There are movies you loved when you were 16 and there are movies that turn you, temporarily, into a 16-year-old. Deadpool, the latest Marvel Comics superhero film adaptation, is going to be one of two, or both, for most viewers. Yet, somehow, it isn’t The Greatest Movie Ever™ — more like a really satisfying meal that will fade from your memory soon after.
Ryan Reynolds plays the much-loved ‘Merc with a mouth’, a distinctive Marvelverse character. Unlike most, Deadpool is actually an antihero. He’s misanthropic, perverse, profane, and entirely too aware that he’s a fictional character. At one point in the movie, our hero breaks a fourth wall within a fourth wall — one more and it would’ve earned the right to be suffixed with ‘-ception’.
Director Tim Miller, the man behind that stunning opening sequence to David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), makes his feature film debut with this 108-minute joyride, which is never guilty of taking itself seriously. The opening credits name principal characters thusly: “British villain”, “A moody teen”, “A gratuitous cameo”. A stylish opening sequence, featuring an action set-piece on a highway, is pulled off beautifully.
The meta is so strong with this one that you can taste it. There are digs at other Marvel films, jokes about the predictable machinations of the genre, pot shots at real-life celebrities (Gina Carano, playing a mutant named Angel Dust, gets called “less angry Rosie O’ Donnell” at one point), and many more things that subvert the self-seriousness with which most superhero films nowadays approach viewers. Weirdly enough, portions of Deadpool resemble a particularly smug-but-highly-evolved Rohit Shetty movie. It’s the same approach with the same intent, only this benefits from better execution.
It’s a riot, of course, except I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. We’ve seen British directors like Matthew Vaughn and Edgar Wright do the same thing over the past six or seven years. Vaughn’s Kick-Ass (2010), also a Marvel Comics Universe movie, came around and shook up the genre about five years ago. It was a methamphetamine-fueled, foul-mouthed, violent romp that divided critics. Some hated it, most famously the late Roger Ebert, who found it “morally reprehensible”. Many (including myself) thought it was a welcome change from the brooding, self-absorbed seriousness that was in danger of torpedoing the whole genre (for me, that happened anyway with 2013’s Man Of Steel).
Deadpool is on a headier cocktail of illicit substances, though, with witty one-liners and f-bombs dropping at an exhausting rate. You laugh out loud the first few times, then subside into chuckles. After a while, you smile and nod along. Eventually, there comes a point when you say, “Seriously? Is this all there is?”
Because aside from the nudge-nudge-wink-wink and all the CGI a big budget can buy, the film itself feels hollow. The plot is a threadbare origin story, in which mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds is in great form here) is diagnosed with late-stage cancer and opts to undergo a procedure that will give him superhuman abilities. His girlfriend is the very pretty, very understanding Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), as one of the commonest stock characters in movies. For all its claims to subversion, Deadpool still colours within the lines, albeit with broad and confident brush-strokes.
Its ‘A’ rating (and equivalent ones everywhere else in the world) is earned through profanity, nudity, and gruesome violence — but its maturity is firmly that a particularly talented and witty 16-year-old would possess
The level of humour, too, isn’t consistent. Sometimes it’s on point. Sometimes it’s borderline offensive, and gleefully so. Sometimes the ratatat of jokes loses steam through repetition, such as in a scene where Wilson, now cancer-free but deformed, reveals his new appearance to his only friend Weasel (a hilariously deadpan TJ Miller) at their regular hangout: a bar that encourages brawls to the death.
And sometimes it’s just a bunch of pop cultural references, which, well, is a lazy punch line at best; the problem, as demonstrated in this hilarious mini-rant about The Big Bang Theory, is that it seems to work with larger audiences. However, in the midst of such relentless energy, the jokes don’t get much time to sink in and the good ones land well, perhaps making the film seem funnier than it is, overall.
Its ‘A’ rating (and equivalent ones everywhere else in the world) is earned through profanity, nudity, and gruesome violence — but its maturity is firmly that a particularly talented and witty 16-year-old would possess. Deadpool is entertaining as hell, erases bad memories of Reynold's Green Lantern (2011), and will be a great time at the movies, especially for fanboys. But it's been two days since I saw the movie and not much has stayed with me. I suppose that's the point, in which case, I'm okay not getting it.
Also see on HuffPost: