Deadpool may ultimately be more a triumph of context than of merit. I personally appreciate the huge bird it’s flipped the MPAA (and the fact that the film-going public, for once to their credit, seconded that salute), and the dedication on the part of its producers, and especially its star, to get such a gleefully graphic and subversive film made as part of a blockbuster franchise, more than I do its own dramatic strengths.
Don’t get me wrong: when Deadpool works, it does work, thanks in large part to Reynolds, who throws himself wholly into the role, never missing a step as he spouts off quip after quip. Even if you find Deadpool’s humor a mite tiresome at times, especially since the film around him provides only fleeting relief, it’s hard to deny that Reynolds is the primary factor in its success.
If only the film itself were better. For all its claims to subversiveness, in terms of plot and character (outside of the protagonist) it remains rather generic, a fact underscored all too well by the delightful opening credits. Of course, for now, most will focus on the tremendous financial (and solid critical) success, and on what that means for superhero films moving forward. But once the heat cools off, we may well look back and realize that, good as Deadpool is, it could’ve been much better.
Deadpool commences in media res as Wade Wilson/Deadpool rides in a cab driven by Dopinder (Karan Soni) towards a rendezvous with the man responsible for his severe deformation.
We flash back to see Wilson working as a low-level mercenary, intimidating teenage stalkers and the like, and falling in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), with whom he seems to be perfectly matched (“It’s like I built you in a computer”). But when he collapses one day (shortly after proposing, no less), it turns out to be because of metastasized cancer. Wilson seems prepared to accept his impending death, but after being approached by the mysterious Recruiter (Jed Rees) with an offer that could save his life, he leaves Vanessa and takes him up on it.
The offer turns out to be no bargain; Wilson is put into the hands of Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano), who subject him to various tortures in order to stimulate his mutant genes, and not without a dash of cruelty. The genes eventually kick in, and Wilson gains tremendous regenerative powers, but at the expense of being rendered almost unrecognizable. Wilson effects his escape, destroying Francis’ laboratory and allowing himself to be left for dead by Francis (himself a mutant).
Ashamed of his appearance, he decides not to contact Vanessa, but instead moves in with Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), and assumes a new identity–Deadpool–with the help of his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller). He systematically begins tracking down Francis by beating (and often murdering) his associates; when he catches the Recruiter, he even nudges the camera aside to spare the viewer.
Meanwhile, he draws the attention of the X-Men, namely Colossus (voice of Stefan Kapičić, body of Andre Tricoteux) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who decide to try and recruit him to their cause. They finally catch up to Deadpool as he catches up to Francis, killing his men and temporarily incapacitating Francis himself, but they distract him long enough for Francis to escape. Colossus tries to take Deadpool with them (Deadpool having broken most of his bones trying to fight Colossus), but Deadpool escapes (in amusingly grotesque fashion).
Francis and Angel Dust go to Weasel’s bar to discover Deadpool’s whereabouts, but on finding a picture of Wilson and Vanessa together, Francis decides to kidnap her from the bar where she works, only moments before Wilson intends to finally reveal himself to her. Enraged, Wilson contacts Colossus and N.T.W. and asks for their help in saving Vanessa, in exchange for which he’ll consider joining the X-Men. The inevitable showdown occurs, all ends happily (except for Francis), and the lovers are reunited.
That the story of Deadpool is really nothing special, and that the characters outside of Wilson aren’t quite compelling enough to rise above that, is what keeps Deadpool at *** for me. Guardians of the Galaxy might not have been anything new in terms of story, but it so well realized its characters and their bond that I certainly didn’t care. Here, the film openly mocks the characters’ cookie-cutter natures from the outside, with the opening credits referring to “A Hot Chick”, “A British Villain”, “The Comic Relief”, “A CGI Character”, and so on (the two best credits are for Reynolds–“God’s Perfect Idiot”–and the screenwriters–“The Real Heroes Here”). But such self-awareness ultimately provides rather cold comfort.
Perhaps the most successful bit of subversion, for my money, comes at the end, when Deadpool has Francis at his mercy and is pointing a gun at his head. Colossus tries to reason with him, saying that sparing Francis’ life is the truly heroic choice, but after a moment of thought, Deadpool shoots Francis through the head anyway (Colossus retches in response). That, to me, was deeply satisfying, not because I’m a bloodthirsty individual, but because the last-minute live-and-let-live ending so often reeks of irresolution. (Compare it to the ending of The Revenant, wherein Glass decides not to kill Fitzgerald after invoking the credo “Revenge in God’s hands”, and shoves Fitzgerald into a running river where he is captured and killed literally seconds later.)
The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is most memorable when it comes to Deadpool/Wilson’s endless wisecracks, not all of which land (even allowing for his general tastelessness, the scene where he and Vanessa compare traumatic childhoods is pretty transgressive), but which surely entertain when they do (“You’re getting killed by a Zamboni! You’re gonna die…in five minutes!”) Tim Miller’s direction has some nicely inventive elements–the opening credits really are amazing–but for the most part doesn’t rise all that far above the superhero blockbuster norm.
No, it’s Reynolds who makes the film, and his enthusiasm for the role shines through from the first. Maybe the dramatic moments don’t work quite as well as the comedic ones, at least not as well as his dramatic beats in Mississippi Grind (which did have the benefit of a stronger script), but he is never in anything less than the proper spirit, embracing not only Deadpool’s crassness but his propensity for breaking the fourth wall. He never acts as if the role is beneath him, and while I can agree that the character gets just a bit tiresome at times, it is not because Reynolds’ performance was at all deficient.
Having seen parts of the film again after my initial screening, I will say I appreciate Baccarin’s performance more, as she pulls off the humorous side of the role (“Uh…jinxes!”) quite well, and holds her own against Reynolds when the script allows her to. But after Wilson’s transformation, Vanessa becomes little more than a damsel in distress, and Baccarin isn’t able to transcend that. Skrein is properly nasty, if devoid of any meaningful motivation beyond his own arrogance.
Miller and Kapičić both play roles which combine exposition and comic relief, yet despite Miller’s designation as “the comic relief”, Kapičić actually gives by far the funnier performance. Weasel is a pretty gratuitous character anyway (as another reviewer pointed out, Deadpool/Wilson is comedic enough to make comic relief unncessary), but his annoying nature, and Miller’s annoying performance, only make it worse. I’m not sure if Miller was bored by the role or was deliberately trying to play a character devoid of excitement, but for the most part, his performance grated on me.
Kapičić, on the other hand, is enjoyably droll, even if we never see his actual face. Colossus has some of the moral rectitude and idealistic innocence of Captain America, and his unassuming humor is a most enjoyable balance to Deadpool’s; “Did you eat breakfast? Breakfast is most important meal of the day. Here. Protein. Good for bones. Deadpool may try and break yours” or “Do you have off switch?” fit nicely alongside “Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?”
Hildebrand is solid too, despite the deficient writing; she puts across the self-conscious disaffect of teenagehood without feeling like a stereotype. Carano doesn’t get as much of a chance to shine as she did in the underrated Haywire, but she’s fine. Soni gets a few decent moments of his own (“And a convivial Tuesday in April to you too, Mr. Pool!”). And Uggams makes a nice little entry into the Betty White dirty-old-lady sweepstakes (“God, I miss cocaine.”)
The technical aspects of the film are mostly up to par; the cinematography and sound are fine, and the CGI is mostly pretty good (a dodgy moment or two aside), given the comparatively tight budget. The makeup, I should note, is tremendous, making the handsome Reynolds into something like “a testicle with teeth”. Hopefully the Academy remembers it come January.
The score by Tom Holkenborg isn’t a patch on his amazing score for Mad Max, and the best use of music is Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” over the credits (though Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl” is also amusingly deployed), but it does the job well enough.
Ultimately, Deadpool probably won’t become a modern classic, but I have to assume it and its success have left Deadpool’s fans ecstatic. For my part, I just love that the R-rating was no impediment to its gross. We can all be happy.