Deadpool (2016)

"Daddy needs to express some rage"

Perhaps if I had been 13-16 years old in 2016 and seen Deadpool at Regal with friends while chugging Dr. Pepper, I would have quite liked it. Hell, it might have been my favorite movie for a few months. But alas; I’m 35, and Deadpool is a bit insufferable.

The damnedest thing is that parts of it are the best versions of themselves, and yet it’s still a pretty annoying movie. The jokes are, against all odds, actually pretty funny at a high hit rate. There’s some rhythm and sparkle, almost poetry, in the profane and well-delivered riffs in the screenplay.

But Deadpool leans on that old mistake of satires and parodies, wherein they assume that merely pointing out your cliches is sufficient, and so long as they say “we know, we know” they can safely execute the tired old tropes. No, a good parody turns every over-familiar adage inside out (see: Walk Hard). Alas, Deadpool doesn’t get that far. It is content to be another half-assed superhero origin story, just this time with an irreverent surface layer. The flavor is spicy, but the substance is still dull, gray oatmeal.

The story is told in alternating flashbacks and action, until the flashbacks catch up just in time for the climax, and you better believe Deadpool has some cheeky fourth-wall meta jokes about its timeline. The story follows Wade Wilson, played by Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds is the star, but also a producer and a clear creative voice. I almost dare call him the auteur of Deadpool; he certainly has more of a say on the project than actors usually have in high-budget comic book IP films.

In the flashbacks Wilson is a foulmouthed mercenary who falls in love with the heart-of-gold prostitute that can match him in verbal wit, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). This early going is my favorite part of the film, probably because it’s the most like an R-rated comedy and least like a superhero story. Vanessa and Wade get engaged, when the sledgehammer hits: Wade learns that he has cancer.

This cancer revelation is a harbinger of the movie’s fatal flaw: Deadpool is not really a superhero parody. It is not immune from superhero narrative over-exertion and tropes. It aims for dramatic stakes when, up until the cancer reveal, the film had been squarely a romp. Perhaps “romp” alone does not carry a film, but Deadpool does not work when it’s doing normal superhero origin story narrative stuff, regardless the dick and fart jokes the film uses to paper over that fact.

It gets worse when we meet perhaps the blandest superhero villain of all time, Ajax (Ed Skrein), who is a Chat GPT impersonation of a comic book baddie. Ajax gives Wilson a path to surviving his cancer. What Ajax doesn’t mention is that Wilson will be horribly scarred. On the plus side, he gains Wolverine-esque self-healing powers. Wilson, for reasons we can guess but the movie doesn’t articulate very well, refuses to alert Vanessa of his survival, and hunts down Ajax to look for a cure for his disfigurement. Somehow, everyone ends up in a junkyard for a big final battle.

There are some side characters thrown in to round the story out: For example, a couple of overserious X-Men show up, including one with the silly name of Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Also TJ Miller hangs around for the duration, which will be a turnoff for many (he’s a “wears out his welcome” type comedian for most people I know), though I found him pretty effective.

Reynolds is quite good as a steward of the film’s tone. It’s tough to imagine another actor inhabiting Deadpool’s impish sense of humor while still conveying as an action star the way that Reynolds does. Yet Baccarin might be even better. She takes what is often the least interesting part of superhero movies, the romantic interest, and lets her pop with personality and charisma. She is honestly slightly underused here — Reynolds is more charming when he’s bantering with her than with anyone else (or, just as often, bantering with no one as he breaks the fourth wall).

The film ultimately goes down pretty smoothly thanks to the fact that it’s barely 100 minutes and never more than a few lines from a joke. Every moment, from the opening credits right on, sneaks in a gag or two. I’ll take that over a wooden dramatic tone. It’s not just the frequency of the jokes, but the fact that plenty of them are funny. Laughs cover up a lot of flaws. So, yes, Deadpool is insufferable and annoying, but I still kind of like its high-effort ass.

And yet as I consider giving Deadpool a passing grade, I remember that my biggest laugh was an incredulous one when Wilson was diagnosed with cancer and the movie expected me to be sad about it. Maybe Deadpool 2 and the upcoming Deadpool and Wolverine get out of their own way more than the original.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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3 replies on “Deadpool (2016)”

I’m about there with you – I find the first couple of Deadpool movies kind of obnoxious. They make me laugh, but then feel a bit disappointed in myself when I do.

They’re also not much to look at, particularly this first one, which has the factory-line MCU aesthetic, but on a much smaller budget, so it all feels a bit rinky-dink and small in scope.

The DEADPOOL films are best enjoyed as pure entertainment of a sort that the MCU has become a little too sprawling and continuity-driven to provide: it does not, in fact, actually matter if you have seen previous films in the series.

It’s also worth noting that Mr Ed Skrein did fairly well as Villain in Chief of the REBEL MOON duology, to the point of being one of the most entertaining elements thereof (Although I may be grading on a curve, as those films are WARHAMMER 40,000 adjacent in a way that most certainly tickled my fancy).

Very good point that the fact that it requires basically no Marvel lore as a viewing prerequisite makes it very easy to watch.

I will likely catch up with the Rebel Moons at some point, but I admit the terrible reviews have made me prioritize my time elsewhere.

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