Sunday, February 21, 2016
Saturday morning. I hit the not-quite-matinee of "Deadpool," Marvel's latest in a non-stop barrage of superhero flicks. Long story short: I laughed like a retard munching his way through a poppy field throughout the entire film, then walked around the shopping mall for a good half-hour afterward with a stupid, stupid grin pasted to my face. I loved "Deadpool."
The movie isn't the same as your typical Marvel actioner. First off, it's amazingly—almost ear-blisteringly—vulgar, and some of the female characters prove to be just as raunchy as the guys—sexy Morena Baccarin in particular (remember her? Inara from "Firefly"?) shows a side of herself that she's never revealed in any of her other roles. "Deadpool" is also a black comedy: we're expected to laugh at bloody amputations, people getting shot in the rectum or being stabbed through the skull, "teabagging" during an intense fight sequence, and the prospect of dying from cancer (see previous review for a more sober take).
Along with being a vulgar black comedy, "Deadpool" is cynical and self-aware. From the opening credits on through to the post-credits scene, the movie is a postmodernist's wet dream—a paean to intertextuality. Reynolds's Deadpool talks directly to us, the viewers, breaking the fourth wall every chance he gets, and often commenting on his awareness that he's in a superhero movie. He even names the actors who play in Marvel roles: Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy (both of whom have played Professor Charles Francis Xavier) are name-checked, and there's a series of not-very-nice Wolverine/Hugh Jackman jokes, including one about ball-fondling "down under" (said with an Aussie accent). Deadpool even references the actor Ryan Reynolds, and the character shows us that his favorite action figure is the mouthless Deadpool from "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." When Wade Wilson is about to undergo his transformation into Deadpool, he asks that his super-suit not be either green or animated—a reference to Reynolds's stillborn, much-panned superhero flick, "Green Lantern." The opening credits themselves are hilarious: instead of naming the stars we'll be watching, the credits cynically list the types we'll be seeing: "gratuitous cameo," "sullen teen," "asshats," and the like. The post-credits scene, instead of showing a preview of the next Marvel film, is a parody of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," with Deadpool in a bathrobe telling us that the movie's over and we should go on home. In the middle of the film, when Deadpool visits Xavier's X-Men academy, he cracks that he only ever sees two people there—Colossus (voice of Stefan Kapičić—Colossus is a pure-CGI character) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand)—almost as if the studio couldn't afford to show any other X-Men.
So what's "Deadpool" about? It's an origin story about Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces soldier who now spends his time as a hard-edged do-gooder—a mercenary. The movie cuts back and forth between flashbacks and the present day; at one point there's a fourth-wall-breaking flashback within a flashback, and Deadpool says something like, "A fourth-wall break within a fourth-wall break! That's like... sixteen walls!" Wilson finds his nasty soulmate Vanessa (Baccarin), a call girl with a miserable past, then discovers he has raging metastatic cancer. Desperate, Wilson accepts the offer from a shady recruiter to enter a special program that can cure him of his cancer and grant him superpowers. He undergoes a series of brutal tortures, all in an attempt to activate mutant genes. When the genes are finally activated—and Wilson's primary torturer, Francis, seems to enjoy trying to activate them—Wilson gains Wolverine-like powers of quick regeneration and amazing athletic abilities that enhance his already-impressive fighting skills. When he discovers that the program he's in is actually in place to create "super-slaves," he manages to escape, after which he spends his time tracking down the people who mutated him. Oh, about that: Wade Wilson acquires superpowers, true, but the cost is that his skin becomes ravaged and cancerous-looking. As his friend puts it, he looks as though "Freddy Krueger face-fucked a topographical map of Utah." Nodding in agreement, Wade says he now looks like "a testicle with teeth."
I've always enjoyed movies that have an un-self-conscious sense of fun about them.* "The Matrix" was like that. So was "Guardians of the Galaxy." I can now add "Deadpool" to that proud roster; it's getting marginally good reviews at sites like Metacritic, but for me, this is easily one of my top two favorite Marvel films—and it barely qualifies as a Marvel film. The cast all do amazing work: Reynolds gets to be his likable, hilarious self; Morena Baccarin is often equally funny while also playing it dark and cynical; Ed Skrein is appropriately cruel and arrogant as the evil Francis "Ajax" Freeman; chipmunky comedian TJ Miller ("the sidekick" in the opening credits) tosses off gut-busting one-liners as Wilson's buddy Weasel; Gina Carano (for whom I have the hots) is butched-up and dangerous-looking in her role as Angel Dust; and Brianna Hildebrand makes an impression as "sullen teen" mutant trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead. All the cast members seemed to be enjoying themselves; I imagine it must have been a trip to be on the set during the making of this movie.
If this is really Tim Miller's first time ever directing a major film, I expect big things from him in the future. He got the pacing and cinematography right; he photographed the fight scenes in ways that were coherent and understandable; there was little to no shaky-cam footage. He injected plenty of blood and gore (including Brian De Palma levels of splattered brains) into the plot, and he put his own stamp on the Marvel franchise: his work is easily distinguishable from that of other Marvel directors like Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, and James Gunn. What I liked best about this film was that it went there: it didn't pull any punches, and even though it's not, tonally speaking, an integral part of the larger Marvel universe, it points the way to what future Marvel movies could become. They could all afford to become a bit more raunchy, a bit more adult in nature. "Deadpool" also inadvertently gives us a glimpse of some of the seedier aspects of superheroic existence, and in so doing, it brings its characters down from superhuman to more relatably human. Yeah, I wouldn't complain if movies like "Deadpool" became the norm. Despite its immaturity, it's a more mature film.
Of course, most people will say that the main attraction, here, is the humor. I'd agree. "Deadpool" is laugh-your-guts-out funny. There's a huge vein of physical comedy to be mined when your quick-healing powers allow you to be shot through the anus, amputated, impaled, and stabbed in the head, only for you to recover and get ready for more abuse. There's also the added comedic perk of being able to tell your lady love that your activated mutant genes have granted you a super dick. Part of the humor, too, comes from Wade Wilson's interactions with Blind Al, the old blind woman that he lives with after he goes through his uglifying mutant transformation and refuses to show his face to Vanessa. At first, I could have sworn that Blind Al was played by Nichelle Nichols (classic Uhura in the old Star Trek films), but it turns out the actress is Leslie Uggams who, if Google Images don't lie, was positively gorgeous back in the day. Wade and Al have a weird, prickly relationship; she loudly tells Wade that she can hear him through the walls every time he masturbates; he gathers up a pile of guns and tells her that he loves her very much, and that there's a huge cocaine stash on the premises.
As raunchy, nasty, self-aware, and darkly cynical as "Deadpool" is, it's got a good heart and a compassionate core. Wade Wilson hates it every time someone calls him a "hero" for some good act he's performed, and Colossus keeps trying to bring Wilson into the X-Men fold, but for all of Wade's resistance to aligning himself with the major-league good guys, he's a softie, and I'm pretty sure he'll end up as one of Professor Xavier's charges someday. The movie's plot isn't all that original (despite being yet another origin story); the fight choreography features the standard, Marvel-style gymno-combat that isn't specific to any martial art; there's plenty of silly Hollywood physics constantly threatening to suspend your suspension of disbelief; but despite those minor flaws, "Deadpool" is watchable. It's smartly scripted, briskly paced, well peopled with stand-out characters, dripping with wit, and altogether lovable. Hell, the movie is more than watchable—it's re-watchable, and I'll probably try to see it again soon.
*You may be wondering how I can describe the same movie as both "self-aware" and "un-self-conscious." I don't find this contradictory: the movie goes meta whenever it breaks the fourth wall—that's its self-awareness—but the script is freewheeling and fun-loving without being pretentious—that's its un-self-consciousness. And that's all I mean, really.