Superhero saturation is in full swing, an epidemic only tempered a bit by the strange fact that the majority of the big-budget superhero movies are shockingly good. The studios have been self-aware about this for a while, hiring Joss Whedon to inject some much-needed smarm into the The Avengers. The indie studios have been even more self-aware, putting out varying-quality anti-superhero movies like Kick-Ass, Defendor, and Super (Super’s director, James Gunn, even went on to direct Guardians of the Galaxy). It was only a matter of time before a studio got fully on-board with taking down the genre, and thus: Deadpool. With trailers making it look like every fourteen-year-old boy’s favourite movie, the rapturous commercial response to Deadpool was no huge surprise, but that it was coupled with critical praise was a bit of a shock. The secret sauce might just be that Deadpool is violent and crass without being mean-spirited, enjoyable just by being a good time at the movies. That same feature prevents it from being very distinct against the very movies it parodies, and the seams of its budget show, but it’s still a highly enjoyable lark.
Deadpool opens in-media-res, teasing out its origin story while intercutting a fight scene occurring roughly halfway through the movie. This move makes sense, partially to make one action scene seem like twenty, and partially since the origin story is not particularly exciting or colourful, outside of just being able to spend some time with Ryan Reynolds’ charismatic Wade Wilson and his love interest, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Reynolds was born for this role, as expected, even if he’s finally starting to look his age, and he makes Deadpool a funny asshole without coming across as annoying, petulant, or unlikable. Baccarin is equally important to carrying these portions, and her barbs are every bit as potent as Reynolds’; it makes it a small shame when she inevitably takes a damsel-in-distress role, but its not as egregious a case as it has been before. When Baccarin is plotwise unavailable, TJ Miller’s bartender Weasel steps in as Deadpool’s foil. Miller has been hyped up for this as if he’s the second coming of Comedy Christ, and he’s alright and all, but is essentially a fairly replaceable white guy sidekick.
What really hurts Deadpool is that it never builds up its world into something interesting, which is never more apparent than in its second act (where Deadpool signs up for military research). It’s all dark and grimy, but the kinds of things we’ve seen before. The villains are nondescript, especially main bad-guy Francis played by a very uncharismatic Ed Skrein. Even outside of this point, it still feels small-scale. This is a great boon in terms of its scope; there are no overstated, bland threats against the whole planet, giving it a personal feel. But it’s artifice is never hidden, and it’s hard to get lost in as a result. At one point, Deadpool knocks on the door of Xavier’s School for Gifted Children. Negasonic Teenage Warhead, one of two X-Men we meet over the movie (along with Colossus), answers the door, and Deadpool notes that the studio must be skimping if they can only afford two X-Men. Being aware of its shabbiness is great and all, but it doesn’t negate said shabbiness. Compare its similarly shabby cousin Kick-Ass, which doesn’t have nearly the quality of jokes but does have a sense of world-building. The mercenary bar gets close in Deadpool, but could have used a bit more fleshing out.
Deadpool doesn’t have the sense of identity I was expecting or hoping for, but its great fun nonetheless. At 1h40m, it’s a quick and breezy distraction with plenty of great gags and memorable visuals. I’m not hoping for a Deadpool Expanded Universe or crossovers necessarily, but I do hope the inevitable sequel has a bit more colour outside of its central performance.
Dir. Tim Miller
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, TJ Miller, and Ed Skrein
Rotten Tomatoes (83%)