The huge success of Marvel’s latest arguably says more about the conveyor belt of A+B=C comic book superhero movies than it does about the quality of the Merc with a Mouth’s first solo outing.
That’s not to say Deadpool is a bad picture – it’s not. Rather, it’s carefully marketed ‘subversiveness’ and ‘different’ have highlighted just how hungry cinemagoers are for a comic book movie that claims to break the mould.
While Tim Miller’s directorial debut has a genuine spark and a leading man who’s clearly relishing the chance to finally mark his mark with a character who until now had been an ill-served side player in the mishap that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Deadpool isn’t as anarchistic as it believes itself to be and ultimately gets in line with many of the movies it lampoons by falling back on an explosion-heavy final reel.
Deadpool sets out its stall from the get go with an enjoyably on-the-nose opening credits sequence that mocks the clichés of what anyone versed in comic book movies should expect (while still adopting them) before jumping into an opening reel set piece (as per the play book). The difference here is that Wade Wilson (Reynolds) knows we know this and is as much interested in showboating for the cheap seats as he is in seeing how many bad guys he can end the life of with a fistfull of bullets.
Through numerous flashbacks and regular fourth-wall breaking (“That’s like, sixteen walls!”), we learn that Wilson has revenge on his mind against evil Brit Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), a mutant who subjected our anti-hero to experiments which left him horribly disfigured. Believing he can no longer be with his fiance Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wilson costumes up and adopts the alter-ego of Deadpool in order to deliver some Old Testament justice.
On a visceral level Deadpool delivers, with enough acrobatic action and one-liners to satisfy both fanboy and casual cinemagoer alike. The use of B-list X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) provides ample opportunities for Wilson/Reynolds to stick the boot in to the X-Men, from its HQ (“Neverland Mansion”), to Professor Xavier (“some creepy, old, bald, Heaven’s Gate-looking motherf***er”) and Wolverine in particular (a visual gag involving Hugh Jackman towards the end of the movie is particularly amusing).
The delight with which Reynolds spouts Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s expletive-laden meta dialogue is palpable and the scenes he shares especially with T.J Miller’s deadpan Weasel and Leslie Uggams’ elderly flatmate Blind Al are the film’s highlight.
However, Wilson’s romance with Vanessa, whilst gamely played by both actors, feels like it’s stapled on from a different movie and the character rather inevitably becomes a damsel in distress who’s there to be rescued from the clutches of the bad guy; a trope we’ve seen once or twice in the movies.
Reynolds, like the film itself, also veers too often into smugness; basking in its latest insult or ribaldry as if waiting for the audience to stop chuckling before moving on.
It will be interesting to see whether the goldmine that Deadpool has unearthed will inspire the studios to take on riskier projects involving characters who operate on the fringes of the comic book universe. If this is the film’s legacy then so much the better.
Deadpool is fun and smart; just not as fun and smart as it thinks it is.