Directed by Tim Miller
(12th February US / 10th February UK – Twenty Century Fox Film Corporation, Marvel Enterprises & TSG Entertainment)
Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand & Stefan Kapicic
Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.
In case you were somehow unaware, comic book adaptations are all the rage right now, and their number grows rapidly with each year. Deadpool‘s journey to the screen has been longer and more tumultuous than most; what with licence holder 20th Century Fox being reluctant to invest in an adult rated Marvel property. To the credit of Ryan Reynolds (who has his first producer credit on a Hollywood movie here), Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick they stood their ground, and so Deadpool sunk into development hell for years. Later, they recruited videogame animator and short filmmaker Tim Miller as the director, and after a few more years of arguing, and a few script changes – they finally got their wish.
The marketing for Deadpool has been ambitious and outrageous, conveying the ‘Merc with the Mouth’s’ unique firebrand sense of self, whilst promising a unique experience for audiences. And that’s where the cracks start to show.
It’s certainly true that Deadpool‘s overall style is its own, and is not soon to be replicated by the flood of other heroes and villains coming to the screen; but this is ostensibly a film that conforms to the conventional origin story narrative, and basic chronology jumps aren’t going to obfuscate that fact. Beginning with a genuinely original and funny opening credit sequence, that chooses to list sarcastic titles for everyone instead of actual names (“The CGI Character”, “The Overpaid Douche” etc.), Deadpool sets out exactly as it intends to begin, and doesn’t let up. Once you get past this credit sequence though, you’re plunged into the story’s central action piece (the heavily advertised highway sequence), and then it chooses to backtrack mid-fight to Wade Wilson pre-disfigurement, conforming to the unspoken rules of the superhero origin story. That’s fine, but it’s a story that we’ve seen a thousand times.
You see, Deadpool is not actually a bracingly original comic book character. He’s a dime-a-dozen assassin cardboard cut out that exists in every single comic book already – what makes him special is his insanity and his penchant for constant talking. Wade Wilson doesn’t shut up; that’s how he got his reputation, and he certainly doesn’t feel any concern or care for his own life or safety (he has Wolverine’s healing factor). The combination of his mutant power, with his schizophrenia (often visually represented with a mini Deadpool angel and demon on his respective shoulders, as well as a fourth, disembodied voice that serves as the “narrator”), makes him extremely unpredictable and elevates him to another cognitive pain i.e. he’s AWARE that he’s in either a comic book, film, or videogame, and so acts accordingly, communicating directly with the audience, which just leads other characters to think he’s crazy.
Deadpool, the movie, decides to omit a crucial element of his personality – his schizophrenia. Miller dismissed it as “too complicated to introduce”, which is a little irksome considering that the film revels in his fourth wall breaking tendencies without actually including any of the reasoning behind him. As such, the film cherry picks the easily digestible parts of Deadpool to make way for a basic story packed to the rafters with dick jokes, graphic action scenes, and copious amounts of swearing, while only having to contend with a fraction of the character’s inherent pathos. This seems like a massively squandered opportunity, especially considering Reynolds’ recent superlative performance as a socially under-developed schizophrenic serial killer in The Voices.
Saying that, Reynolds is fantastic here. It’s been no secret that the actor has been chomping at the bit to play this role, and it’s clear that it’s a character he was born for. Effortlessly charming, and capable of selling the rather thin emotional content convincingly, he oscillates between a variety of different modes, all while peppering in the jokes thick and fast. Sure, the polish starts to lose its shine after the 300th insult combination of willies, bums, and the ever adaptable word “fuck”, but Reynolds talks so fast and exuberantly, that if a joke misses, another will hit within the next minute.
It’s this electrifying energy that is Deadpool’s greatest asset. Miller does a competent job with his directorial debut, filming the fight scenes with a neck snapping raw momentum that is rarely present in other films of the genre, even if at times it does become a little too chaotic. For the most part though, he takes a step back and just lets Reynolds do his own thing. As he says multiple times throughout, “maximum effort!”, and it feels like a maxim for the production overall; everyone is firing on all cylinders here, even those that are shortchanged, such as love interest Morena Baccarin. Mostly defined by her enviable sexuality, she still manages to make their relationship feel genuinely tender and authentic. Both her and Reynolds have great chemistry together, and it’s great to see her get a big break as she’s been plugging away on television for years now.
Ed Skrein in particular is a highlight as the contemptible Ajax, the film’s primary antagonist, and the man responsible for Wilson’s mutation and subsequent mutilation; ironically demonstrating a better potential as an interesting action hero than he did in The Transporter Refuelled. On the other hand, the new additions to the script (replacing Sluggo, and Cannonball respectively) fare less well. Gina Carano‘s Angel Dust, and Brianna Hildebrand‘s Negasonic Teenage Warhead are wisely given very little to do, but they still expose their lack of acting experience in their brief offerings.
Thankfully Colossus is also highlight, and the perfect counterpoint to Deadpool’s infantile histrionics. Simultaneously a steel-skinned juggernaut and a sweet, good-natured, noble man, Colossus spends most of his appearances trying to look out for the well-being of others, including the villains. His speech is often slow and simplistic, with on-the-nose speeches about doing the right thing, but this fits perfectly with his character from the comics and it’s especially refreshing to see the big Russian lug finally brought to cinematic life with the love and respect that he deserves.
In fact, it’s a reverence that extends to the entire project. Ironically, the word that comes to mind when watching Deadpool is “appropriate”: during the romantic scenes it’s appropriately heartfelt; the dramatic scenes where Wade undergoes his transformative torture are appropriately menacing and unpleasant; the action scenes are appropriately creative and gruesome; and the whole movie is appropriately fun. Whether it’s farting in blind ladies’ faces, pointing out the inconsistencies in the botched X-men canon, the limits of the film’s budget, mocking Hugh Jackman’s face, or even providing comedy through dismemberment, Deadpool feels suitably crass and immature – and while that may not align with everyone’s taste, it might be exactly what we need to kick off what promises to be a seriously brooding year for comic book movies with Captain America: Civil War and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice on the horizon. Sometimes being infantile and insanely infectious fun is just enough. Despite its flaws and inconsistencies, it looks like that much extolled maximum effort has paid off, and laid the foundations for what promises to be an exciting alternative franchise for crowd pleasing, popcorn munching, but obscenely lewd, superhero entertainment.