Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Deadpool Movie Review

For all the hoopla surrounding Deadpool – strong box office receipts; excellent audience reception; and even positive critical consensus – it doesn’t take long to look past the surface to see that there’s not really much there apart from an admittedly entertaining comic book adaptation. Shouldn’t that be enough for a comic book superhero movie? We go for the entertainment, right? But nothing else?

This may be a case of people getting a little too excited just because the movie attempts to break ranks with the clichés of the genre. Instead of pleasant PG-13 action that’s short on bad language and long on mild violence, Deadpool sears up and down, there’s sex, and the violence (though cartoonish) very violent and full of blood. This ground has been trod before. Kick Ass got there first, although I think Deadpool does it better and with great moral clarity.

The opening credits signal what we’re in for. Instead of the usual list of stars’ names, they call attention to the genre-defining clichés that will fill out the cast – a moody teenager; a CGI character; a British villain. Then the movie delivers on these tropes. Calling attention to itself doesn’t necessarily forgive the use of tired clichés, but Deadpool somehow gleefully basks in the fact that it really isn’t reinventing the wheel, but we the audience are still slapping down money and falling for it again. So are screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick biting the hand that feeds them? Absolutely, but they also know that those hands will continue to deliver despite the contempt.

Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool as a wise-cracking anti-hero. He insists he is not a hero, but a mercenary who went through a terrible transformation that allows his body to heal itself almost instantly. His face is horribly scarred so he wears a mask that might have some less-well-versed-in-comic-mythology confusing his with Spiderman. Because the current crop of superhero movies is no longer satisfied with just one hero per film (bigger is better), Deadpool is at first harangued and finally aided by two X-Men: Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), the former always trying to recruit him and encouraging him to make hero’s choices, the latter of whom is that moody teenager who can hardly be bothered with any of it. Her power is more of a nuisance that gets in the way of her social media life.

The movie’s timeline jumps around back and forth, flashing back to fill in story material sometimes smack in the middle of a big action sequence. As the movie begins, Deadpool is already going after his primary target Ajax, nee Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein). Breaking the fourth wall in the midst of dispensing henchmen, he explains his hatred of Francis comes from the fact that he cursed him with disfigurement and regeneration power.

Also prior to all that, Deadpool (when he was known only as Wade Wilson, ex-Special Forces commando) falls in love. Now here’s where the movie really hooked me. Wade’s relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is a true break from the mold. They connect on several levels such as sarcasm, love for similar pop-entertainment, kinky sex, a game of one-upmanship over who has had the more difficult life, and genuine mutual love and respect. There’s real affection and tenderness there that director TJ Miller allows to blossom where other action movies wouldn’t dare take the tone. And Vanessa is not just filler. She’s a real character with emotions and needs of her own. And though she later becomes a damsel in distress, she doesn’t just lay down and take it.

Renolds’ performance is just about perfect and greatly atones for the sins of The Green Lantern. You can almost imagine a Jim Carrey-type mawkishly mugging his way through the movie, but not Reynolds. He hews more closely to the biting with and comebacks. I was in hysterics occasionally. And yes, it’s good writing, but the actor has to deliver for the jokes to work. I only wish that colorful language and good jokes were entirely enough to set the movie and its franchise potential apart from other comic book adaptations. But ultimately so much remains the same. Strip away all the incessant fourth wall-breaking and self-referential humor and we’re left with a generic origin story told through the usual generic plot points. Remember the pointless fight between Hulk and Iron Man in Age of Ultron? Well, Colossus goes up against Angel Dust in Deadpool. Now, I’m all for dramatic license in adapting comic book characters, but Angel Dust (Gina Carano) has been written essentially as tirelessly super-strong and indestructible. Colossus is permanently made of steel and has the same physical abilities as she does. What’s the point of seeing them go toe-to-toe? Neither can win. Where’s the drama? Why remove any possibility of weakness in the characters?

Even Deadpool himself has been bizarrely characterized. So he can regenerate even to the point of growing back an entire hand (though it takes days). But why does he seem to also have super-strength and no pain receptors? Seriously, he gets shot, beaten, pulverized, stabbed in the brain with an ice pick and never winces. Okay, he’s an expert at hand-to-hand combat owing to his past, but why is he able to leap to superhuman heights?

But yeah, fine, let’s give the movie a pass because it’s fun and it is entertaining and I didn’t want to tear my eyeballs out while watching it. I guess it’s appealing to the people who are tired of the same old exposition, linear storytelling, and obligatory tameness while also catering to the people who want to just see two superheroes beating the hell out of each other. Okay, I can get on board with that.

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