I’m the kind of contrary arsehole who, when those around me at large start whetting their appetites for a movie based on it’s heavy-handed marketing campaign, starts to smell a pretty big rat. And the marketing for Deadpool has been pretty obnoxious. Some of it funny, some of it clever, granted, but all of it pretty full on. There’s a contradiction within it too. Largely the ads have focused on the lead character’s “couldn’t give a fuck” attitude. Yet at the same time it all screams, “please like this movie, PLEASE”.
Aggressive marketing puts my back up, as I’ve written about before, and the mixed reception Marvel’s new foul-mouthed superhero movie has received has only added to that (I try not to read too many reviews before seeing a film, but the ones I have seen have been fairly damning). The long and short of all this is to say I had pretty low expectations walking in.
I also arrived at Deadpool with little knowledge of the character. I’ve not read the comic books. Hell, I’ve only very recently seen the first three X-Men films (Deadpool exists within their universe). So I did my best to put all of that to one side and have a fresh experience.
This is a notable new entry in the Marvel franchise largely for its tonal difference. Deadpool is a flippant, fourth-wall-breaking, self-referencing entity, one clearly aiming for the same ‘cool’ deconstructionism of Kick-Ass. As though it’s in some way subversive.
It’s not. The title character, played here with gusto by Ryan Reynolds, is an anti-hero for sure, but the adventure we’re presented with is extremely formulaic; a combination of origin story and ‘save the princess’ routines we’ve seen dozens of times before. That is not to say, however, that it doesn’t have fun with these tropes along the way.
For one thing, all that wearily necessary backstory is interspersed here with later action. That’s a laboured way of saying there are lots of flashbacks. But it does spice things up as we’re asked to engage in two timelines for the movie’s first hour, as inconsequential as one of those might be. In brief then, the character Deadpool was once a petty-vengeance-for-hire scumbag and former Special Forces reject named Wade. Wade fell in love with Vanessa (Firefly‘s Morena Baccarin) and things were going swimmingly for a change. Then he got cancer. Kinda everywhere.
One shady suited dude who looks a bit like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory if he’d spent the day having his cheeks pinched later and Wade is enrolled in a suspicious program to trigger latent ‘mutant’ genes in order to save his life. This is where he meets his soon-to-be arch nemesis Ajax (Ed Skrein); a man with no emotions… except the ability to really enjoy sadism apparently. Blah blah blah blah… Deadpool; disfigured Wade, leaping about like a sarcastic acrobat turned professional meme generator. Wade wants to get even with Ajax for disfiguring him (and making him immortal) – there’s your film.
This refreshingly small-scale outline breaks from the apocalyptic template Marvel has been ramming down our throats of late in much the same way Ant-Man did, and with similar (if not quite as consistent) success. Despite my initial fears, there’s a fair amount of fun to be had here.
Granted, having said fun means embracing a particularly adolescent brand of humour. Watching Deadpool is like watching the first few episodes of a new HBO show in which the creators are taking as much advantage of their relative freedoms as possible before settling down into something durable. But with more dick jokes. So there’s (pardon me) a fuckload of swearing, some sex and nudity along with some bloodier violence than we’re ordinarily used to in this type of thing. It’s all very juvenile, like the new kids have finally been invited to hang out with the smokers around the back of the bike sheds and are trying to show off. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun or even funny. Deadpool is both of those things, but sporadically and within a certain scale.
So, yes, you can view the film as a failure to fully upend superhero conventions (breaking the fourth wall isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of subversive behaviour and here mainly reminds the audience why that rule exists in the first place), but one quickly senses that Deadpool doesn’t have nearly such lofty ambitions. It just wants you to like it. To have a bit of fun, even if it’s rude and childish fun. It’s totally disposable. But it’s okay with that, and that’s fine.
Some jokes are funnier than others. Generally, Deadpool’s refusal to call Ajax by his preferred name is a runner that keeps on running. Exhaustively elaborate name-calling less so. Also nagging is what I’d call the Vanilla Sky problem. The film is unhealthily preoccupied with the idea that physical beauty is everyone’s first priority. That looks equal love. And Wade doesn’t even look that bad. He just looks like someone shaved Nick Nolte. Or like Ted Danson got crater-face.
Sure there are plot holes and some duff CG (the less said about Colossus the better) and Deadpool suffers from a lack of serious threat when it’s title character is immortal. But that last one especially seems like more of a problem with the premise itself, not the film that’s been built from it. The result is that this is neither the game-changing ball-busting LOL-causing punk masterpiece it’s fanboys have been praying for, but neither is it the offensive, risible shitpile it’s most vocal detractors seem to want it to be either.
Maybe I’m being a contrary arsehole for suggesting that Deadpool is actually just… fine?