Director: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, Gina Carano, Karan Soni
It is not often in Hollywood that you get a second shot at something, a chance to right a wrong. Ryan Reynolds’ first appearance as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, was a supporting role in 2009’s disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That incarnation of the character infuriated diehard fans by deviating significantly from the source material. Nothing more perfectly encapsulated that movie’s failure to grasp the essence of the character than the decision to take “the merc with a mouth” and literally sew his lips shut. Since then, Reynolds has worked tirelessly to get another shot at playing Deadpool in a film that got it right. Seven years later, that film has arrived and Reynolds has found the role for which he will be remembered.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a wise-cracking mercenary, a bad guy who makes a living roughing up worse guys. He meets prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a kindred spirit who is compatibly messed up, and the two fall hopelessly in love. But no sooner have things started to look rosy for Wade he is diagnosed with late stage cancer. When all appears lost, a mysterious man offers him the chance to undergo an experimental procedure designed to accelerate any dormant mutations in his genes. If successful it will not only cure his cancer, it will turn him into a superhero. But it becomes apparent the sadistic doctor overseeing his treatment, Ajax (Ed Skrein), is trying to turn him into a super slave rather than a hero, and to inflict the maximum amount of pain possible in the process. The procedure leaves Wilson horribly scarred but is ultimately successful. Super he may be but a hero he is not, and he sets about to make Ajax pay for what he did to him.
Deadpool aims to deconstruct the many tropes and clichés of the comic book movie genre. From the very beginning it signals its tongue-in-cheek intention to be different. Rather than introducing its stars, the opening credits point to its stock characters: starring “a hot chick,” “a British villain,” “the comic relief,” “a gratuitous cameo” and “a CGI character,” all directed by “an overpaid hack.” This is the level of meta, self-aware comedy that existed in the original comic series and that director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland) are seeking to retain.
The defining feature of Deadpool as both a character and a film is self-awareness. We have seen wise-cracking, sarcastic, quippy superheroes before. They have almost become the norm. But the nature of Deadpool’s quips set him apart. Deadpool knows he is in a comic book movie. So in his regular breaking of the fourth wall – one of the hallmarks of the original comic book series – he not only comments on the film we are watching, acknowledging that this is an origin story and hopefully the beginning of a franchise, but on the wider comic-book universe. He makes jokes about Reynolds’ appearances in Green Lantern and the failed Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well as referencing the other stars and films in the X-Men franchise. While there has been a lot of focus on the adult content of the film – its graphic violence, sex and racey humour – Deadpool is neither the first comic book movie targeted at adults (Kick Ass, The Watchmen, and The Punisher films have all gone there before), nor is it the first openly comedic one (did people forget Guardians of the Galaxy so quickly?). Rather, it is this self-awareness which marks Deadpool’s most original contribution to the ever expanding comic book movie genre.
While that may be the case, graphic violence and sexual humour are still important ingredients of what makes Deadpool Deadpool. This means that doing Deadpool right, as Reynolds, who also produced the film, was so determined to do, meant embracing a restricted rating. Even though Deadpool’s estimated US$58 million budget is modest by current comic book blockbuster standards (something the character acknowledges by questioning why he only ever meets the same two X-Men), it still represented a risky project for Twentieth Century Fox. Accepting a restricted rating counts out a large portion of the traditional audience for this genre of movie – though, admittedly, some of its more puerile humour suggests that teenage boys sneaking in beneath the age restriction are still part of the target market. To their credit, Twentieth Century Fox – who have pretty consistently got their X-Men films right and their Fantastic Four films wrong – have hit the nail on the head with Deadpool. While far from being a great film, it is a film which is tonally guided by its protagonist. It is crass, over-the-top and manic, and sometimes it laughs a bit too hard at its own jokes. But it is the film that this irreverent, perverse character required, embracing a tone which simply could not be achieved in a PG, fun-for-all-ages movie.
While being quite a lot of fun, where it disappoints is in the fact that for a film that presents itself as something entirely original and different it ends up being quite generic. All of Deadpool’s points of difference, and of interest, are merely on the surface. Beneath the swearing, the strippers and the gore, is a disappointingly straightforward comic book origin story. There is minimal plot in the film, with the hour-and-forty-eight minute runtime essentially made up of two action set pieces and a series of flashbacks. This simple revenge story also has unusually low stakes for this type of movie. There is no larger good-vs-evil story or fate-of-the-world narrative, which represents a departure from the formula in one sense, but not an overly engaging one.
Deadpool is not a movie for everyone and does not seek to be. To some this motor-mouthed character will be a breath of fresh air. To others he will be immensely annoying. Deadpool has a more niche appeal than those Marvel Cinematic Universe movies like Iron Man and The Avengers. But if the opening numbers are anything to go by, that niche market is a strong enough one to make Deadpool one of the early success stories of 2016. One just hopes that the major studios learn the right lessons from this success: not that comic book movies need to be more adult oriented and are better served by embracing restricted classifications, but that, like with Christopher Nolan’s successful Dark Knight Trilogy, the tone of the film should be dictated by its character, not by what has worked elsewhere.
Review by Duncan McLean
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