Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Deadpool" Has His Day

The age of the anti-superhero has arrived.  After years and years of missteps and delays, the raunchy, graphically violent, potty-mouthed, superpowered mercenary Deadpool finally has his own movie.  And it couldn't have come at a more perfect time.  We've been inundated with self-important big-budget superhero slugfests for years now, and suddenly here comes the Merc with the Mouth, who kicks ass but refuses to play by the rules.  He not only subverts nearly every superhero convention he can find, but also constantly breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience exactly what's on his tasteless, juvenile, hilarious mind.  Think of the irreverence of "Guardians of the Galaxy" times ten, plus a buffet of gleeful R-rated content to really hammer the point home.

Ryan Reynolds stars as the titular reprobate, who we first meet on a taxi ride to confront the villains.  Immediately, the tone is set. Comedy comes first, in "Deadpool," then action, and then the requisite plot.  So it's only after some laughs with the taxi driver and a showy action sequence, that Deadpool starts telling us about his origins in flashback.  He was originally a gun-for-hire named Wade Wilson, who fell in love with the lovely Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), shortly before learning that he had terminal cancer.  Wade made the mistake of going into a supersoldier program run by Ajax (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano), hoping for a cure.  Wade survived their treatment and came out with superpowers, but also too disfigured to go back to Vanessa.  So now he's in a mask and out for revenge.  Deadpool is part of the "X-men" movie universe, so a pair of mutants Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) also get involved to try and recruit him to the side of angels.  Deadpool is not interested.

I knew a little about Deadpool going into the film, recognizing him as the goofy, Bugs Bunny-like assassin who frequently pops up in cosplay photos online, poking fun at the bigger name superheroes.  However, discussion of the film over the long, long years of it's time in development hell emphasized how it had to be R-rated or it would be pointless.  I wasn't sure how this movie was going to work, trying to mesh silly puns and '80s pop culture with brutal violence and a horrific backstory.  I was worried that "Deadpool" was just going to be nonstop snark and meta references for ninety minutes, punctuated by sex and decapitations - a movie that teenage boys would think is totally awesome, but which isn't actually watchable for anyone else.  Fortunately, the movie shows a great deal of restraint.  Wade Wilson's love story and tragic losses are played mostly straight.  No matter how nutty Deadpool acts, Ryan Reynolds gets across how much pain the guy underneath the suit is in.  He's actually a compelling lead, which I wasn't expecting.  The relationship with Vanessa is handled particularly well, which is ironic considering the track record of romances in comic book movies.

I think what also helped is that this is a movie of very small scope, limited to Deadpool and a few second string X-men hunting down the villains to get revenge and save the girl. That's it.  And that's all the budget really allowed for (which the characters point out in the movie).  So there's no excess in the script, no scenes of carnage that go on forever, no complicated Macguffin to find, and no massive world-shaking stakes to any of the fights.  Everything feels down and dirty and personal, which is completely appropriate.  I was also expecting the fourth wall breaking to be much more elaborate than it actually was, but a little goes a long way, and newbie director Tim Miller doesn't really have the chops yet to get so ambitious.  The few times where he does try to throw in more high concept visual gags like cartoon birds circling Vanessa, they come off a little underwhelming.  He gets much more mileage out of Deadpool taking potshots at the X-men franchise, Ryan Reynolds' career choices, and a perfect after credits sequence that parodies "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

To say that this is not a movie for everyone is an understatement, but I found "Deadpool" much more accessible than I was anticipating.  Yeah, the main character is the embodiment of dudebro jackassery, but it's undercut by a tremendous sweetness and silliness (and a surprising progressive streak).  I expect that some might complain that the movie didn't go far enough, that it should have had more cutting commentary and harder edged content, but then it wouldn't have been as much fun.  And if there's anything I know about Deadpool, it's that he should always be this much fun.

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