Deadpool is a character that has struck a chord with a large part of comic book’s fandom. He was originally created by Rob Liefeld as part of the anti-hero fad of the ’90s. I’m not too familiar with his work, but the internet has taught me Liefeld’s reputation falls somewhere between “child molester” and “Donald Trump.” Yet the character remains a favorite that has lead to parodies, homages, and the knowledge that there will be armies of Deadpools at any convention.
I think this is because Deadpool is the ultimate reflection of the average geek’s personality. He is a man with the brainpower to write a PhD level dissertation on the comic universe he inhabits, but is also an immature creature who thinks that dick and fart jokes are the height of wit.
It’s obvious why people wanted to see a Deadpool film, but it’s also easy to see why the studios were so hesitant to make it. Make the film as a standard superhero film and you’ll upset the fans. Yet Deadpool exists to point out the bizarre inconsistencies of the Marvel universe and how dumb it is to treat these characters like they have an impact on the real world. Making a movie like that would potentially damage other films in Marvel’s stable.
So director Tim Miller tried to balance the two approaches. And I don’t know if it really works.
The film is at its best when it’s just about Deadpool, his origins, and his desires. However, there are still moments when they try to somehow tie this film into Fox’s X-Men series. I’ve become increasingly exhausted with Marvel films. They don’t understand what makes these characters work. It’s not about the ongoing mythologies that will never have a resolution and thus will never be satisfying. It’s about using these characters that have become a familiar part of the culture and seeing how they can be applied to a self contained story. Ask a comic book fan what his favorite Superman story is, and he’s far more likely to list Grant Morrison’s beautiful All Star Superman than he is That One Issue, I think it was #605, Where Superman Teams Up with the Superman of Eath-2 and They go Back in Time But it Ends Before They Defeat the Villain. Somehow, the Marvel cinematic universe seems to think that the later approach is the correct one to take. Deadpool is not nearly as egregious with this approach as Avengers: Age of Ultron but falls for that same trap.
The film does one thing unequivocally right – casting Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Reynolds has always been a gifted comic performer who was repeatedly saddled with terrible roles. Van Wilder is one of the worst comedies I’ve seen, but Reynolds still managed to get a great performance out of that weak material.
Deadpool finally gives him something worthy of his screen persona. As Wade Wilson, Reynolds works as a hired killer whose quipping helps . We only see him perform one job – intimidating a stalker who has been harassing a young woman. But he openly lets the audience know that he is not a “good guy” and tries to bait someone into killing another gun for hire. Still, he exudes a blue-collar charm that makes the character more familiar and likable than Wolverine ever was in his films.
Wilson is in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, who has not aged a day since Firefly) and asks her to marry him (using a Ring Pop). He is later diagnosed with terminal cancer and given the opportunity by a mysterious man named Ajax (Ed Skrien) who claims he can cure the cancer using the same mutant genes that give the X-men their powers.
After the procedure, Wilson is deformed, rechristened Deadpool and goes bonkers. He ignores calls from the metal skinned Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and his protege Negasonic Teenage Wasteland (Brianna Hildebarnd) to join the X-Men and focuses on finding and killing Ajax. What’s strange is that, during the second act, Deadpool is not as interesting as he was without the mask. Wilson was already a funny guy who offered commentary on the modern action film and had a significant emotional investment in another character that the audiences could relate to.
After he put on the mask, it was a standard superhero film with a lot more masturbation jokes. It is well executed and Reynolds takes the role as seriously as possible. Deadpool, like Guardians of the Galaxy, was a risky film for Marvel to support. Deadpool is not a household name but firmly a cult character. Perhaps that’s why the film includes two X-Men characters and shots of the famous X-Men mansion. (Which, as Deadpool seems to point out, only seems to have Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Wasteland in it.) Even Deadpool’s creators are not well respected by comic fans. In the ’90s, this would have been the sort of film that would have gone directly to video.
But everyone making it seems to have a lot of respect for the material. And, with a smaller budget than the usual forces the makers to get creative with their action scenes. I quite liked the opening scene with Deadpool counting the bullets that he has in the chamber, which leads to him using one bullet to dispatch three goons. It was a scene that built up to something and didn’t use countless explosions and flashes to distract audiences. They saved those distractions in the form of Deadpool’s quips.
Those quips may be why the film doesn’t work for me. Deadpool has always been about breaking the fourth wall and commenting on how everything happening in the comic book universe was not done for any big artistic point but because the writers were feeling lazy. The film embraces that from the first frame, as the credits do not feature any cast listing but generic tropes like “The Comic Relief” and “The British Villain.” Deadpool even goes further, playing with the camera and turning it away before committing a violent act. Even when confronted with the absurdities of meeting X-men characters, he openly talks about how the studio heads are demanding their appearance. (How Deadpool actually met Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Wasteland is never explained.)
At first, I liked these moments, but then I realized they aren’t addressing the problems with comic book movies. This approach seems to call attention to the flaws Deadpool presents in its run time. I don’t want to be distracted by ancillary characters. The fact Deadpool himself knows the problems his film has makes him seem even lazier.
I’m glad Deadpool exists because it indicates that the studios are starting to realize that their comic book movie formula is becoming worn. But Deadpool does not really go far enough to address all the problems with modern comic book movies. It thinks that pointing out the mistakes you’re making absolves you of making those mistakes. Even though this does make the film more entertaining than Thor or Age of Ultron, it doesn’t represent the great leap forward that the genre desperately needs.