Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Deadpool [film review]

Released theatrically on February 12th; now available on all physical and digital media platforms

Deadpool restored my faith (at least temporarily) in the superhero movie and Hollywood popcorn movies in general. My cynicism and disappointment with both has grown in recent years, as Hollywood churns out one uninspired spectacle movie after another. Amongst these has been an almost obscene number of comic book-related projects in both the film and television worlds, including a wearying number of franchise reboots. 

Little of it has inspired much interest from this writer (I should note that I’ve never been much of a comic guy). What I have watched has ranged from quite good (the first two Captain America movies), to decent (Guardians Of The Galaxy), to damn near terrible (the overstuffed Avengers films and almost all of the Spider-Man movies).

A few things make Deadpool, the directorial debut of Tim Miller, stand out from the crowded pack. First, there’s a relative lack of tired superhero movie tropes in this origin story starring Ryan Reynolds, who reprises his character that first appeared in limited capacity in 2009’s X-Men Origins. Admittedly, we do get the tired and predictable final act battle between hero and villain that’s packed to the hilt with crappy, immersion-breaking CGI.  

The obligatory presence of various characters from the protagonist’s comic universe is kept to a refreshing minimum, however. All viewers get from the Marvel Universe is a couple of X-Men (a CGI Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, played by Brianna Hildebrand), main villain Ajax (played by Ed Skrein) and his main ally Angel Dust (played by Gina Carano). To the non-comic book enthusiast, only Colossus would elicit any recognition from that group and even then, probably just barely. Their anonymity adds to the refreshing nature of the film and while Ajax isn’t a terribly dynamic adversary, he’s also not remotely as bad as most of the villains that appear in superhero movies. The Mandarin from Iron Man 3 or the Green Goblin from Spider-Man anyone?

This scarcity of Marvel characters is actually played for laughs by Deadpool. He complains about the lack of finances given to the movie from the studio, which prohibits them from hiring more X-Men. This points to one of the film’s other strengths – its self-awareness and ability to poke fun at their own world. They also let the character stay true to his extremely vulgar nature (Deadpool was released with a well-earned R rating). I was impressed by Marvel for not being overly precious with its franchises and allowing Deadpool to deliver meta lines about other Marvel films and characters. For example, Deadpool riffs on James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart both playing Professor X. Wolverine and Hugh Jackman are also the butt of several jokes. Even Reynolds’ real-life People Magazine ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ cover is fair game. A lot of this humour is delivered by Reynolds with wisecracking fourth wall-breaking asides.

There’s an abundant supply of that Reynolds snark in Deadpool. Hell, it’s practically his brand, isn’t it? If you’re not a fan of it then keep your distance, but it works perfectly for his character here. This leads to what I found to be the best thing about Deadpool – just how amazingly funny it was. From the inspired opening credit sequence, to the hilarious requisite Stan Lee cameo, to Reynolds’ rapid-fire comedic skills throughout Deadpool, I hadn’t laughed this hard watching a movie in a few years. That was certainly unexpected. 

Deadpool somehow manages to succeed in spite of its two main story lines failing to fire up much emotional investment from the viewer. Deadpool’s alter ego, Wade Wilson, becomes the superhero after a mutation experiment leaves him with an unexpected and unwanted end result that gives him advanced healing powers. This establishes the main storyline where he seeks revenge on Ajax, who carried out the experiment. Ho hum. The secondary plot involves Wilson’s relationship with Vanessa, the proverbial damaged stripper with a heart of gold (played by Morena Baccarin from TV’s Homeland).  

Even with thinly constructed storylines, Deadpool works mostly because of Reynolds. A well-balanced running time of 88 minutes feels just about perfect for the movie and Reynolds smartass comedic and dramatic style. Any longer than that (many films from this genre clock in at two-and-a-half hours) would invite snark fatigue. Like 2010’s excellent Kick-Ass, Deadpool is simply a whole lot of fun and the irreverence it shows towards its genre provides a welcome respite from the assembly line feel of most superhero film fare.

Rating: A