We stand on the precipice of the 2016 class of superhero films, and the earliest entry of that fold: Fox’s long belabored attempt at a Deadpool feature film. It was a 6 year battle after the failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but thanks to the relative noise of the internet and one leaked test video two years ago, Wade Wilson’s time in the spotlight is on our doorstep. Was it worth the wait?
It really depends on what you expect from a film of this caliber. As a Deadpool neophyte (I’ve read the Gail Simone run and a few issues of the earlier Gerry Duggan comics), my expectations were only set by the trailer and what it promises: a very R-rated twist on the superhero movie experience, which the film delivers. By that same token, it doesn’t offer much beyond that.
The set-up is fairly four-color reverent, and completely dispenses with the Deadpool that appeared previously in the aforementioned Wolverine film – I’m not sure if the time-travel shenanigans of X-Men: Days of Future Past are the in-story reason, but that’s the theory I’m running with. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary, pulling off relatively minor jobs like helping high school girls get rid of their stalkers. While at the bar where he connects will all his fellow mercs in the trade and his best friend Weasel (TJ Miller), he meets a “lady of the night” named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two instantly connect, having sex everywhichway you could figure before the film becomes NC-17, and begin a pretty tight-knit relationship. Eventually, Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer, volunteers for the Weapon X experiment, it’s not what it seems, etc etc…now you have Deadpool out seeking revenge against the man responsible for his current physical condition (Ed Skrein).
One of the on-going complaints about current superhero fare is how relatively high stakes each third act is, with some end of the city/end of the world macguffin in place. Deadpool leans more towards the personal confrontations of The Wolverine and Ant-Man, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean the story is compelling. This may be down to Deadpool’s odd structure, which uses time jumps ad nauseum. Man of Steel played a similar narrative trick, but that film had a variance on its present day moments, while with Deadpool I spent a lot of time hoping they’d just get off that damn bridge you see in the trailer. Still, I give it credit for trying something different in how the plot unfurls itself.
The best and most important thing in Deadpool’s favor is that Ryan Reynolds is clearly in his element, playing the role that he was absolutely conceived for. This is the kind of rare synthesis of actor to role that almost makes it impossible to disassociate them, a la Robert Downey as Iron Man. To see someone who’s so perfect for a part and has been an ardent advocate for the character finally getting to play that role on screen almost makes it worth the price of admission.
Deadpool‘s script obviously aims for a funny/raunchy tone, loaded with explicit sexual situations. There were so many jokes (some hit, some miss) flying by at a rapid fire pace that at one point I began to lose track of them and miss punchlines. In a way, there’s a weird push and pull in character dialogue that I’m not sure the script succeeds at. Almost everyone carries the same sort of blunt quippyness that Deadpool already employs: Vanessa is equally as funny, as is Weasel, as is Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), as is the wonderfully named Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and while those pleasures can be relatively satisfying in the moment, when the movie switches gears, such as Vanessa dealing with Wade’s diagnosis, she becomes seemingly a completely different character.
Maybe the biggest issue facing the film is that it’s intended for diehards, made by a team who shares that same passion for the comics. It’s a place where it may be difficult for anyone not already on-board to get a strong foothold in the material. After seeing the film, I couldn’t tell you a thing about Weasel, or Blind Al, or maybe most critically, Ajax, the villain that Wade spends the entire movie chasing after. The film presumes you already have some level of attachment to everyone that’s on-screen. After walking out of Deadpool, my biggest question was: “why exactly did Ajax do anything he does?” While it’s not terribly important to know the background of Deadpool’s best friend or Ajax’s henchwoman Angel Dust (Gina Carano), for example, it’s absolutely critical that we have at least a modicum of understanding of why the bad guy does bad things. It becomes just a tad more difficult to engage in the material and produces one of the worst villains of the X-franchise. For the record, Skrein himself is fine, but the material isn’t.
First-time director Tim Miller doesn’t embarrass himself, and the action sequences are competent enough if never terribly thrilling, though the smaller budget does show a bit in places (Colossus, in particular, doesn’t look great). Again, the positives of this film begin and end with Reynolds’ terrific performance and your predilection for dick jokes. If you’re a diehard fan of the property, and/or its brand of humor and metafictional narration is what you’re looking for, you’ll come away pretty satisfied. For those among the uninitiated, you’ll be scratching your head and wondering what the fuss is all about.
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.