Monday, February 15, 2016

Movie Review: Deadpool


Movie: Deadpool
Directed by: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin

Verdict: Crude, shameless, and often hilarious, Deadpool flips the overplayed superhero movie milieu upside-down with its dark humor, subversive wit, and surprisingly solid joining of bathos and pathos, topped with a strong showing by a likable lead that somehow manages to carry to plot over the weighty trappings of its own convoluted origin story.

In depth: Alright - let’s be honest: who’s sick of superhero movies?  Sure, it was great when Toby Maguire was shooting web all over the place, or when Christopher Nolan stepped out of his comfort zone to create compelling drama out of a man in a flying rat costume.  But it seems like every three months, one universe or another is spitting out a new baby to add to a growing family of increasingly superfluous flicks and sequels.  All this swill creates is perfect fermentation for a character like Deadpool to dip his grubby little feet into.  Deadpool is arguably this generation’s iconic Marvel personality - sure, he shares the spot with the still stubbornly popular Wolverine, but as a whole he’s come to represent the general mood of many superhero comic fans: he laughs at conventional morality, breaks the fourth wall with all the delicacy of a cavity search, and basically fails to be or do anything remotely heroic.  So with my expectations running high, I walked into Marvel's latest showcase featuring him in hopes of finding reprieve from all the larger-than-life, apocalyptic and/or origin stories that have saturated the movie scene for some time.  And I got exactly what I wanted, for despite a few slips here and there, Deadpool was a fast, furious ride through Marvel’s wild side, delivering a much-needed antidote to spandex overdose.

Reynolds stars as the legendary Merc with a Mouth, carving a bloody (and side-splitting) path of vengeance as he tracks down the mutant mad scientist Ajax - played by British actor Ed Skrein - who's responsible for ruining his life.  Along the way, he kills a few people, has a run-in with the X-Men (alright, two, including the unfortunately named Negasonic Teenage Warhead) and even gets a chance at love with kind-hearted prostitute Vanessa (Baccarin).  Stocked full of mythology gags, fourth wall malfunctions, and crude humor and below-the-belt shots at everything from cancer to blindness, Marvel’s bad boy revels in the film’s R-rating, all while somehow managing to piece together a mostly coherent plot line - certainly Marvel’s best effort in over a year.  

Ironically, (or maybe not) Deadpool accomplishes what Origins failed so terribly to do: provide an interesting origin story that matches the source material as closely as possible while still allowing necessary breaks from conformity.  From the delightful in medias res opening and laugh-out-loud gag credits, to Deadpool taking time out of his busy car-flipping schedule to delve into flashback, the movie doesn’t pull the punches right out of the gate and somehow makes exposition actually fun.  The detailed cinematography really stands out, with the action scenes almost literally hitting you in the face, and Deadpool's animated mask making you feel like you've actually stepped into one of his comics.  This shouldn't be surprising; this is a (sorta) superhero movie, after all, and actions scenes normally bear almost no commentary in this genre because of it.  But in this case, it wasn’t just the action, but how it was used to enhance the ridiculousness of the situation to spectacular effect, that are really noteworthy; the bullet time sequences, for example, were elevated to the point of parody, but bucked the usual trend by melding with and enhancing the action, instead of just taking away from it.

Ryan Reynolds hops into the title role surrounded by a small bit of controversy due to both his lackluster film corpus lately, and his connection to the horribly conceived big-screen debut of the beloved iconoclast in Wolverine: Origins.  I can’t say that I shared the same worries; his one-scene wonder was just about the best thing in that train wreck, and while his record has admittedly been spotty as of late, his aptitude for black comedy and wit is solid.  He proved me right, for while his comparatively nasally voice after Nolan North’s inspired renditions took some getting used to, in no time you couldn't help but to revel in Ryan’s profanity-laden tirades.  The actor’s natural motor-mouth tendencies served him well, and it seems like, after a little of fumbling, he’s found the role he was born to play.

That said, I can’t say that the other actors help him in carrying the movie in any way.  True, Morena Baccarin was delightful, even if she did fall into the damsel in distress trope way too easily, but Skrein’s odd cross between bored sociopath and soccer hooligan didn’t quite do it for me, nor did his butchy henchwoman Angel Dust.  Granted, this may have been part of an elaborate joke on the shallow and almost laughably stupid characterizations of many super villains in this genre, but it’s hard to tell.  I kept hoping that Deadpool would pop up and skewer or at least explain the inane choices and motives driving some characters - the most glaring to me being why Frances - sorry, Ajax - thought it was a good idea to taunt, and then lure, a virtually indestructible psychopathic killing machine to his location, with no real plan on how to, you know, kill him.  Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (and yes, Wade gave that name the poking it so richly deserved) came off a little better, played by Stefan Kapičić and Brianna Hildebrand, respectively; it helped that they were essentially there to play off of our main hero in different and very funny ways - one being the straight-laced dogooder, the other, simply a bored teenager who marvels at the stupidity in every single adult around her.

Besides that little gap, though, I found the story strong - surprisingly so, since of all the adjectives I’d use to describe a Deadpool movie, “touching” wouldn’t usually be in my top ten.  And yet, it managed to choke a few genuine drops of emotion out of the proverbial offensive turnip, particularly in Wade’s romance with Vanessa.  Their relationship wasn’t overplayed for the most part, and only delved into sentimentality once or twice, which already outstrips most romantic comedies by a mile.  It also gave Reynolds a modicum of room to maneuver, allowing him to show off his genuine nerdy charm - something most incarnations of Deadpool never get the chance to flex in anyway that isn't borderline creepy.  Unfortunately, this undeniable movie strength hides one of its biggest weaknesses.  While Deadpool doesn’t fudge up in indecisiveness like so many other movies that play both sides of the tragedy/comedy divide, it does make the mood whiplash hard and painful - particularly in those rare points when the bridging joke leading from one end to the other falls flat.

Worst of all, the tender moments, while well-done all by themselves, take away a bit of the... meanness, you’d expect in a Deadpool film.  Don’t get me wrong - it was plenty mean on most occasions, sometimes outstandingly so, especially as it concerned  legitimate pot shots at Marvel’s own ridiculousness.  But the movie was just a few snarky comments and subverted expectations shy of really twisting the knife home, and I was personally disappointed that it seemed to pull some of its punches.  But maybe I’m being a selfish; this odd balance was probably necessary in order to keep Deadpool from sliding into complete parody, which wouldn't have done the story any favors.  In the end, Miller found a good middle ground, between self-effacing parody and genuine storytelling, and following his example wouldn’t be a bad thing for any future superhero movie makers.

At the final stand, Deadpool was a fun, witty, and irreverent joy ride through the sometimes twisted, sometimes heartbreaking story of one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes of recent times.  Reynolds nails his role like the bulls-eyes he lands on his unfortunate on screen adversaries, and minor nitpicks aside, Deadpool is arguably the most fun, witty, and tongue-in-cheek superflick since Guardians of the Galaxy.  In a movie market overflowing with heroes and their sequels, here’s one franchise I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in the near future.

Grade: A

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