Tuesday, February 16, 2016

We Don't Need Another Hero

Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Say, has anybody noticed that there seems to be quite a few of these superhero pictures coming out lately? In the eight years since Iron Man, Hollywood has essentially converted into one of those baseball pitching machines, lobbing out comic book movies at a steadily increasing clip. Some are home runs (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers) and some are whiffs (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, goddamn Fantastic Four), but at this point superheroes are still a money tree with diamond fruit, and studios will keep shaking it until it’s kindling.

Deadpool bills itself as an anti-superhero movie, a saucy, R-rated pastiche that will breathe new life into the hopelessly self-serious format. Seeing how snark is practically a character in Marvel’s Joss Whedon-tinged Phase 2, this isn’t exactly how it works. And Deadpool is a superhero story the same way (500) Days of Summer is a love story. Sure, it’s caustic and self-aware, but it’s more firmly encamped in the genre than it’s willing to admit. Nevertheless, Deadpool is quite easily the best 20th Century Fox Marvel movie in at least a decade.

Let’s rock ‘n roll.

In Deadpool, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a fast-talking mercenary madly in love with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When he discovers he has terminal cancer, he signs up for an aggressive treatment from the wicked Ajax (Ed Skrein), which activates a latent mutation that gives him miraculous healing powers but scars his face beyond recognition. He narrowly escapes the institution and is now hellbent on finding Ajax, getting a cure, and winning back his lady love. On hand to help are two benchwarmer X-Men, Colossus (Stefan Kupicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand).

Someone in the X-Men publicity department probably got fired for that code name.

Deadpool is a strange beast. Trying to package it under any kind of defining label is like trying to sculpt with butter on an August afternoon. It’s a slippery, misshapen behemoth that desperately strains to break the mold but passes out from exertion before it quite accomplishes that. I have quite a few bones to pick with Deadpool, and I’ll get to them forthwith, but I just that you should know that, for all its braying and its lumpy stature, it’s a damn entertaining film and sometimes that’s all that matters.

First off, let’s discuss that R-rating. This is mostly used for good (if your definition of “good” involves vigorous holiday sex and a solid slate of absurdist gags that I shall dub The Masturbation Variations). It’s bloodier than your average superhero flick, and a strip club scene actually displays topless women As divested as I am of a particular interest in the female anatomy, I always respect realistic depictions of topless bars instead of the sanitized sitcom hellscape of women endlessly gyrating in their bras and panties.

But despite its triumphant heralding of its loosened sexual mores, Deadpool feels oddly tame. Two actresses (the ones who are actually paid good money to be here) have scenes written specifically into the film that require exposed breasts, but they’re demurely obscured. And certain key moments of violence are deliberately sequestered offscreen to the degree that it’s almost impossible to comprehend the action. My question is this: Why include these scenes at all if you’re too afraid to actually engage with them? Aside from Deadpool’s vigorous usage of the F-word like a dog demolishing a new chew toy, there seems to be a discernible reluctance to truly push the envelope. Sure, it’s salacious, but it’s barely American Pie level naughty. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if the movie weren’t so obsessed with announcing how ribald it is.

This is possibly a result of producers having no clue how Deadpool was going to be received and attempting to temper its personality. This cluttered, acerbic tale is halfway to where it wants to be, whether it’s sex, violence, Deadpool’s scar makeup, or even its approach toward women. Trapped in limbo between archetypical damsels in distress and broad-as-hell mistranslated Feminist Manifesto Super Warriors, the female presence in this movie utterly fails to make any impression at all (save Brianna Hildebrand, playing a teen stereotype with unrivaled glee). However, now that Deadpool is raking in Hunger Games numbers, I hope the sequel will be more willing to embrace its rating, settling into the truly unique spectrum the character deserves.

Although I’m undoubtedly a gentleman, I’m not NOT lobbying for full frontal Ryan Reynolds. You know. For equality.

I think you get the picture. Deadpool is a little all over the place. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a shot in the arm. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Oasis, Deadpool is Blink-182, a snotty and hyperactive answer to the superhero doldrums. Its humor is uncommonly divisive, but that’s indubitably a good thing. It’s a facet of the in-your-face gonzo attitude that the film intermittently achieves.

The humor is immature, gloating, wacky, gross, and uncompromising in tis vicious assault on the fourth wall and if you’re not ready for it, it will rub you the wrong way. I’m just saying, if you’re wearing a polo and chinos into the multiplex, this may not be the film for you. But as a childish volcano of sardonic, biting comedy, it’s a remarkably fun ride. Listing jokes is a hallmark of dull criticism, so I shall refrain from doing so, but let’s just say there may or may not be a Deadpool rap song on the soundtrack. It’s rad, and my inner high schooler had a blast.

Deadpool owes everything it has to one Mssr. Ryan Reynolds. He is wholly devoted to the role, harnessing all his inherent charm to sell the ceaseless antics. In the hands of a lesser actor, Deadpool would be garish disaster, but here he supplies an undertone of flinty rage to color the emotionally flavorless aspects of the script. As it sands, he rules the film, clobbering the fourth wall with an elegant Brechtian flourish.

Deadpool’s bouncy tone is captured well in a refreshingly small-scale story that, while overpopulated with comic book movie tropes, allows its characters to breathe without facing some preternaturally epic, sky-gobbling menace. It’s a slick, unstable film that doesn’t visually challenge its audience, but thanks to Reynolds it’s nevertheless a relentless success. Just like The Force Awakens, it leaves the door open for a much better sequel, but its messiness is still a blast of nuclear proportions.

TL;DR: Deadpool has its fair share of problems, but it's so energizingly fun that they're easy to ignore.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1111
Reviews In This Series
Deadpool (Miller, 2016)
Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018)

1 comment:

  1. It's astonishing to me how well-received Deadpool has been, and I think it must be drawing from a whole legion of different constituencies. I liked it a fair amount, though I think I appreciate it more than love it; as far as ranking it goes, it's better than Wolverine 2013 or The Last Stand, but I'd take either of the two latterday X-Men films over it in a heartbeat, and I think it's probably in the same ballpark as the first two X-Men films. (I have not actually *seen* Origins: Wolverine, but, you know, it's not well-liked.)

    As for RR wang, I'm assured by my girlfriend and her two pals that it was there, but not that I saw, and I imagine I was looking. On the other hand, I'm 99% sure I did see some fully-topless Baccarin. I guess the lesson is we all see what we want to see, and it's very profound? Thanks Deadpool!

    But Ajax is the worst, right? I mean worst villain ever. In any of these movies.