(2016, Tim Miller)
As someone who has constantly spoken of his fatigue over the factory line delivery of the same exact superhero film over and over again these last few years, you’d think that an entry into the genre that sought to take the piss out of the whole enterprise would be a refreshing antidote. You’d be wrong. To be fair, Deadpool offers up exactly what it promised, so for the millions of people out there who ate up its marketing campaign like it was the second coming, they will surely be delighted by what first-time director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds deliver in the Merc with the Mouth’s real feature debut (wiping away the memory of whatever the hell they did with him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine seven years ago). Whatever appeal it contains for those myriad viewers, however, is completely lost on me. From where I’m standing, Deadpool is a juvenile mishmash of puerile, frankly just lame, attempts at humor that trip over themselves with a transparent need to please in its desperation to be as “edgy” as possible. Of course, in the eyes of the creative team here (including Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), “edgy” simply equates to being as crass as possible.
Filled with all manner of sexist, racist, xenophobic stereotypes, Deadpool runs the gamut of offensive “humor” to please the young male audience that is certain to eat up its delinquency – or at least it would be offensive if it felt like the film had any measure of relevance to it. Instead, watching Deadpool is like watching the schoolyard bully trying to humiliate and beat up a group of Wall Street brokers who are standing two miles away. It’s a flash in the pan with no greater significance or ability to make an impact of any kind, resulting in something that’s silly and embarrassing to watch and will become outdated by this time next year, if it can last even that long. Reynolds holds himself about as well as he possibly could as the title character, luckily being afforded the opportunity to play him again since he wasn’t at fault for the poor treatment Deadpool/Wade Wilson received in that earlier incarnation. There’s no doubt that he fits this role that he’s been so desperate to realize properly on screen for over a decade now, and as someone who’s been rooting for him and his often underutilized talent for about that long, it’s at least nice to see him finally get a franchise vehicle that’s a massive success critically and financially, rather than the major bombs he’s led several times over. Sadly though, the character wears thin almost immediately, with his queasy sense of humor starting off mildly amusing at best, before becoming intolerable by the end of the overlong nearly two hour running time.
Restricted by its $60 million budget (even a major studio like Fox wasn’t willing to gamble the usual mega-sized budget on an R-rated movie centered around a character whose previous screen interpretation was absolutely reviled, starring an actor with a hard reputation as box-office poison), Reese and Wernick were limited on the amount of action they were able to include in the film, necessitating a lot of backstory and character beats to try and pad enough of the duration in between the big set pieces. Deadpool’s structure is actually slightly interesting for a little while, opening up in the thick of its best action piece (the highway showdown heavily featured in the trailers since it’s the only big money sequence that they have), with Wade flashing back over what led him up to this point, detailing his star-crossed love story with the equally crude prostitute Vanessa Carlysle (a game Morena Baccarin), his diagnosis of terminal cancer, and his inducement into an experimental program run by villainous Ajax (Ed Skrein), which mutated him into a man with accelerated healing powers that cured his cancer, at the cost of severely deforming his skin, effectively transforming him from Wade Wilson into the Deadpool that we see before us. Now he’s hell bent on a mission of revenge against Ajax, and that’s about as much thought as was actually put into this dismally thin story.
The most frustrating thing about Deadpool is how old hat it all ultimately feels. Similar to Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Kick-Ass a few years back, it opens up by making us believe that it’s going to be some kind of subversive antidote to the overwhelming omnipresence of the superhero genre that has taken over the screens, but despite all of those promises, underneath the surface it is exactly the same. Sure, it’s rated R which can offer a higher level of gore and some frequent swearing, and yes the fourth-wall breaking nature of the character is a unique spin that allows the script to address the fact that it’s following all of the same old cliches, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still following them. If anything, it only makes the whole approach offensive to the audience by making a joke or two over the fact that they’re really just repeating the conventional formula, without actually making any attempt to deviate from the norm when it all comes down to it. The admittedly amusing opening credits gives us a cast list that doesn’t feature the actors’ names, but instead boils the characters down to their most basic stereotypes (“The Hot Chick”, “A CGI Character”, etc.), mocking the one-note characterizations that these roles are often stuck with in the superhero genre. It’s entertaining at first, until you realize that it’s only letting us know that the characters are going to be exactly the same ones that we’ve seen before.
One thing I can give Deadpool credit for, however, is that it refreshingly doesn’t spend a lot of its time trying to set up sequels and spin-offs the way that most of these movies do these days. Its boring origin/revenge story doesn’t hold much of interest, but at least it exists on its own terms and not as a filler for the next movie. The only real connective tissue to the expanded world beyond this character comes in the form of X-Men Colossus (a fully CGI creation voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), which is an element that does offer up a few problems (the fact that they feature the X-Mansion that is completely empty aside from those two characters is ridiculous, and something that the fourth-wall break does crack a joke about), but it could have been a lot worse. To be fair, Deadpool as an experience is clearly more about that trademark caustic sense of humor than it is about the story itself. So, if you enjoy what Reynolds is offering up with his juvenile, relentless comedy over the course of these two hours, perhaps it’s easy to look past the thin revenge plot that hinges on boring, reductive damsel in distress stakes and a small-scale anticlimactic final showdown between the annoying hero and the completely irrelevant, uninteresting, paper thin British villain who has similar powers to the main character. That only works if the humor is running at your speed. For me, the jokes fell flat about 95% of the time, making Deadpool a borderline torturous experience that actually ends up being worse than the standard formulaic superhero movies that are fed out to us multiple times every year. At least those aren’t pretending to be something different.