, but we know it, and you should just relish how politically incorrect we are going to be.
Whether or not he's actually a toolbag in real life, debuting director Tim Miller does get carried away with the idea that he's making something subversive--a comic book flick commenting on the clichés of the genre while also liberally indulging in them--and there's something depressing about a movie which cops out by nudging you in the ribs in order to excuse it's own ineptitude. The story centers around Wade Wilson (Reynolds), a former special ops killing machine who spends his days taking out low-life scum. He seemingly has only one friend; a local barkeep named Weasel (T.J. Miller), in addition to a damaged prostitute girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), whom we see expressing their love through holiday-themed sex montages. Learning he has cancer, Wade seeks out a shadowy figure who eventually leads him to Francis (Ed Skrein), a villainous rouge who uses experimental treatment which leaves our wise-cracking hero disfigured. In an attempt to exact revenge on Francis, Wade transforms into an anti-hero modeled after Spider Man and a masculine version of Hit-Girl from Kick Ass (a superior film, incidentally, going for a similar tone).
The problems with Deadpool don't necessarily involve content; in fact, fans of the comic will undoubtably hail the cinematic version as a faithful representation of the character. However, the issues here stem from the fact that the never-ending stream of jokes, puns, and quippy one-liners exist mainly to disguise the fact that this is essentially yet another lame origins story. The filmmakers are trying to sell us on the notion that, as a character, Deadpool is an audacious fuck-off to the usual studio brand; Reynolds even name-checks his own superhero dud Green Lantern, but in reality, this is simply more of the same, only with more fourth wall-breaking and Wolverine dick jokes. Truthfully, Reynolds' motor-mouthed schtick is a perfect fit for this particular persona, and the failure of the film has little to do with his performance, which is pitched directly at 14-year-old boys. Instead, Deadpool simply doesn't hold together because it mistakes it's middle finger attitude and freeway pileup of escalating jokes for legitimate cleverness. There's a definite precedent here; other than Kick-Ass and Kingsman (both directed by Matthew Vaughn), it seems like Miller and his writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, are going for something in the vein of an R-rated version of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. However, while that zippily entertaining gem had pop-culture references and a meta-awareness of it's own conventions, it also felt like a movie. Deadpool, for all the smug allusions to it's own genre trappings, looks like a Netflix TV show and in terms of story, follows the same path as the very things it's poking fun at.
The film attempts to show two sides of Wade Wilson by jumping back and forth in time--two years prior during his mercenary days and the present Deadpool era--but this juxtaposition only highlights the fact that there aren't really two sides here. Wade has always been an annoying, fast-talking douche bag, and wearing a costume only makes it slightly less obnoxious because, at the very least, he gets to perform spinning jumps while blowing away disposable thugs in between lowest common denominator jokes. Even the action here, though, is unremarkable; delivered in dull shaky cam medium shots where Deadpool does a variation on the same attack move (mostly spinning, shooting, and leaping off things) while spewing whatever idiotic thing comes into his head. There's the prototypical lame villain (where's the joke here?), a glum henchmen, or in this case henchwoman (Gina Carano, probably more invested in this than she should be), and X-Men crossover characters Colossus (Stefan Kapičić), and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), mostly on hand to engage in the predictable final showdown that one would expect this movie to mock. Deadpool even gets a few moments of heartfelt monologuing regarding his love for Vanessa, but she's barely onscreen enough to register. Furthermore, Wade Wilson is so unapologetically irritating that such instances of emotion simply come off even more offensive than the rest of the slapdash, supposedly shocking material the rest of the movie indulges in.
Deadpool is like The Big Short of comic book entries; a glib rant against the sins of the corporate system which also hopes the audience will find all the finger-wagging entertaining. Having gone from the stinky camp of the Joel Schumacher-helmed Batman films to the resurrected Christopher Nolan versions which sought to place grittiness and psychological complexity back into the comic book milieu, we've now gone completely in the other direction. It says something sad about the prevalence of the superhero brand in cinemas that a Marvel character gets his own movie by pissing on the very hand that feeds him. In our extra-textual, pop-political moment, Deadpool stands as a testament to the idea that nothing matters so long as there's room for a little self-congratulation.