Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016)
As I feel obliged to mention every time I write a review of a new film from the Marvel universe, I am not an aficionado of any comic-book series, anywhere or anyhow. Except for one brief period in my life, in my early twenties, when I desperately wanted to do anything but write my M.A. thesis and just happened to live with roommates who owned a very large comic collection, I have generally stayed away from the stuff. It’s not that it’s uninteresting – some of the characters are quite compelling – but rather that, much like video games (which I also avoid), it can prove addictive without providing much in the way of substance, entertaining me on the surface while leaving me hungry for more, like binging on junk food. Graphic novels are something different (or can be, in the right hands), but your average comic book, even if beautifully illustrated, just doesn’t fill me up (unless, again, I have something else that I should be doing). Now that I’ve lost the comic-reading audience, let me proceed.
All of this means that certain segments of our current blockbuster world are fast becoming ever-more monotonous, as we see superhero (or, heroes) battle super villain (or, villains) in a CGI landscape where the conflict is spelled out in bold letters. The oft-simplistic dialogue rests atop an impenetrably baroque visual design where gazillions of pixels rush through our 3D glasses with every explosion and punch. It can be a lot of fun, but after the nth installment, also mind-numbing. Occasionally, there’s a character that I like so much, and a script that manages to be topical, as in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that my ennui is dispelled, and a rollicking good time is had. At other times, if it’s clear that the filmmakers, themselves, might be as bored with the “same old same old” as I am, and are trying something new and irreverent, as with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, I take great pleasure in the discovery that the genre can still hold surprises (though I am not looking forward to the sequels of these last two, where I am sure to be disappointed). And then there’s Deadpool.
All I knew about this new Marvel hero (or, as it turns out, anti-hero), I learned from talking to my fellow film attendees before the movie started. Since I arrived close to the start time, that means I knew very little. That, plus the above opinions about Marvel that I just vented, means that my expectations were extremely low. As it turns out, that was a great thing, because Deadpool takes the notion of genre-reinvigoration to new heights. Though extremely violent – and jokey about that violence – and often extremely vulgar, with the usual comic misogyny (you know, hot girlfriend is a stripper/whore kind of thing), Deadpool is a delightfully in-your-face examination of the superhero movie that chews up the worst clichés of stories past and spits out their remains in a bloody mess that is one extraordinarily fun ride. Like the wonderful first Kick-Ass (but not the terrible second), it manages to have its cake and vomit it, too. If that sounds appealing, then this is the movie for you!
Ryan Reynolds (Self/less) is Wade Wilson, our protagonist, and if ever a wannabe big star needed a hit, it’s Reynolds. A highly appealing – if somewhat limited – actor, Reynolds has tried before to make it big, with the abominable Green Lantern, which tanked. Since then, he’s struggled in mediocre fare, though not without the occasional serious effort, as in last year’s Woman in Gold, opposite Helen Mirren. Perhaps, all this time, what he’s needed is a little more shock-jock, because he inhabits the role of the wise-cracking Wilson – who becomes Deadpool after a cancer-cure treatment leaves him disfigured but immortal – with such brazen braggadocio that we wonder where this side of Reynolds has been all along. If the movie’s well-deserved R-rating doesn’t keep it from being a big hit, this could be Reynold’s movement. And justly so.
Right from the beginning, in a lengthy digitized tracking shot through a freeze frame of a car accident, the camera slowly working its way through the details of mayhem while a sappy pop song plays on the soundtrack, we know we’re in for something different. Post-credits, we flash back to what led us there, meeting Wilson, pre-transformation, as he works as a small-time mercenary. Cutting back and forth between the events immediately preceding the opening accident and Wilson’s back story, we see him meet Vanessa – Morena Baccarin (Dr. Thompkins on Gotham), who is terrific here, but deserves to play more three-dimensional characters – that stripper/hooker (of course), fall in love, and then get his cancer diagnosis. Too bad. But then a mysterious doctor shows up, offers him the chance at a live-saving treatment, and the plot is set in motion. That treatment will save his life, but also alter his good looks, and, bien sûr, grant him super powers. Along the way, Reynolds constantly breaks the fourth wall and severs heads, laughing most of the time. Some members of the X-Men show up, and there is, of course, the mandatory final showdown between good (sort of) guys and bad. It’s not, after all, a complete reinvention of the genre. But it is one hell of a fun riff on it. And for it’s worth, it’s not in 3D.