Film Review: Deadpool
We live in an era of creative franchise properties. Franchises dominate the box office. Franchises dominate network television. Franchises dominate cable and subscription based programming. Franchises dominate video games. Franchises dominate popular fiction as a whole. No matter where you look, the trend over the last twenty years has been to make things people already know and like, to varying degrees of success and quality. The importance of franchise has become so powerful that you see studios and creators catering more and more to audiences or fans of certain properties specifically; Star Wars: Episode VII was a revival effort that intentionally borrowed heavily from the original trilogy and re-invented the wheel. Other than the aforementioned Star Wars franchise, which has made unfathomable amounts of money and shows little signs of slowing, the super hero and comic book franchises are the other dominant force at the box offices. The studios have been engaged in a war of super heroes and box office returns for so many years now, that I wonder if it is more than mere coincidence that the next marquee DC and Marvel films involve their biggest respective heroes punching each other. Deadpool is more than aware of the status quo and delivers an offbeat, entertaining, and (arguably well deserved) groin shot to comic book films.
Deadpool is a super hero origin story told for an adult audience. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a gun-for-hire that is quick to mouth off, break the fourth wall, and has no qualms about killing bad guys. He meets a prostitute named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and the two immediately hit it off, and their romance is built around which one is the most damaged but develop deep affection for each other. Wilson learns he has terminal cancer and undergoes a torturous, experimental treatment designed to unlock any potential genetic mutations. The experiment works and Wilson develops a powerful regenerative mutation that cures his cancer and allows him to heal at an enhanced rate, and even regenerate entire body parts, at the price of appearing horrifically scarred. Due to this freakish appearance, Wilson is afraid that Vanessa will reject him and he sets off on a path of revenge, hunting down the man who created him in hopes of restoring his appearance. This sounds like basic comic book/super hero fare, but the filmmakers make it interesting through clever storytelling and solid character development.
The central theme at play in Deadpool is that putting on a costume or having powers does not make someone a hero. Everyone gets a handful of moments in life to make a difference and be a hero. A person just has to make the decision to do so. But, considering that Deadpool does not abide by the rules and conventions of super hero movies, he promptly chooses not to take the hero route when the option presents itself. For the character, the movie is actually a love story. Deadpool is totally driven by the need to reunite with Vanessa. When the villain of the film threatens to kill Vanessa as a means of getting to Deadpool, Wilson is not going to let the villain walk away. In his view, sometimes, one gets what is coming to them. It subverts the hero genre and our understanding of how comic book heroes are supposed to behave.
Deadpool the character works due to his development and by the performance of Ryan Reynolds. Wade Wilson is sardonic and witty, but his motivations really make him standout. The moment he finds out he has cancer, he studies Vanessa’s face as she talks to the doctor about treatment options. He does not want to forget what she looks like. Wade leaves off in the middle of the night to try the experimental treatment, because he does not want Vanessa to watch him suffer and die. He never loses his sense of humor and tends to make his snide comments in the face of dark situations. The character regularly breaks the fourth wall and is aware he is in a comic book movie. His comments and cultural references are hilarious, stretching from making fun of other Ryan Reynolds movies to commenting on the nature of film studios. I only had a cursory knowledge of the character before watching the film, but I came away with the appreciation for why he has such an appeal and is beloved by more avid comic book fans than myself. It is a breath of fresh air to actually watch a super hero have fun in his own movie, and not take himself too seriously.
The film itself is told cleverly. The film begins in media res. Our first introduction to Deadpool is a taxi ride and an action set piece. It establishes the character as an unconventional and funny protagonist. The audience receives the backstory in the middle of the film, making the tonal shift gradual from the funny mercenary to the wounded and scarred man before transitioning back to the present. This use of the epic tradition was not only clever but also another counterpoint to the modern super hero epic and origin story. Every big comic book film from the past decade starts with our hero as a kid before he (still no she) gets his powers or has the supernatural experience that changes his life and sets him down the heroic path. Deadpool argues you do not need to know what your hero was like as a kid, nor do you need to start the origin story at the very beginning for the audience to understand the action. It practically begs the question, “You guys know what super heroes are, right? Powers and all that? You probably should by now. It’s not like you don’t get 3–5 of these movies every year the past few years. And who doesn’t know who Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man are by now? What rock have you been living under?”
Deadpool is a shot in the groin of super hero filmmaking because it knows the genre tropes, it knows the audience is aware of the genre tropes, and then decides to have fun with it. As I have said previously, and particularly in reference to the Man of Steel monstrosity, I refuse to believe that a man who can fly cannot have fun. DC and Marvel believe that super hero movies can either be grim, gritty, and realistic or light-hearted, fantasy fun. Deadpool argues that you can do both in the same film and still be enjoyable. You do not have to make franchise movies by the numbers, checking off the boxes in preparation for the next installment and marketing campaign. Each individual film should be concise and satisfying without requiring a sequel or prequel. Each film should stand on its own.
In conclusion, Deadpool is the super hero movie we did not know we needed. It eschews and pokes fun of franchise and genre tropes in order to tell a fun and entertaining story. Ryan Reynolds does a terrific job of bringing the foul-mouthed character to life and the filmmakers do a commendable job in playing with the hero origin story. One could write entire articles about all the Easter eggs and clever touches the film has throughout, so I will not touch on them here. I would be remiss if I did not mention that this film is ABSOLUTELY NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. There were three 7 or 8 year olds in the audience during my screening and only one mother had the decency to remove herself and her child from the theater. This movie is for adults and can only be appreciated by adults. The humor and cultural references will go over the heads of most folks under the age of 18, let alone children. I went into the film with average expectations but left laughing a great deal more than I anticipated. If you’re looking for something funny, a little violent, and a little raunchy, then Deadpool is the movie for you.
3.5 stars out of 5.