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Non-Review Review: Deadpool

Deadpool is an incredibly juvenile self-aware R-rated superhero action comedy.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Drawing on the character's rich history...

Drawing on the character’s rich history…

Deadpool is arguably one of the breakout mainstream comic book characters of the past twenty-five years. The character was created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza as an antagonist for their New Mutants run. As originally conceived, Deadpool was a transparent meld of two popular characters; his red bodysuit (with highlights around the eyes) recalled the design of Spider-Man, while his fondness for weapons and his career as a mercenary recalled Deathstroke. (In fact, Deadpool’s name was pun. “Where does one practice their deathstroke? In the deadpool.”)

However, while Liefeld and Nicieza are created as the character’s creators, with particular emphasis on Rob Liefeld at various points in Deadpool, the character really found his voice under later writers like Joe Kelly. The co-called “Merc with the Mouth” quickly found a unique niche within the shared Marvel universe. The character was aware of his own existence as a comic book creation, offering wry self-commentary on the nature of the medium and the convention of the genre.

Stopping traffic...

Stopping traffic…

Deadpool often seemed to address his audience through the fourth wall, allowing writers the opportunity to acknowledge and explore the way that comic books worked as parody and meta-fiction. The character has always been able to bounce between various extremes, functioning at once as a hero within the confines of the larger shared universe and as an outsider who can pause to acknowledge the absurdity of his adventures within that framework. Deadpool was a character who spoke to the nineties and the twenty-first century, irony in a tight red bodysuit.

Part of the appeal of Deadpool as a comic book character has been the flexibility that he offers. The character can straddle standard comic book stories and more experimental fare. Deadpool could appear as a central emotional pivot point in Rick Remender’s exemplary (and very straight-laced) Uncanny X-Force run, a comic book that stands as a fine example of how to tell a conventional long-form superhero (or even just an X-Men) story. However, Deadpool could also slip between the panels of classic Spider-Man comics or eighties Marvel event comics.

Jumping into action...

Jumping into action…

Deadpool captures its central character quite well, positioning Wade Wilson in a story that serves as a fairly conventional (and fairly solid) origin story while allowing the mercenary the opportunity to offer wry commentary on those same conventions. Deadpool does not so much break the fourth wall as take a sledgehammer to it. In the opening moments, the hero accidentally flicks gum on the camera, to quietly scrape it off. Later on, he gently turns the camera away to spare the audience a gratuitous torture sequence.

To be clear, Deadpool is not a masterpiece of ironic satire. As much as Deadpool is aware of his existence within a comic book movie, he never seems perturbed by that fact. Indeed, the character even shifts between genres at various points in the script, offering the viewer a romantic story or a horror film. Deadpool does not break the fourth wall to offer profound insight or to render the viewer complicit; he breaks the fourth wall to crack cheap jokes and offer wry one-liners.

Well shot...

Well shot…

Part of this is a knowing acknowledgement of the film’s limitations. Deadpool has great fun at the expense of the movie’s obligatory crossover with the larger X-Men universe. When Colossus threatens to drag Deadpool to meet Professor Xavier, the mercenary demands, “Stewart or McAvoy?” When Deadpool visits the Xavier School for Gifted Youth to find it somewhat undermanned, he comments on the fact, reflecting, “Almost as if the studio couldn’t afford any better X-Men.”

There is something innately charming about all this, demonstrating that superhero films have reached a point where the characters within the narratives can recognise the plot beats and acknowledge the convoluted framework that exists between them. After all, superhero cinema exists as part of a larger meta-narrative that spans from the big screen to the small screen, transcending networks and streaming services as it teases a glimpse of a jigsaw puzzle that might be fit together from the various pieces.

King of the road...

King of the road…

Deadpool feels like a logical extension of this approach, acknowledging that the genre (and its narrative framework) have grown so large and so popular that it has almost become self-aware. Early in the film, Deadpool himself the absurdity of headlining his own film; perhaps acknowledging that the genre has reached a point that allowing a character to break the fourth wall to comment on the storytelling tropes feels like an organic extension. At one point, Wade congratulates himself on a fourth-wall break within a fourth-wall break. “That’s like sixteen walls.”

At the same time, it is clear that the other three walls remain firmly in place. Deadpool repeatedly acknowledges (and mocks) the character’s appearances in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Wade counts an action figure from the film among his personal belongings; characters repeatedly threaten to sew the talkative mercenary’s mouth shut. However, despite these none-too-subtle jabs, the film hews quite close to the basic plot beats of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

An air of excitement...

An air of excitement…

This is the story about a man who falls in love with a woman, but who finds himself turned into a monster by a secret experiment designed to turn mutants into slaves. Our hero manages to escape captivity in a massive action sequence that demolishes the secret torture laboratory, leading to a vendetta with the people responsible for his transformation. The climax even involves a massive battle atop a collapsing CGI structure. The biggest difference is the role that Ryan Reynolds and Wade Wilson play in the drama.

This is not necessarily a problem. After all, the basic story structure was not the biggest issue with X-Men Origins: Wolverine; the issue was the execution. Deadpool is executed a lot better. However, it does demonstrate that the film is much more conventional in structure and format than it would have its audience believe. If the fourth-wall gags were stripped out, Deadpool would be a fairly conventional superhero film with a bit more graphic violence (and some more candid sexuality) than many of its contemporaries.

Sidekick!

Sidekick!

It is interesting to wonder whether this conventional approach ultimately works to the advantage of the film. After all, Deadpool is able to so affectionately mock the familiar storybeats because they are so conventional; a lot of the humour in Deadpool derives from the inevitability of its plot points, affording the hero the opportunity to acknowledge how silly his stock British antagonist actually is or to recognise how intrusive the shared universe is as it intrudes into his narrative.

At the same time, it feels like Deadpool could have been a little more adventurous in its self-awareness. In particular, the use of the title character’s love interest in the third act feels disappointingly conventional. There are points at which it is not enough to acknowledge the convenience of a narrative trope, it is worth subverting or undermining it. Recognising a walking plot point, the movie’s plucky comic relief points Wade towards him. “It might advance the plot,” suggests our lead’s best friend. The acknowledgement excuses the convenience, but just barely.

Deadpool walkin'...

Deadpool walkin’…

Still, Deadpool largely works. There are a number of reasons for this. The most obvious is Ryan Reynold. The actor demonstrates charm and self-awareness in the lead role, allowing Wade Wilson to alternate between earnest protagonist and razor-sharp quipster. Reynolds is more than willing to laugh at his own expense, whether mocking his own good looks or his spotty superhero record. At the same time, Reynolds offers an endearing vulnerability to the protagonist. He plays particularly well with co-star Morena Baccarin, offering a charming romance.

The script also helps. Deadpool is a very juvenile film, but it is always aware of its juvenile nature. The film is never adverse to a bodily functions gag, demonstrating a delightfully teenage sensibility. (In fact, the movie’s key love montage is effectively a sequence of holiday themed sex scenes, which crosses the line from ridiculous immature into strangely sincere.) Deadpool might be full of wise-cracks and sly observations, but it is surprisingly sincere in its own sensibilities. There are no pretensions to the film; Deadpool knows exactly what it wants to be and how to be it.

An artist's depiction...

An artist’s depiction…

As a result, Deadpool affords its central character an engaging innocence. Although much is made of the fact that the title character is a soldier of fortune with forty-one confirmed kills under his belt, he is introduced doing the mercenary equivalent of community service. For all the film’s fixation on sex acts, the romance at its core is played entirely straight. Beneath all that irony is a surprisingly earnest script. Deadpool is a crass and silly superhero film with a decidedly teenage sensibility, but one completely and utterly dedicated to that crass and silly sensibility.

Deadpool is a superhero action comedy with its own rap theme tune, at once acknowledging how uncool that is while still unable to resist singing along. The audience might feel the same way.

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10 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great review. I am really looking forward to seeing this movie.

  2. Deadpool is an awesome character, and his movie is awesome too! I’m glad you liked the movie.

  3. Dear Darren, will you go back to reviewing comic books?

  4. Neat review Darren.

    I was surprised at how well Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin went together. I like them both and she is definitely one of my celebrity crushes but they felt more believable and as you say charming together than most superhero film couples.

  5. Will be deadpool 2????

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