Oh, Deadpool. Deadpool is a character that tends to inspire strong reactions in people, and in any direction it’s usually for the same reasons. People love or hate Deadpool because historically he breaks the fourth wall, he’s got a smart mouth that won’t quit, and he’s what the kids call “edgy.” Though I’ve only read a few of his comics I’ve always enjoyed Deadpool myself; that fourth-wall-breaking thing he does allows for Marvel comics to poke fun at themselves in a way most publishers of media are generally hesitant to do. The canon surrounding him has shifted and changed (and will probably continue to do so), and cosplayers looking to engage in ridiculous antics wear his costume to conventions.
So what does all of this mean for Deadpool, the movie? Primarily that expectations have been running amok. The above combined with his previous portrayal in a film (the abominable X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and the, uh, creative marketing has had this movie on people’s minds for quite a while.
The good news: For fans of Deadpool, this will likely please you to no end, and for those new to Deadpool, you’ll almost certainly be entertained. The bad news: Deadpool has plenty of potential to be a great film, but rather than reach for that it seems content to remain perfectly adequate.
Excited to earn its R-rating, Deadpool opens with the titular anti-hero a.k.a. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, living the dream) killing some dudes and making pithy comments about it. Splicing together the movie’s present with some of Wade’s memories, we see his life play out in short: ex-military Wade did some bad stuff, now he gets paid to beat up bad dudes. He meets a gal named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and by way of so-horrible-it’s-kinda-funny jokes they hit it off. Their dream romance is cut short when Wade comes down with a case of the cancers, tumors permeating his body. To solve his cancer problem, he checks into a facility that turns out to be torture camp. Ajax a.k.a. Francis (Ed Skrein) goes to town on his body until it mutates into something that cannot die, and makes him sorta ugly I guess? And then he escapes and vows to track Francis down so he can reunite with his dream girl.
Let’s get this bit out of the way: Deadpool is exactly as self-aware as it is expected to be, yet not as self-aware as it needs to be to really pull off this self-satirizing thing it’s trying to do. Deadpool is a man who knows he is in a movie, who knows that his life is quite fake even as he’s very invested in it. The idea is that he’s a little bit mad and, by a happy accident, his madness lines up with our reality. Sometimes the movie pulls this off with aplomb, sometimes it’s incredibly clumsy. When the former happens it is impressive; when the latter happens it can take you out of the movie entirely, leaving you frowning at the screen until the moment passes. Deadpool is clever but not as smart as it needs to be to make this work; the studio refusing to let it go that far, perhaps? In any case, it’s an exercise in secondhand embarrassment to watch a movie try so hard and not quite succeed.
Aside from all that, Deadpool prides itself on being edgy and offensive, but its “edginess” is largely on the surface. It doesn’t take any chances with its storyline or its depictions of its characters. It’s afraid to do anything with too many feelings; it’s afraid to make any kind of point, really. Colossus exists as a foil to Deadpool for no particular reason other than including him in the film. The movie insists it’s not a superhero film, even though it is a superhero film by the numbers + boobs + swearing. Deadpool’s character arc is so thin it’s practically gossamer, disappearing into all but non-existence at the slightest gust of sarcastic wind. A movie doesn’t need to be deep to work, but it needs at least a smidge of substance; Deadpool gets close to it once or twice, but dances away as soon as it thinks it might have a genuine human feeling. The point is that everything is a punchline, but that can work on a thematic level if we really feel his pain. Humor is the ultimate coping mechanism, but if we’re never given more than half an impression of what Wade is feeling, then why should we give a fuck how his fight turns out beyond the spectacle of the thing?
But, credit where credit is due, as his first directing credit Tim Miller has quite a feather to stick in his cap. For all its weaknesses, Deadpool is at least memorable, and even remarkable for a director’s first time out. In a way, Deadpool puts me in mind of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World; it does an excellent job translating the style and tone of its source material to the screen, even if its dedication to nailing that tone weakens the film’s overall pacing and structure a little. For as many complaints as I could make about Deadpool, the fact that it invited a comparison to anything done by Edgar Wright is itself a compliment; I’d be interested to see what else Tim Miller can do. (Referring to himself as “An Overpaid Tool” in the opening credits was lovely; keep that sense of perspective, Tim.) And it certainly helps that no one is having as much fun with this as Ryan Reynolds.
Much like its title character, what Deadpool lacks in depth, it can’t quite make up in glibness. The movie is funny and often fun, but its inability to deviate from something focus-tested and studio-approved hampers its ability to be something truly special. The movie is content to be smug and silly and vulgar, but it’s sad to see it settle for that when, as Colossus keeps telling Deadpool, it could be something more.Liked This? Share It!