This week, the Merc with a Mouth blasts his way into theaters, ending the incredibly long and convoluted process that led him from his role as the worst part of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to his first genuine cinematic debut. The fact that this film is even being made (by Fox no less) is still a little surreal, but how does it stack up? Unfortunately, it's quite the mixed bag, some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and some of it is in-between.
This is a film made with the fans in mind. From the costume to the R-rating, director Tim Miller, star Ryan Reynolds, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have made a concerted effort to give the fans a genuine depiction of a character as kooky (and violent) as Deadpool, and clearly have an appreciation of the fan community that literally made this movie possible. What’s more, the film gleefully skewers itself and its stars, taking swipes at everything from Reynolds' past attempts at portraying a superhero, to Fox’s previous mishandling of the character. Nothing is off limits and it’s strangely cathartic having a superhero film openly discuss its own studio’s shortcomings.
Unfortunately good intentions don’t equal instant quality, and the film doesn’t always land in substantial ways. First and foremost, the origin-story-cum-revenge tale is surprisingly conventional. Really conventional. To the point where, while watching the climax I had to wonder, must every superhero movie now end with massive CGI destruction? And if an R-rated Deadpool movie can’t break the mold, what the hell can? It's disappointing to see Deadpool running around a story that hits so many familiar plots points for superhero cinema, and while some might counter that the filmmakers had to do a conventional plot since they were taking so many risks already, I don’t buy it. The studio had the guts to greenlight this R-rated movie; it seems doubtful they’d be willing to wave goodbye to most of the teenage demographic, but force the writers to churn out a cliche story. I believe this was purely a lame storytelling choice.
Deadpool’s humor is also a mixed bag. It’s gleefully vulgar, but rarely clever. Vulgarity in and of itself isn’t bad, but it’s not good either. To me a joke isn’t funny just because it includes the word ‘penis’, but many of Deadpool’s lines in the film feel like the writers wanted to make good use of the R-rating (mission accomplished) but forgot to write something actually funny. There are genuinely funny moments in the film, there’s a brutally dark and clever joke where Deadpool wonders if hitting a female assassin is sexist or if it’s more sexist not to hit her. That’s great stuff. Deadpool also gets some time to interact with the cab driver seen in the trailers, and the results are wonderfully off-kilter. But perhaps more importantly they’re genuine. The distinction I want to make here is in the moments that work, Deadpool is being weird because he’s just freaking weird. We’re shown he’s Deadpool. Whereas a lot of the weaker jokes come from Deadpool playing it up too much for the camera, telling us he’s Deadpool. It comes across too overtly like profane stand-up (and not good Louis CK stand-up) instead of Deadpool just being himself. Yes Deadpool is aware of the 4th wall, but he shouldn’t be trying so hard to entertain us. He should just be entertaining because he’s crazy.
I think there’s a natural comparison that can be made between Deadpool and Jack Sparrow, in that both characters are off-kilter, and can be a hoot to watch onscreen, but a crucial factor is they don’t function well by themselves. Their likeability comes from seeing how they bounce off other characters in the narrative. To that end, Deadpool could have used a more proactive supporting cast. I use that word because he certainly has a good supporting cast, among them Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, whose interactions with Deadpool are among the film’s strongest material, but none of these supporting characters (X-Men included) want anything badly enough to drive the plot or provide a consistent foil for Deadpool.They mostly just pop up when needed, so we’re deprived of engaging moments like Jack and Will Turner trying to employ different methods to achieve their goal, and frustrating each other in the process.
I walked out of the theater underwhelmed by the film, wishing I had seen something clever, rather than something content to just be profane. Judging by the early reactions though, I’m in the minority. However Birth.Movies.Death had a great take on how Deadpool might be reviewed,
“This is one of those movies I dread putting on Rotten Tomatoes, which doesn’t allow a nuanced opinion - you loved it or you hated it!”
For anyone else who walks out of the movie wondering why everyone was laughing but them, take a peek at one of my favorite representations of Deadpool, it comes courtesy of YouTube channel It’sJustSomeRandomGuy, who utilizes action figures to have characters from different comic companies interact. For my money this video is far more clever and enjoyable than the film we were treated to.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.