Review: Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)
Violent, quip-laden superhero film that indulges in self-referential meta-humour as much as it does crude, sexual humour. Highly entertaining sophomoric juvenilia that revels in its nerd-dom and pokes fun at the very comics-based industry it celebrates and is part of. Brutal, silly and joyful celebration of superhero geekiness.
Adapting a character like Deadpool to the big screen didn’t go well the first time around in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (dir. Gavin Hood, 2006), but this time Ryan Reynolds got to indulge in a fairly accurate portrayal of the infamous ‘Merc with a Mouth’. Rated 15 in the UK. Deadpool is a gratuitously violent superhero film with a penchant for off-colour sexual humour. Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a smart-mouthed former Special Forces soldier turned mercenary. Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, volunteers for an experimental treatment that gives him superpowers, and ends up going on a violent revenge rampage.
The part seems custom made for Reynolds’ easy charm and quip-happy delivery that he honed in films like Van Wilder: Party Liaison (dir. Walt Becker, 2002) and Blade: Trinity (dir. David S. Goyer, 2004) and it doesn’t hurt that he clearly threw himself into physical preparation for the role (apparently they had to take the ‘muscle layer’ out of the costume because Reynolds was too muscular). But if you are not a fan of juvenile sex-jokes and crude gags, then Reynolds’ amiable charisma and over-the-top action antics will be hard-pressed to convince you to enjoy this film. Although even the crudest references in Deadpool possess a certain innocent appeal, rather than being malicious or mean spirited. However, the majority of the best gags and quips in the film are those that engage directly with the rampant self-awareness of the character and that poke fun at the various superhero franchises and Hollywood system. From the faux opening credits sequence through to the frequent breaches of the 4th wall, this is a film with its tongue rooted firmly in its cheek and its gaze fixed on self-referential, meta-humour, and this alone makes it worth watching. So it is a deceptively smart script that only appears infantile.
There is a palpable, exuberant joy in Reynolds’ performance that brings a great deal of energy and vitality to an otherwise straightforward and tired origin storyline. Although it should be noted that the choice to edit the film non-sequentially aids in the illusion that the story is more creative and innovative than it actually is. In fact, in a number of regards there can be strong comparisons made between Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn, 2014) in that both are superhero films that try to bring a sense of fun and the ridiculous back to the genre that has become increasingly serious and grim in recent years. Both star heroic man-children as the central protagonists, and neither rely on particularly innovative or complex plots in order to put on a good show. But Reyonlds’ physical acting, aided by excellent CGI enhancement of the mask, give the character of Deadpool a wonderfully expressive physical comedy that even Chris Pratt couldn’t deliver, and has hithertofore been missing from the X-Men universe and the Marvel superhero franchise in general.
The film is set in the X-Men universe and clearly references other aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it is unclear (and also one of the jokes in the film) about how it will fit in the broader scheme of Marvel’s master narrative. But, as a result, two other X-men appear in the film, Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic, physically played by Andre Tricoteux) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Colossus’ well-meaning heroic platitudes, combined with Negasonic’s teenage world-weariness contrast brilliantly with Deadpool’s irreverent, frenetic amorality. The resulting melange of characters provides an interesting and entertaining sight and leads to some genuinely humorous exchanges.
The opposing team of Ajax (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano) provide suitably evil antagonists, with Skrein’s sneering English accent dripping villainy, and Carano’s much more subdued physical acting conveying brutal violence in abundance. While much of the story is simplistic and without any real nuance, there is a certain pleasure to be had in watching it unfold and move along briskly rather than being confounded by artificial plot twists and unnecessary complications. Keeping it simple and focused on the conflict between Deadpool and Ajax gives the narrative a streamlined appeal and allows the audience to concentrate on the film’s real strength, the character of Deadpool himself.
All in all, Deadpool is a highly entertaining film with lots of action, physical comedy, meta-commentary, geeky-references and in-jokes, and a surprisingly reverent irreverence, but it suffers from a simplistic storyline and a thinly realised world. One can only hope that it does well enough to greenlight a sequel that will attract a larger budget and a more forgiving production schedule that allows for a bigger and more nuanced film.