Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick (Character: Fabian Nicieza, Rob Liefeld)
Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapicic (voice), Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Michael Benyaer
R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
There is an old adage that there’s nothing new under the sun. Perhaps, but no one could have expected that a foul-mouthed, socially unacceptable character like Deadpool could have not only secured his own franchise, but done so with as much success and fanfare as it did.
When you look at Marvel properties available for development, you have to try and figure out whether they fall into the X-Men/Fantastic Four lot belonging to Fox, the Spider-Man set that are owned by Sony, and the rest of the universe controlled by Disney/Marvel. There is minimal overlap and now that Disney and Sony have made a pact, there’s really only a need to know what Fox owns and Disney doesn’t. Deadpool is one of those characters that the wholesome Disney studios would likely never have given much leeway to. Thank goodness Deadpool fell into the X-Men bloc, which enabled Fox to greenlight the crassest, most uncouth superhero cinema has yet created.
The backstory is simple, perhaps a bit too simple, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) has incurable cancer, but is given the opportunity to submit to a new medical trial that might save his life. The catch is that the trial requires intense physical and mental torture that leaves him physically scarred and routinely pissed off.
As should always be expected, there is also a woman involved. Morena Baccarin is the forward-thinking female character superhero franchises need more of, but who is ultimately relegated to a position of play thing / damsel in distress in the film, which renders ineffective any strength the character emotionally or sociologically possesses. That’s not Baccarin’s fault, the script is logistically very sterile. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are so focused on turning Wilson and his alter-ego Deadpool into an unrepentant mercenary who does little but fling clever and amusing one-liners at the audience that it forgets to provide a more complex plot.
For his part, Director Tim Miller keeps the pacing tight, the visual cues perfectly timed, and the film to breezy length. His employment of slow motion fits terrifically into the feature only when necessary. His opening titles sequence is masterfully crafted, one of the finest opening credits in recent memory. Were it not for the limp narrative backbone, he’d have carved out a brilliant piece of the Fox-Marvel universe.
Any grievances of story over-simplification and lack of character dimensionality is easily ignored when faced with the superb talent of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds has been loitering in the cinemasphere for decades, turning in relatively light and inconsequential performances, hitting his nadir with the DC adaptation of Green Lantern where he was completely miscast. Apart form his Oscar caliber work in films like The Nines and Buried, Reynolds hasn’t had a lot of success. Deadpool, while not the kind of film that gets Oscar nominations, is probably his most roundly appealing and thoroughly engaging character to date.
Wade Wilson is a passionate man whose life is turned upside down by the cancer diagnosis. As he descends into melancholia at ruining the happiness of the one woman who completes him, the opportunity to take a risk of a possible cure is too hard to pass up. Through these moments of frustration and depression, Reynolds’ attempts at levity are tinged with remorse, humorous, yet scarring. He may be unparalleled in his work as the merciless soldier of fortune Deadpool, but its those simple quiet moments that let his talent shine through. They are easily forgotten in the grand scheme of this colossal crude and crass joke factory of a film, but there’s something at the heart of it that feels honest and that’s Reynolds’ work that brings it through.
The periphery and secondary characters of the production are as one-dimensional as the self-effacing opening credits would suggest. These are characters that can be boiled down to three-word descriptions that encapsulate their personalities so fully that you forget the film should be developing them for more effective use.
T.J. Miller’s brand of comedy, to which I was first exposed as the execrable Critics Choice Awards ceremony, is flatly unappealing. He gets off some clever comments as Wade’s best friend Weasel, but there’s not much depth behind anything he does. Ed Skrein’s sneering villain Ajax is only as compelling as his pun-friendly name. Skrein chews his scenery without so much as seasoning it first. Brianna Hildebrand is interesting only as far as her character impacts the plot as Teenage Negasonic Warhead. The vocal work of Stefan Kapcic could have been much more compelling had his lumbering CGI monstrosity Colossus been more emotionally evocative.
Gina Carano is still an interesting presence in any film, though she may never achieve the level of creative energy afforded her by Steven Soderbergh in Haywire, a film which should have launched a celebrated career, but ultimately didn’t. Lesley Uggams’ Blind Al is amusing in spurts and is thankfully not overused. There are other actors and characters in the film of note, but that note is singular and not worthy of added discussion.
Deadpool is a thoroughly entertaining film and its faults are easy to push aside by those who aren’t concerned with such things as effective plotting, rich characterizations, or sociopolitical commentary. That isn’t really the point of the comic book Deadpool, so it’s no surprise it’s not a major part of the film. It’s great to see studios take a chance with something so clearly evocative. Disney has too often played it safe in the live-action world, The Avengers: Age of Ultron being the ultimate example, so having this property in the hands of Fox is fantastic. Even if the end result isn’t cinematically perfect, it’s incredibly entertaining, and sometimes that’s all a film needs to be.
April 21, 2016