Let’s get one thing straight here, folks: DEADPOOL should not be the lead character of anything. He’s gonzo comic-relief, a bit player with a VERY specific bit to play, and that’s where he’s always belonged – or rather, its where he belonged once somebody figured out what to DO with him.
Look, I don’t wanna pile on Rob Liefeld because the guy probably does probably get way too much hate on the internet (I mean fucking hell, people, YOU draw that many comics at once during your peak and get everybody’s proportions and perspective right 100% of the time!) but the fact is Deadpool “Mark I” was pretty one note even for a 90s X-MEN character. Seriously: “Wolverine + The Punisher + generically sarcastic and also a Ninja?” If original Deadpool embodied any more overused comic-book tropes of the 1990s he’d be an episode of The Anti-Gravity Room.
The character didn’t really get interesting until years later when someone (Joe Kelly usually getting the credit) realized that being a sarcastic asshole who couldn’t die no matter what you did to him effectively made Deadpool a superhero equivalent to Bugs Bunny or Freakazoid or The Mask or whoever your particular frame of reference for that character type is and decided to just lean into it and make him a fourth-wall breaking human cartoon. And just as the “straight” version of Deadpool is cool in limited doses, the “funny” version works well for about as long. Yes, this schtick is funny, but it gets old fast.
I bring this up because, if there are criticisms I imagine to be levied at DEADPOOL by people who were otherwise predisposed to love DEADPOOL, it’s that Deadpool himself isn’t really “in” DEADPOOL for most of DEADPOOL. The film basically “opens” at the end of the second act with our protagonist killing a bunch of people to find out where the main bad guy is, then he finds out and hooks up with a pair of X-Men guest stars to go fight the main bad guy for the ending.
That’s pretty much it – no, really: All the “classic Deadpool” stuff you’ve seen in the trailers with the red suit and the weapons and the meta “he knows it’s only a movie” jokes essentially comprise two big action scenes, which have been time-expanded into an hour and 47 minute movie by intercutting a series of extended flashbacks wherein the titular mercenary gives us his backstory, explains how Wade Wilson became Deadpool and why he’s trying to kill these specific people.
It’s a weird structural decision and I’m not sure it totally works on a narrative level, but what it DOES do is allow the movie to “feel like” Deadpool – as in the red-suited human cartoon bouncing around doing bad standup and slaughtering people – is our focus the whole time even though what the film is actually doing is making sure the character doesn’t actually get to stick around long enough for us to get sick of him. And… I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work.
DEADPOOL is a good movie. It’s not GREAT… but once you key on the idea that it’s actively avoiding being great because just being good let’s you get away with more that makes it okay. It’s a fairly weightless, depth-averse, easily-processed lark of thing, but it gets to where it wants to be and stays honest within its own very particular parameters. There’s actually even some real heart and humanity at the core of the thing that, if explored just an inch or two more might’ve pushed it to greatness but, again, it doesn’t really WANT to be great so there you go.
Ryan Reynolds is, of course, perfect for the title character; both in personality and on the meta level in that he’s another gifted comic actor who’s been repeatedly forced into the mold of a traditional leading man by virtue of being too conventionally handsome for Hollywood to imagine that he’d be good for anything else. As such, there’s something enormously cathartic and “right” about watching him engage in an extended lowbrow subversion of the now-standard superhero movie, which is both the joke and also as close as DEADPOOL comes to having a “point”: In case you were wondering what the hell Colossus was doing here, the idea is that the metal-skinned X-Man is acting as a stand-in for the traditional square-jawed, morally-righteous family-friendly comic-book movie lead who (for some reason) has decided he’s fond of Deadpool and keeps bugging him about setting all the violence and profanity aside to become a more conventional superhero. Ha. Ha.
Colossus is fun, but in terms of the X-Men tie-ins that DEADPOOL is all too happy to point out feel low-rent and tacked-on the breakout star turns out to be Brianna Hildebrand as Colossus’ X-Men trainee “Negasonic Teenage Warhead.” She has real screen presence, but it’s also inspired and close to “brave” to add a character who seems to “get” Deadpool but just doesn’t find him all that amusing – a quintessentially jaded Millennial who seems to regard “The Merc With a Mouth’s” routine as just so much warmed-over Generation-X tryhard clowning that she simply doesn’t the time for. They only really have two extended “moments” together, but it’s endearing to watch Deadpool be alternately frustrated and reactively-invigorated by a “kid” whose already too old to put up with his bullshit. Of all the meta humor one could’ve expected from a DEADPOOL movie, I’d didn’t foresee that it would have the wherewithal to take the piss out of its own piss-taking. Well done.
It’s a fun routine, though, even if it is mainly about reminding us of how supposedly “edgy” it is for people to be swearing, spilling blood and having sex in the Marvel Age of superhero movies almost to the point where you might notice that it’s not really THAT excessively violent or perverse when you get right down to it. Oh, if you’re among the 13 year olds sneaking into the movie demographic DEADPOOL was tailor-made for, I’m sure it’ll blow your fuckin’ mind – but anyone old enough to see this legally is probably A.) again, already too old to properly enjoy it and B.) going to feel like they’ve seen plenty of genre-entries just as if not more extreme.
But yeah, it’s an “angry little boy” movie and as angry little boy movies go it’s probably in the upper echelon thereof; particularly when you consider how much it gets away with in terms of being (on a thematic level) mostly a love story involving Wilson and Morena Baccarin as his similarly off-kilter would-be fiancée in a movie primarily aimed at an audience whose outlook has only JUST started to roll-over from “Girls eeeeew!” to “Boobies yaaaay!” In many ways this might be the best role Baccarin has ever been afforded in a movie – she’s interesting, affecting, attractive and evenly-matched with Reynolds in terms of playfully-naughty comedy chops. Even though DEADPOOL is actively working to undermine every moment that even begins to approach sincerity, that it actually does almost become a better movie than it wants to be is owed almost entirely to how invested we become in this central relationship; which feels earnest and sweet and real and… kind of quietly, half-jokingly forward-looking in certain respects I wouldn’t want to spoil.
If there’s a downside to all this, it’s that it’s occasionally difficult to tell which aspects of the film are deliberately aping the aesthetic of a cheapjack 90s superhero movie for laughs and which ones are honest-to-god flaws because this IS pretty-much a cheapjack 90s superhero movie. Are the bad guys one-note and kinda lame because it’s part of the joke or did they just not try all that hard on the bad guys? Does it all take place in generic action locations like “random freeway,” “grungy basement,” “gratuitous strip club” and “final-boss junkyard” because we’re supposed to laugh in recognition, or were they just saving money? Is Deadpool’s groaner sitcom-punchline sense of humor meant to be genuinely funny, or are we supposed to laugh at his weirdly dated material?
It’s stuff like this that keeps the movie from being great, but doesn’t necessarily keep it from being great fun. DEADPOOL is not, despite the inevitable impending overstatement, the grand deconstruction that the omnipresent superhero genre was waiting for; but it’s a fun “B-side” to the genre and a clever snark-off at the expense of its own weird moment in pop-culture history. I don’t necessarily see how this becomes a “franchise” since it’s already openly acknowledging that this guy wears out his welcome fast; but for now as a one-off gonzo side-project for the X-MEN universe it’s the right movie at the right time – an amusing, decidedly well-made distraction that will likely be received as revelatory by the younger audiences who find a way to see it.
It’s NOT, of course (not “revelatory,” that is) but if there’s one thing DEADPOOL is good at reminding us of it’s that sometimes it’s okay to just let the kids misbehave for a little while.
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