The most surprising thing about “Deadpool” is how mainstream it is. Yes it has a non-lienear story structure, breaks the fourth wall often, and contains dialogue that sounds like it comes from the mouth of a 14-year-old boy who just watched his first “Troma” film. Those things, minus maybe the non-linear storyline, are not at all present in Marvel films either in the MCU or in Fox’s separate Marvel films. “Deadpool” is also the first R-rated Marvel movie since the beginning of the MCU, as the “Punisher” films and “Blade” all came before the recent onslaught of Marvel-ness to our cinemas. Perhaps because of these elements, I was expecting “Deadpool” to be more edgy. Instead, this is pretty much every other superhero movie, except dirtier, more violent, and with a lower budget. The lower budget actually helps, as I for one am tired of superhero films that end with a bunch of CGI cartoons punching each other. Still, “Deadpool” seems like a wasted opportunity to raise the artistic level of these films to something artsier and more challenging. Instead, we get a super-powered Punisher by way of Randall from “Clerks”.
The origin story is fairly bland. A former soldier, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, channeling his “Van Wilder” and “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place” days) who now does petty revenge jobs gets cancer. This is upsetting because he is in love with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and knows his death will hurt her more than it hurts him. So, Wade signs up with a shadowy private organization to undergo a series of painful experiments to wake his dormant mutant genes (this is Fox’s “X-Men” universe) and not only cure his cancer, but give him superpowers. Of course, the guy running these tests is Ajax (Ed Skrein), real name Francis (It’s a fairly funny running joke), a sociopath with no empathy that has the super power of…not being able to feel pain. You know there are people who really have that condition? It’s really dangerous and not an advantageous super power at all. Anyway, it eventually comes out that the private organization is actually (gasp) an evil profit-making venture where they create superheroes and sell them as slaves to rich, evil people. The chance for social commentary here is wasted.
So, the movie largely consists of Wade strapping on a red leather suit and wisecracking his way through a revenge plot to kill Francis, but not before he can find out how Francis can undo the side-effect of the mutant treatment, which has left Wade looking like Freddy Krueger. Wade mostly wants to cure those looks because he’s afraid Vanessa will no longer love him, which is an oddly shallow and somewhat insulting-toward-women feeling, but the film gives Wade a pass on this. I’m sure there’s a message here about boys who talk large and loud but are self-conscious on the inside, but it’s likely lost among the dick jokes.
“Deadpool” tries to be progressive in some ways. There’s a montage mid-way through the film showing Deadpool killing his way through Francis’s underlings. In one block he’s attacked two female associates, and he talks to himself as he wonders which is the sexist act: killing them, because he’s killing women, or not killing them because they’re women. This is a little bit of clever self-awareness among the film’s slew of sophomoric awareness, and I wish the film had more of it. The film is in a weird place where it has humor which is by nature immature and male-centric, but is still attempting to not be as puerile and sexist as that humor normally necessitates. An earlier sex montage, wherein Wade and Vanessa’s relationship is shown throughout a year of holiday-centric sex, features Wade being pegged in the ass by Vanessa because it’s Women’s Independence Day, or something like that. Wade being cool with that, kind of, and still being a masculine action hero for men to admire is a bit progressive, as are Deadpool’s occasional homosexual jokes which indicate he enjoys prostate fingering and playing with men’s balls. Readers of the comic will know that Deadpool is pretty much bisexual, but the film seems shy of admitting this outright and sticks to coding gayness into the character (sewing, wearing “Rent” hoodie, listening to Wham! Records…though the latter two I also enjoy, so…). It’s as if the film doesn’t want to be homophobic, but because it knows much of the audience will be, it can only express homosexuality through self-deprecating humor, which isn’t reactionary per se, but a missed opportunity, and shows an odd timidness to a film that is supposed to revel in the excess of R-rated freedom. If we combine this with Vanessa basically being a one-dimensional love interest who becomes a damsel in distress by the end even though her early introductory scenes play at making her a bit more original, and the film fails at being progressive. Sad, because if a comic movie was really going to push boundaries, I can’t imagine a better vehicle for doing so than “Deadpool”. Now that the film is a success, the sequels will have higher budgets, and thus less creative freedom.
I don’t mean to be a party-pooper, because the film is a lot of fun. It’s not as bloody or gory as I was expecting, but the violence is there and it’s a fun, comic book style that using Wade’s dialogue as music and punctuation. There’s just enough nudity to keep us in R territory but not enough to disappoint the 14-year-old boys of today who have the internet. This film has 80s action movie nudity, with background strippers and a semi-covered sex scene. Wade’s dialogue is occasionally groan inducing, but more often than not it is funny, and the glee behind the delivery somehow strips the vulgarity away from it. Hearing Wade swear is like hearing a 10-year-old swear. Compared to the horrendously unfunny vulgarity of “Dirty Grandpa”, this was a relief. It never feels mean-spirited, even if it’s directed at a particular character that way. An hour and a half of it can get a little old, but usually there’s some action to break it up.
We also get two X-Men in the proceedings. There’s the CGI Colossus, portrayed more true to the comic than his previous film iterations, who with a thick Russian accent represents more conventional comic book morality in a film that finds him cute and simple. We also get Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who is an angsty Hot Topic teen who has the power of generating atomic blasts from her body and yet, somehow, can’t just kill all the villains herself with a power greater than Deadpool’s or Colossus. Much like how Storm could pretty much defeat anyone if she can control of the Earth’s weather, the X-Men are always given powers too powerful for the writers to know what to do with.
The film was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the “Zombieland guys) and directed by Tim Miller, an animator and special effects artist who has now been given his first live action film. Miller does a good job of directing action sequences that are obviously low budget and limited in sets and scope and still not making an audience who has seen an entire city fly in “Age of Ultron” feel let down. We are aware of special relations in battle, a big plus, and we’re not confused or hit with a barrage of quit scenes. Miller’s animation has had large platforms, such as the great opening credits sequence for Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and he shows promise as a director here.
The bottom line is that this is a good, fun action movie. You will probably enjoy it. I did. However, if you are expecting “Deadpool” to be original, subversive, progressive, or ambitious in any way, you will be disappointed. Compared to the other Marvel films we’re getting, I enjoyed the character-centric and comparatively CGI-light nature of the film, but I walked away feeling like this was a missed opportunity for something greater if the filmmakers had swung for the fences a bit more and treated this like a $50 million indie as opposed to a $50 million X-Men movie. Still, the movie knows when to make fun of itself (those opening credits made me chuckle) and the stylistic differences from other Marvel films are enough to make this one of the better ones we’ve seen. B.