Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review: Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool (2016)

Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity

Score: 4 out of 5

Hi, I'm Deadpool! In case you didn't know, I have a new movie coming out just in time for Valentine's Day! It's not your usual love story, though; no, it's also a superhero movie. No, it's not that kind of superhero movie, it's also the most ass-kicking, ball-busting...

...okay, yeah, I kinda suck at that whole "imitate Deadpool" thing.

Well, in any case, I had an absolute blast watching this movie. It's not perfect, it's not particularly smart, and your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for gross-out humor of the sort that you don't normally see in a superhero movie. It has more in common with Kick-Ass than with Captain America, or with the 20th Century Fox X-Men films that it technically shares a universe with -- compared to them, it feels low-budget (at $58 million, it's an outright indie film compared to The Avengers), scrappy, and eager to please by making up for its lack of big explosions with graphic violence and sex jokes. It's a movie where the protagonist knows he's in a movie, and it's filled with countless pot-shots at its fellow superhero films, with the filmography of its star Ryan Reynolds (who had previously done the execrable Green Lantern and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) coming in for especially fierce ribbing. It is most definitely not a film for the family audiences that you take to a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie -- or it shouldn't be, if not for the fact that teenage boys who have to sneak into R-rated movies (and this film very much earns its R rating) are probably the target audience for this. If you're looking to just have a great time in the cinema, go check this out.

The central plot is pretty much bog-standard superhero fare. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), an ex-Special Forces operative turned mercenary/bodyguard, learns that he has terminal cancer, and in a last-ditch effort to save himself, he undergoes what he's told is a radical new treatment but which is actually an experiment to create mutants with superpowers. The experiment leaves him with heightened healing (and his cancer cured), but at the cost of becoming hideously disfigured, meaning that he can't show his face to his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) lest she fail to recognize him. Worse, the people who did the experiment on him plan on enslaving him to use as a super soldier in various Third World conflicts. An infuriated Wade breaks out and goes into hiding with his friend Weasel and an old blind lady named Al, and puts together a homemade mask and suit, assembles an arsenal of guns and katanas, and takes on the name Deadpool (after the dead pool that Weasel had bet on him in). With the help of a pair of X-Men named Colossus and, uh, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (that's what happens when you let a teenage girl pick out her superhero name), Wade sets out for revenge against the people who ruined his life, all while attempting to reconnect with Vanessa after his long disappearance.

That's the dry version of the story, neglecting to mention Wade's spectacular sense of humor, which is 90% of what makes this film what it is. To put it as simply as possible, he can see straight through the fourth wall, and he knows he's in a superhero movie. He makes frequent asides to the audience, including physically grabbing the camera and turning it away just before he does something particularly grisly to some poor sucker, and he constantly references and makes fun of other superhero movies, the people who starred in them (including Reynolds), and all their assorted tropes and cliches. It's an effective translation of the character's "meta" nature in the comics, and it's a shtick that should've gotten annoying but never does here, largely because this film knows how best to use him. It doesn't quite go as far as I would've liked in turning the very medium of film into a weapon (this is the sort of film that Mel Brooks in his prime could've knocked out of the park), but the fact that it doesn't completely take over the film also means that there's still room to tell a story in between the jokes. It all comes down to a great performance by Reynolds, who delivers what is perhaps one of his best performances in a long time, balancing the line between playing a walking punchline and a character who we want to see succeed. The rest of the humor is pretty juvenile, but it's dumb humor told with panache and full commitment to the joke, delivering an onslaught of dick jokes, butt jokes, sex jokes, and gags about particularly gory deaths (like I said, R-rated) that never wears out its welcome like I thought it would. The question of "don't all those gunmen have personal lives outside of work?", for instance, is answered in a great thirty-second scene where Wade meets an old war buddy of his on the other side of a battlefield, figures him a traitor for working for the villains, and beats his ass.

The fact that the core of this film is a pretty decent, if unspectacular, superhero movie that could stand on its own also helps keep the jokes flowing nicely. Reynolds and Baccarin are at the core of this film as Wade and Vanessa, and the film does a surprisingly good job getting me invested in their relationship, as well as in giving Baccarin something to do beyond look sexy. It was a lot more than I could say for Clark Kent and Lois Lane in Man of Steel, that's for sure. Stefan Kapičić and Brianna Hildebrand also stole the show in their comparatively small roles as Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, to the point where I wished they didn't all but drop out of the film during the second act. Kapičić's Colossus is a parody of the "traditional" superhero, constantly pressuring Deadpool to stop being such an asshole and instead accept the great responsibility that comes with his newfound great power, while Hildebrand's Negasonic is frequently unimpressed with Deadpool's wiseass attitude; it's a great culture clash in both directions, as Deadpool (with his roots in the Gen-X '90s comics) confronts, and is confronted by, both old-school and new-school values. The only thing that didn't impress me was the villains, which seems to be a perennial problem in many superhero films. Ed Skrein's Ajax was forgettable as a baddie, and as for Angel Dust, while Gina Carano can definitely play the "tough chick" well, she gets no real character beyond that (though she does get in one great laugh courtesy of a "wardrobe malfunction" during a fight with Colossus).

The Bottom Line:

Deadpool isn't revolutionary, but it's hardly a disaster either. It's just a damn hilarious superhero parody that knows exactly what it is, and pulls it off with flying colors. If you're old enough (ah, who am I kidding), definitely go and see it.

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