Directed by Tim Miller.
2016. Rated R, 108 minutes.
T. J. Miller
As a boy, meals often consisted of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I washed them down with stuff like Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, Sorority House Massacre, and of course, Halloween sequels. Even as I savored their visceral delights I understood they all operated thanks to the machinations of a set of genre-specific, oft-repeated, very goofy tropes. The guy that says he’ll be right back is about to be killed, the girl running from the killer will fall, the car that was fine throughout the movie inexplicably won’t start when needed. You know, the usual. When Scream came along, years later, I was in heaven. It was a slasher flick that understood how silly slasher flicks were. It was a film from my beloved genre that didn’t just make me laugh at it, but invited me to laugh with it. I happily took it up on the offer.
Another thing I was into way back when was comic books. I amassed a solid collection of a couple hundred of them as I gobbled up the stories of all my favorites. With the technology, nor the box-office results being what they needed to be, there weren’t too many movies based on the adventures I ingested each month. With the exception of the Superman flicks, what made it to the big screen was based on heroes who could be (somewhat) believably pulled off without much of a budget. This low-risk/low reward approach gave us such films as The Phantom, Swamp Thing, and Condorman. Fast forward a few decades and superhero flicks are all the rage. Guess what? Like slasher flicks, they have their own set of rules which must be faithfully followed. For the most part, I love them. As of late, they’ve been pretty solid films with lots of action and do a good job capturing the spirit of the comics from which they came. Still, something has been missing. I’ve been looking for the movie that would do for comic book movies what Scream did for slashers. I was looking for Deadpool.
The more accurate way to end the previous paragraph would be that Deadpool gave me what I was looking for. Truth told, he’s one of those characters that came along after my years of comic book collecting had practically disappeared in my rearview mirror. He’s infiltrated the general consciousness enough that I knew who he was and what he looks like, but little else. It just so happens that one of my bosses still reads comics. He knew that I once had read them and still enjoy the movies based on them. This led him to feeling comfortable enough to strike up a conversation with me just to flaunt his enthusiastic anticipation for this film one day last summer. When I admitted that I really wasn’t familiar with Deadpool, Bossman gave me a quick rundown on the character including the fact that he often broke the fourth wall. When I took my seat in the theater a few nights ago, I flashed back on that conversation and wondered what I was about to get into. What I got is a film that is fully aware it is a superhero flick and all the silliness that comes along with that.
Right at the beginning, this film does something that very few films have accomplished. The opening credits completely sold me on the film. I’ll not spoil all the goodness to be found here, but I have to spill the beans on one. The reason is because I fancy myself something of a writer. If nothing else, I value the written word regardless of my talent for it, or lack thereof. It should come as no surprise that I just love other writers. Anytime one or more of them can get over on the world I’m thrilled. In this case, getting one over came in the form of one very special credit. It reads “Written By: The Real Heroes Here.” I was locked in.
Once the film starts, we’re immediately thrust into the action. Deadpool (Reynolds) fills us in on what’s going on by directly addressing us, of course. This includes letting us know just how it was he came to get a movie of his very own. It involves some unsavory acts, by the way. And then he’s quickly off to fight some bad guys. While he was talking to us he let us know that he’s not really a superhero. He’s just out to get the guy who did something bad to him. As the story goes, ‘Pool was a ruffian named Wade Wilson who met a girl, fell in love, and then found out he had terminal cancer. On a wing and a prayer, he went and saw some shady dude who said he could cure it. He winds up being tortured in the name of unlocking any dormant mutant cells. It works, as this gives him ridiculous healing powers so his cancer is, in effect, cured. On the other hand, his physical appearance is ruined and the intentions of his captors were not what he had in mind. That makes this revenge time. Lots of mayhem ensues involving our hero, a couple X-Men, a bad guy, a henchwoman, an old blind woman, his girlfriend, and a really seedy bar run by that guy in the Shock Top Beer commercials.
Like the first film in every superhero franchise, this is an origin story. By dropping us into the middle of it and having our protagonist fill in the blanks for it, we’re not burdened with a lengthy period of time before he becomes “super.” The methodical build-up approach can certainly work, see Batman Begins, but more often than not, it just drags things out. The way it is done here keeps the action nicely spaced and makes the story-telling portion of the film breeze by without making us wait for what we came to see. In this case, that’s action that goes out of its way to hurdle the PG-13 rating and land firmly in the realm of R while winking and nodding at us all along the way.
Key to that winking and nodding is star Ryan Reynolds. He’s been in lots of films over the years, including several comic book movies. In a handful of those films his knack for snark and sarcasm are an excellent fit whatever the whole is trying to do. In more movies than that those same qualities feel out of place and work to the detriment of said films. As Deadpool, he’s a perfect match. Everything about this character screams his name. Hate to go too cliché on you, but yes, he was born to play this role. For this, he was rewarded with an outstanding script that saw him make fun of everything and everyone, himself included. He gets to say aloud that as an actor Ryan Reynolds has been getting by on his good looks. My favorite line actually pokes fun at another franchise I love, the X-Men movies. When told he is being taken to see Professor Xavier, Deadpool asks “McAvoy or Stewart?” Reynolds’s delivery of this, and every other line is a note flawlessly struck.
The work of our star would be all for naught if he didn’t have great lines to say. Yes, I’m coming back to the writers. They did a magnificent job integrating all of the fourth-wall breaks and pop culture references with a fun story. Truthfully, that last thing is the weakest link in the chain, but the rest of the movie is so much fun you hardly notice. Besides, it’s not a bad story, just a fairly typical one. Where it shines the most dramatically is in the one thing that it takes seriously: the love story. Can’t have a superhero movie without a love story. In this case, the lucky girl is Vanessa (Baccarin). She and Reynolds have a really good chemistry and seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I will admit that her appearance did take me out of the movie on occasion because I think she looks exactly like a young Famke Janssen. That might be a personal distraction, but I kept remarking the similarity to myself while watching, not something I like to be doing during a movie. Still, her performance was very good and complemented Reynolds wonderfully.
Reynolds also had great chemistry with two other co-stars. One is T.J. Miller who played his buddy Weasel. Yes, he is the aforementioned guy from the Shock Top commercials. The two trade barbs much like Miller and that beer bottle. Through the insults and the bits of exposition that leak into their conversations, they manage to really make us feel their friendship. The other person Reynolds works really well with is the one and only Leslie Uggams. I realize many of you may not be familiar with her, but she made her claim to fame as Aunt Kizzy in Roots and become something of a staple in the 70s. Here, she plays our hero’s blind roommate and steals every scene she’s in.
Unfortunately, one of the things most Marvel films seem to struggle with is present here. Namely, our villain is less than memorable. Ajax, or Francis (Skrein) could be a really cool villain, but he’s not given quite enough room to stretch his wings. He’s not explained well enough for us to understand what type of threat he is outside of the lab to our hero. He just is. He seems to be the type that has a boss, but doesn’t. On top of that, in a nearly silent role as his henchwoman Angel Dust, Gina Carano makes more of an impression. Together, they provide us with a fantastic final scene, but you’d be forgiven if you forgot all about either of them as soon as the credits started rolling.
Thankfully, the weakness of our bad guy is not enough to dull our enjoyment of the film. Our hero immediately ropes us in by speaking directly to us and never lets go of us. It provides an entry point into the film that we aren’t used to using on a repeated basis. Lots of other movies have used fourth wall breaks. This one uses it to greater effect than any film I’ve ever seen. It bounces effortlessly between telling us a story and conversing with us. It also foregoes the normal superhero fighting for an ultraviolent style that works well with the overall tone. It’s unapologetically self-aware, crass, and quite possibly the best superhero flick since The Dark Knight.