16 February 2016

First Impressions: DEADPOOL

Oh sweet, sweet Deadpool (2016). So much of this film was the culmination of so many years of yearning, failed promises, and hope that's all paid off in a big way. It's almost odd that the current Deadpool may not have worked as well if it hadn't been preceded by so many completely horrible superhero movies starring Ryan Reynolds.
I was disappointed by the lack of chimichangas.

For the uninitiated, Deadpool is Marvel's most irreverent fourth-wall breaking meta superhero / antihero with loose ties to the X-Men, although he's technically not a mutant himself, but rather a product of the Weapon X system that's both slapstick and hyper-violent. It's a tricky character to pull off, with constant talking, pop culture witticisms, and a comedic / action tone that's incredibly specific. The greatest marvel of the film Deadpool is that it's largely successful in all these aspects. SPOILERS FOREVER!

Even though it's admittedly early in 2016, Deadpool is bar none the funniest film of the year, and sets the bar high enough that it'll be hard for anyone to top it. Some of this is topical enough that it may date the film in a few years, but I think a lot of it will actually hold up (I'm generally curious if Twitter jokes will still be funny in 2027). The most specific may be riffing on Liam Neeson's Taken series, but I imagine that that's got enough cultural weight to still be fondly remembered as being awful.

That awfulness of other films is where Deadpool gains most of its ground. It's worthwhile to note that Ryan Reynolds' first outing as the character is widely regarded as the worst part of the worst non-Fantastic Four (2015) movie ever, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), which Reynolds is more than willing to make fun of here. He also readily makes fun of the nearly equally terrible Green Lantern (2011) and even his own status as People's sexiest man alive. All this meta-textuality and references to other superhero films feels incredibly Deadpool and actually serves to place the film within a shared universe better than even the Avengers films could hope for.

See, Deadpool exists in the X-Men universe, but totally on the periphery. It's not like they need to reference certain events, but the iconography is so strong in the oldest contiguous superhero series that they're free to make a few references to Xavier ("Stewart or McAvoy?!"), the Mansion, and a few heroes flitting in and out (with commentary on the studio's budget of course). This matter-of-fact approach actually creates a more natural inclusion of the film on the outskirts of that world while Deadpool himself speaks freely to the camera and possesses intimate knowledge of our world in addition to his fictional one.

Now, this may be a personal issue, but what took me out absolute enjoyment of the film was actually its extreme post-modernism. It skewers superhero tropes pretty thoroughly and consistently, starting from the brilliant opening credits and going up through Gina Carano's superhero landing, which has never looked so purposely hackneyed. The issue with all this is the same as in 22 Jump Street (2014), where the self-awareness is refreshing, but the commentary on tropes failed when the film itself doesn't elevate beyond these tropes. I've actually leaned towards new sincerity over post-modernism lately, and would be more interested in a film that genuinely breaks down superhero film beats rather than one that just replaces them with silly things.

Of course, the first hour or so of Deadpool largely breaks with convention through its extended freeway scene interspliced with flashbacks to Wade Wilson's origin story. The construction here is brilliant and sets up the character through these fun little character bits, like Deadpool playing with the automatic window in the taxi cab or shooting a guy through his ass.

The origin story itself also works well because it throws the viewer as close to the end of the story as possible, ignoring youthful trips down bat-infested wells or bothering at all with family or high school life. It relies on character to advance its plot, although it becomes blatant with its "make you a superhero" by unlocking latent mutant genes conceit. After that, though, it tends to follow the beats of each character from the self-labelled "British Villain" to the "Moody Teen" and "Comic Relief." The final culminating villain battle feels a lot like any other superhero film, even though it's full of cheeky one-liners.

Having said that, the R-Rated Superhero as it turns out, is a fantastic idea. The film really lets loose, and it's genuinely surprising when the first titty shows up. There's unrelenting violence and language which offers simultaneous hilarity, tonal distinctiveness, and realism. Yes, realism - this is what would happen when superpowered gun and sword swinging nutjobs attack each other. People start bleeding.
Deadpool loves you

As for the characters, Ryan Reynolds  himself is all-in, and the film absolutely succeeds because he's the man born to play Deadpool. Beyond that, though, Monica Baccarin, although mostly relegated to simple love interest, does a nice job of being an atypical object of desire, with mostly her own agency, even if it's driven by male fantasy.

Ajax, played by Ed Skrein (who looks a lot like a beefed up Nicholas Hoult), is a notable mirror image to Deadpool, with inverse powers and similar origins but contrary worldviews and personality. He does a nice job being really sinister, although he doesn't actually anything all that awful except being a sadistic wacko. There's no global domination plot here, which is actually reassuring. It's all personal vendettas built upon each other, which again leaves a refreshing atmosphere and breaks from convention.

The more I write it out the more my original post-modern criticism seems to weaken. There is a lot to this film that bucks the trend, although the emotional beats are still there, even if they're coated with swear-laden tirades and silly faces instead of brooding angst and muted colors.

The other notable character here is Colossus, who doesn't have any real connection to Deadpool, besides being the other most prominent X-Man who has never been done justice on screen. It's amazing that the costumes work so well, too. Both Piotr and Negasonic Teenage Warhead look really good on screen. It's amazing that we finally reached the point where we can have leather outfits that don't look terrible. It's been a long time.

For any fan who's ever felt cast aside by the big studios, particularly Fox, this really is the film for you. The fact that's made a truly absurd amount of money is a great sign that studios are growing more and more comfortable staying true to comic material rather than making up their own terrible shit. Again, fan service is a tricky line to cross, though. Just look at Snakes on a Plane (2006). Ultimately, there was a need for a post-modern reaction to both overly serious superhero movies as well as carbon copy fluorescent movies. X-Men, as a product of being around for sixteen years has always been a step ahead of the game, which is actually an underrated element of the franchise. I'm all in for Deadpool & Cable (2018) and Stephen Lang looks better than anyone. Except Keira Knightly.

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