Review: Deadpool

There is a Marvel way to drawing comics and there is a Marvel way of making movies. It is stylistically formulaic where almost every property looks and feels the same (thereby creating the sense of a shared cinematic universe). Deadpool represents a departure from that formula, at least on the surface with its profane ultra-violent style that will polarize some people but also launch him into pseudo-deity status among fans of said style.

Following ex-special forces turned mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), the film tracks his progression from man to superhero in obligatory origin story fashion as he uses his newfound powers to hunt the man who changed him (Ed Skrein’s Ajax) and win back the girl (Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa ). All this is cookie-cutter material, it is straightforward and not uncommon in the genre but what this film lacks is development. This is referenced early on by director Tim Miller himself who chooses to replace the traditional opening credits of star names and crew members with a list of tropes (“Hot Girl”, “British Villain” etc) that they will bring out through the film’s progression. It is self-referential fun which is played off as a joke until you realize that what was teased is not a joke, it’s a reality within the film.

This is a problem among the whole cast, Reynolds is singularly driven and underdeveloped solely serving as a wisecracking anti-hero that fails to deliver on any serious emotional depths such as his insecurities that cause him to use humor as a shield (it is touched on in passing but not never has much weight). The villain, Ajax is generic and has many of the trappings of a cartoon villain including classic villain stupidity. Perhaps the worst culprit though is Vanessa who is the love interest in this story. She is depicted as not much more than a sex object catering to the fantasies of every nerdy guy in the audience (she knows Star Wars guys). This is disappointing because every comic book fan knows what she can (and probably will) become especially in the current age where characters like Peggy Carter and Jessica Jones exist but nope Baccarin is nothing more than a damsel in distress in this film.

Thankfully the film begins in media res allowing for a nice balance between the action scenes and the origin story. Jumping back and forth allows for the movie to get through the boring obligatory origin stuff in chunks while rewarding the viewer with some good action set pieces as a reward for grinding through it. The action scenes are well shot providing the necessary gore to justify its R rating, it is satisfying to see these payoffs and the usage of slow motion, reversal of angles is a nice touch to fully appreciate the scope of the scene. The limited budget (reduced as a part of it getting greenlit) is also apparent though there are only three major set pieces that are noticeably low budget (with the first being heavily used in promotional material thereby ruining some of the experience). The climactic battle is particularly disappointing as you can tell the production had its budget pulled and had to readjust from the explosive firefight battle they had planned. While this is not the fault of any of the cast or crew, it still hurts the quality of the film especially in comparison to the other superhero films out there.

These are all issues but the big problem underlying this movie is a lack of world-building defining clear restrictions with its characters. We see that Deadpool for example, has healing powers but to what degree? How come it takes him a while to regrow his severed hand but he can pull a knife out of his head and instantly be fine? This lack of clear consistency is an issue and really undermines the stakes. Why even dodge incoming bullets if you can just heal instantly? How is any villain even a threat if he is basically invincible when the story requires it? These are issues that have plagued Superman for years and is why when dealing with a man with such great power, it’s hard to layout a worthy foil.

It is not just Deadpool that struggles with this consistency though, It is still unclear what Ajax can and can’t do. He states he has enhanced reflexes and can feel no pain but how is he able to regrow the flesh he lost from a katana seemingly instantly? Does he also heal like Deadpool? These things are glossed over for every character from Colossus to Angel Dust and its annoying when there is a lack of clarity. The comics to my understanding have also flipped flopped on the extent of superpowers but for a movie universe, some consistency along with clear-cut boundaries would be nice.

Comedy is the crux of Deadpool, it is the one divider that separates this film from the other in the superhero genre, and it is ultimately what makes this film work. The jokes here are rapid-fire allowing Reynolds to riff off a series of one-liners drawing mainly from the college frat boy well of comedy. There is nothing wrong with this, it is effective and it works but you are someone who doesn’t appreciate the low brow humor similar to that of a Seth Rogen movie I’d advise you to stay away. This movie understands its target audience and caters its humor to them accordingly. To Deadpool’s credit it does try to mix in some decidedly older references in some of its jokes perhaps in an attempt to reach the other demographics (Bernadette Peters and Blade references come to mind),  These will be hit or miss depending on if you get the reference (as I imagine many millennials won’t) but the effort to be inclusive is noted and appreciated.

The rapid pace of the jokes is both a positive and negative. On one hand it allows for the jokes that don’t hit to be glossed over quickly by the next one but on the other hand, the ones that do land are not allowed much buildup to create an even bigger laugh. Deadpool sees its greatest success when it does slow down to allow a joke to linger a bit. These rare moments are some of the standouts from the film most notably the two scenes involving loose limbs and the “Holidays” scene. Such a pace should lend itself well to repeat viewing however as each subsequent viewing should allow you to catch a one-liner you may have missed previously.

I did not have much faith in this film and judging by the release date (February- wherein the box office is typically a wasteland), the reduced budget and the advertising blitzkrieg that this movie went through to ensure people would come- the studio was also wary. To say that my mind is completely at ease would be a lie, Deadpool isn’t a perfect movie, at its core its very generic, following the standard plot blueprint closely and it is not without its issues in terms of world-building/characterization but it is much better than the disaster it could’ve been (see Green Lantern).  Ryan Reynolds now has done two solid movies in a row (see Mississippi Grind), something he has never done before. Whether this marks a late bloom remains to be seen but at the very least he has found his “Jack Sparrow” in that he can always return to Deadpool – the role he now embodies.

Spare Parts

  • Favorite easter egg: The Homage to the Korean film “Oldboy” with Deadpool fighting minors in a hallway yelling “Where is Francis?” in Korean
Review: Deadpool
Deadpool's humor and fourth-wall-breaking antics can't hide the one noted and shallow nature of the film