Sunday, March 27, 2016


Alternate Title:  Hop Fuzz

One sentence synopsis:    A rabbit police officer and fox con-man team up to solve a mysterious series of violent assaults by the "predator" minority of the animal metropolis Zootopia.

Things Havoc liked: Disney has been on something of a tear in recent years, a full on third Renaissance for a studio which seems unable to do wrong either in whole or in part. The recent burst of quality includes a whole host of top quality animated films such as Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6, all the of which were excellent films worthy of being considered alongside the best work of their counterparts at DreamWorks and Pixar. And so it is that this year, during a period generally bereft of quality for film in general, Disney has graced us with another would-be masterpiece, a light-hearted children's animated romp involving such fun, wacky subjects as racism, police brutality, and the ways in which politicians can use the media to engender fear and hatred.


Zootopia, a fun animated film in the traditional style of modern Disney movies, is a film with a whole lot going on, a mish-mash of styles, themes, and genres including everything from 80s caper flicks to classical Disney fare like The Fox and The Hound. It's a towering edifice of a film, packed with in-jokes and subtext, thematic complexity and high-velocity situational gags. Directed by Rich Moore (of Wreck-it Ralph) and Byron Howard (of nothing in particular), it is, without mincing words, a staggeringly good movie, one that tackles a whole series of complex issues in all their glorious complexity and makes an engaging, funny, compelling story out of them, all without simplifying the situation down for the kids in the audience or preaching dogmatically to the adults. It's not unusual to see animated movies tackle difficult subjects these days, nor is it some kind of revelation, in a post-Pixar world, to discover that kids movies can have something to say to adults. What is both unusual and revelatory, is a movie by a major studio that manages to do these things this well, and wrap it all together in a Disney-style animated romp full of humor, adventure, wonder, and engaging characters.

The premise, familiar to anyone who's seen the trailers, is relatively simple. Mammalian species of every type are, sentient, bipedal creatures, who live in and around a gigantic, modern metropolis known as Zootopia, a fully modern city with assorted amenities to cater to the vastly different sizes and preferred climates of its denizens. Arriving in this megalopolis of purported peace and tolerance is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) a newly-minted ZPD police officer, the first rabbit to become a cop in the history of the city. Struggling against prejudice against a rabbit as a policeman, she winds up embroiled in a complex missing persons (animals?) case, roping a con-artist fox named Nick (Jason Bateman) into the investigation through threats and blackmail. If this story sounds familiar to you, it may be because you remember the 1982 Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte action-comedy 48 Hrs, the movie that essentially invented the "buddy cop" genre as we know it today, and which Zootopia takes, of all things, as its clear plot inspiration. Given the purpose the movie puts this plot to, which is to explore the dynamics of prejudice and racism in more or less explicit detail, this is an odd place to draw from, but then Zootopia is an odd movie, part screwball comedy, part crime mystery, and part somber message movie on the need for tolerance.

By now, I'm sure everyone is aware that I have very little tolerance for message films, particularly polemical ones raging about some worldview that is proper and showcasing the various ogreish personality flaws of those who do not abide by it. It therefore comes as a surprise to me as much as anyone that Zootopia, the animated Disney film about bunnies and foxes, is one of the most rational, nuanced, and even-handed movies on the subject of prejudice that I have ever seen. In a film that, for all its weird premises, is clearly based around our modern society, the movie dispenses with cheap villains, mustache-twirling racists, and even the easy lure of simple allegory, wherein elephants would equate to black people or whatnot. The primary dynamic at work in Zootopia is one of Predator and Prey animals, with intersecting elements of prejudice based around size or species, and yet nowhere in the movie can one draw a direct parallel, though references to the real world abound. At one point it seems like the dynamic is that of the larger and more powerful Predators exerting societal dominance over their Prey counterparts, only for the film to shift subtly around to where the majority Prey population exhibits fear and hate towards the Predator minority, all while the film navigates a blisteringly complex web of interconnected stereotypes, prejudices, and racial (speci-al?) hangups. Yet unlike a movie like Crash, whose message was that everyone is an equally noxious racist who should be condemned for their lack of enlightenment, Zootopia's position is far more nuanced, recognizing that everyone is capable of judgmental, even prejudiced actions, particularly when there exist people willing to suborn our baser fears so as to generate division, mistrust, and power vacuums.

But if all of the above sounds like a particularly well-made after-school-special about racism, then don't worry on that account, for despite all of the social complexity that the film carries, at its core, it is a superlative Disney adventure-mystery film. Both of the leads are sharp, well-drawn characters, wickedly funny in their own right, with spot-on voice acting and perfect character design, giving them unparalleled expressiveness, whether in a layered dialogue scene or a frenetic chase. The film is layered with puns (*groan*), in-jokes, and background gags, most of them too funny to spoil here, and further comes with a superb supporting cast, including the incomparable Idris Elba playing the "stern black police chief" as a Cape Buffalo and the immortal J.K. Simmons bringing his J. Jonah Jameson best to the role of Zootopia's mayor, while lesser parts go to everyone from Alan Tudyk and Maurice LaMarche (playing a Vito Corleone-style crime lord who is also a shrew), to Bonnie Hunt and Tommy Freaking Chong. The film's animation is spotless, with the animals' movements a perfect blend of actual animals and Disney archetypes, with the shots of even the most action-packed sequences easy to follow, while the style of the metropolis of Zootopia itself is dazzling in its futuristic-utopian grandeur. Even if you care nothing about the societal value of a particular movie, Zootopia can be enjoyed as nothing more than another classic Disney comedy, and that, most likely, is the secret to its success.

Things Havoc disliked: Of course, some bits of the film work better than others. The addition of Shakira, embodied as a pop-singer gazelle named (creatively) "Gazelle" isn't used for much beyond a cheap joke or two, and the cutaways to her benefit concerts and protest sit-ins regarding prejudice and racism are far more on the nose than the movie requires. Without spoiling too much, the entire coda to the movie is taken up by one of the aforementioned concerts, and while I usually refrain from criticizing a film for its credits sequence, the song in question isn't that good, and the entire affair feels like stunt casting to appease a performer's ego, rather than something derived from the movie internally.

Final thoughts:     In an age full of polemic, Zootopia is a marvel, a movie that neither sells out the seriousness of its allegorical premise, nor weights itself down with sermonizing. I cannot possibly do it more justice than the Daily Telegraph, which described it as "the most existentially probing talking animal cartoon of the year," albeit in a review that managed to fall all over itself in missing the point by declaring that Zootopia somehow "proved" that girls who like frilly dresses or girly things should be publicly shamed for being everything that is wrong with society. Indeed, despite my minor nitpick above, the main thing I would complain about with Zootopia is the reaction it seems to have engendered from the rest of the critical set, with large numbers of critics managing to read it as a full-throated endorsement of every noxious, divisive, stereotyping opinion that they choose to slather onto their review pages, from a claim that it will "finally put the PC-thought police set in their place", to arguments that it represents a call to "sterilize the brainless zombie-hordes of Trump supporters" (though admittedly, the Chinese Army's declaration that the movie represents a Western plot to overthrow traditional society is kind of amazing, as is the Globe & Mail's claim that the movie is sexually perverted because it doesn't explicitly address cross-species romance). Only in Hollywood could a movie about the complexities inherent in our quest for equality and tolerance be interpreted as an excuse to air the most vile assumptions about millions of people we don't know, but I cannot, in all good conscience, hold the film responsible for that. The world is, as the film reminds us, imperfect, as are we all, and yet it keeps on spinning.

Ultimately, Zootopia is a fine movie, a worthy successor to the many other fine movies that Disney has graced us with. And whatever the reactions of the rest of the world, a timely, well-crafted, and entertaining reminder that it is everyone's responsibility to try and get along is no bad thing.

Final Score:  8/10

Next Time:  Maggie Smith as a Bag Lady?  Sign me up!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

Alternate Title:  I Believe I Can Fly...

One sentence synopsis:    A hapless, would-be British Olympian decides to become a ski-jumper, the first for Britain in 70 years.

Things Havoc liked:Those of you who remember my list of the best films of 2015 (which was not that long ago), will remember the movie Kingsman, the Secret Service, which was a demented, insane, bloodfest of a Matthew Vaughn movie which I adored to a degree that probably speaks poorly of my general character. Among the many, many virtues that Kingsman had was its lead actor, an unknown (to me) young man named Taron Egerton (who, I kid you not, grew up in a Welsh town called Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch). Egerton was absolutely fantastic in a role that should, by rights, have been insufferable, and has since garnered other awards for roles in movies I did not see such as Testament of Youth and Legend. I'm an actor's critic, as you all well know, so when a good young actor shows up, I like to track their career throughout the project, and lo and behold, his next film was, of all things, a feel-good sports movie about one of my favorite people of all time.

For those who do not know, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, was an Olympic Ski Jumper from Great Britain notable for being bereft of any shred of Olympic-grade talent for the sport, who nonetheless contrived (due to the fact that there were no other Ski Jumpers from his home country) to make it to the 1988 Calgary Olympics, which also played host to the Jamaican Bobsled team from Cool Runnings. Edwards had no particular aptitude for the sport of Ski Jumping (or for sport in general), but competed nonetheless, becoming a fan favorite on the back of his utter haplessness, self-effacing humor, and British Daring-Do. The role is a far cry from that of Egsy, from the aforementioned Kingsman, but Egerton is once again spot on with it, playing a particularly British type of myopic nerd, who dreams of becoming an Olympian and cares very little for what he has to do to get there, even if it means making a complete fool of himself, and sustaining the horrific bodily injuries that come with failing at a sport like Ski Jumping. These injuries are not minor, as we see in the best line in the film, where Eddie's coach watches with him as another ski jumper shatters every bone in his body while failing a moderate-sized jump, and then leans in to the horrified Eddie to comment "And he knew what he was doing..."

Ah, but the coach is very important in movies like this, isn't he, and Eddie the Eagle's coach is the, far as I can tell fictional, Bronson Peary, played by everyone's favorite wolverine, Hugh Jackman. Jackman is a sardonic, alcoholic bastard, in the wonderful style of these movies since time immemorial, who must gradually warm up to Eddie's innocent-if-ungainly earnestness. It's an old story for a sports movie, yeah, but Jackman has fun with it, gargling booze from everything in sight and seemingly growing to relish the opportunity to troll the entire establishment of Ski Jumping (which apparently exists) with an athlete who is not an athlete by any definition of the word. Long-time character actor and first-time director Dexter Fletcher (of Band of Brothers and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels), takes on the director's chair with a style that seems to play around with the conventions of the sporting movie a bit, from comical overuse of slow-motion-uplifting-music shots to a truly trippy set of scenes involving the so-called "Flying Finn", Matti Nykänen, who rambles semi-coherently about the philosophical "meaning" of ski jumping like a cross between George Mallory and The Dude.

Things Havoc disliked: Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is all stock sports cliches, and not just that, but practically a re-tread of the aforementioned Cool Runnings. We have everything here, from the team of blond, blue-eyed, Nordic winter athletes (Norwegians, this time), who inexplicably hate our hero and resent his presence in the Olympics, to the fussy, over-proper British bureaucrats determined to prevent Eddie from doing anything so tremendously unorthodox (HARUMPH!) as competing in the Olympics. One of them even goes so far as to deliver a sneering, twirl-of-the-mustache remark about how the Olympics are not for amateurs, and how people with dreams should have them dashed so as to preserve propriety. Eddie, meanwhile, also has to deal with his father, a working-class plasterer who regards his sporting dreams as irrelevant, and who refuses to support him. Will Eddie's dad see the light in time for the big jump? Might he share a knowing nod with his son while acknowledging that he was right to follow his dreams all along? Perish the thought that I should spoil such mysteries of existence to you, but if you've seen a single film in the last thirty years, I have a feeling you'll work it out for yourself. Fletcher seems to have decided that the best way to make his movie would be to take all four of the plotlines that the four main characters in Cool Runnings had and merge them together into one, which is not precisely the decision I would have made. The result is a movie with a schmaltz and saccharine level that is high enough to carry a diabetes warning.

I also question what in the world several of the more prominent actors who lent their names to this film were thinking beyond the need for another paycheck. The wonderful Jim Broadbent is barely in the film at all, with maybe three minutes of screentime tops as the British broadcaster for the games, a role which requires him to do very little. He does, however, manage to do more than Christopher Walken, who somehow earned himself third billing in the movie for a total of roughly forty-five seconds of screentime, playing (in another nod to Cool Runnings) Jackman's former coach from his own days as a ski jumper, who is terminally disappointed in his once-promising pupil, and regards him as having embarrassed himself and his sport in fostering Eddie. As before, I shall refrain from revealing whether or not this ends with a tearful reunion at the end where bygones are allowed to be bygones and the former student is finally acknowledged by the master who once despaired of him, but I shall rely on the good judgment of all of my readers to determine what they think might come of all this.

Final thoughts:     Eddie the Eagle is a perfectly harmless movie in the style of a hundred other sports films, livened by a couple of good performances and the novelty of its source material, but required viewing by all fans of cinema it is definitely not. What you as a viewer are likely to get out of the film is going to be highly dependent on your tolerance for schmaltz, as well as your ability to excuse the fact that a film's plot is one you've seen many, many times before. I will confess to having enjoyed it, not as a masterpiece or a great work of art, but as a fun little story told reasonably well by a couple of actors I just like watching. There have been worse excuses for movies made.

Final Score:  6.5/10

Next Time:  The Fox and the... Meter-maid?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Triple 9

Alternate Title:  Atlanta Heat

One sentence synopsis:    A crew of armed robbers decide to kill a police officer in order to buy themselves enough time to perform one last job for the Russian Mafia.

Things Havoc liked:Though a fair number of people regarded it as highly overrated, I've long held that Michael Mann's 1995 crime film Heat is one of the greatest movies of its genre and its decade, a tour-de-force crime drama starring some of the greatest actors in Hollywood at the top of their games, including Robert De Niro before he began phoning everything in, and Al Pacino at the height of his screaming-insanity phase. Heat was a spellbinding film, one that followed both cops and organized criminals through their lives, their careers, and the pressures they faced trying to do their jobs and defeat one another, and in many ways, Heat stamped its mark on all such films to come, most of which, as is common enough in Holylwood, were not worthy of the heritage they had been given. Still, the nature of film is that when one movie fails, another steps forth to try again, and I've continued to patronize organized crime and heist drama films in the hopes of finding something similar to the masterpiece I saw twenty years ago. With that in mind, this week I sat down to watch the latest offering of John Hillcoat, an Australian director whose credits include the underrated Lawless and the perennially miserable The Road, as he tried to recapture the magic with a new slate of excellent actors plunged into the dark worlds of organized crime and policing.

And excellent actors these are. Triple 9 stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, a man whom I shall one day learn to pronounce the name of, as Michael Atwood, the leader of a crew of organized criminals and corrupt cops, who engage in high-stakes, violent armed robberies of difficult, well-secured targets. Among his crew are crooks played by solid character actors Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints, Walking Dead), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), as well as a pair of crooked cops, played by Clifton Collins and one of my favorite actors of recent years, MCU's Anthony Mackie. Following a successful heist, a double-cross, and a need to perform the obligatory "one more job", the crew struggles with putting a plan together to allow them to break into a nearly-impenetrable DHS black-bag facility without being captured by the police task force assigned to do just that. Every one of these actors, whether I've liked them before or not, is excellent in this film, portraying hard, violent, frightened men, some of them holding things together better than others, trying to get ahead in their lives as both the cops and the Russian mob make their lives difficult. But the standout surprise here is the head of the Russian mob in question, an unrecognizable Kate Winslet of all people, playing the widow/wife of an imprisoned Russian mobster, willing and capable of any act of violent depravity necessary to getting her way. I've long-since forgiven Winslet for Titanic, and I praised her earlier this year in Alan Rickman's A Little Chaos, but I legitimately did not even recognize Winslet in this role until the credits ran, so staggeringly alien is it to everything she has ever done previous to this, and so effortlessly does she embody a character one would normally associate with people like Kristin Scott Thomas.

But as with Heat, the crooks are only half of the cast, as we also have non-corrupt police, particularly Officer Chris Allen, played by Casey Affleck, younger brother of Ben. I was never the biggest fan of Casey Affleck, having assumed, as I imagine did everyone else, that he only rose to prominence on the coat tails of his brother. But then, about eight years ago, he began making movies like Gone Baby Gone (directed by his brother), Out of the Furnace, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, all of which were good movies, and all of which he was good in. And so he is here, playing not a fresh-faced rookie but a quiet, reserved cop who gradually begins to realize the magnitude of the events he is being enmeshed in when he becomes Anthony Mackie's (reluctant) partner. I was expecting something like Ethan Hawke in Training Day (not the worst model imaginable), but Affleck plays the character significantly cooler, as he struggles to figure out exactly what's happening in a situation that is rapidly spiraling out of control. It's an excellent performance overall, one that should flush away all concerns regarding nepotism in future endeavors.

Enough about the cast though, because the strength of Triple 9 is its direction and mood, a paranoid thriller that balances a vast number of competing agendas while giving us characters operating on partial information at best at all times. Normally this sort of thing is just annoying, as it relegates the audience to an hour or two of boredom while the characters slowly catch up to where we all are, but when the movie plays everyone as endangered and ignorant, regardless of their personal capacities, then things become much mo0re interesting. Ejiofor and Winslet's duel of wills, wherein he attempts to get paid and she attempts to extort more high-risk work from him, is compounded by all manner of complications, such as the fact that his ex-wife, with whom he has a son, is also her sister, a series of relationships that some of his crew know some elements of, and some do not. Characters routinely walk into rooms with double-agents that they don't know are double-agents, saved only by the fact that the double-agents have their own misconceptions about what the true dynamic is, and on and on. Meanwhile the gritty work of a police and crime procedural continues, and continues well. A standout sequence midway through the film involves Affleck, Mackie, and several other cops staging a high-risk arrest of a gang member by stacking up on a ballistic shield and systematically clearing an apartment building of threats. Shot in a single take, with minimal histrionics beyond the terse, quiet police code commands of professionals under intense strain, it's one of the best raw policing sequences I've seen in the movies, a testament to the skill with which Hillcoat and his crew have done their homework.

Things Havoc disliked: Not everyone makes off with kudos this time, as the film also stars Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic police lieutenant with assorted familial and professional connections to everyone involved (this is par for the course). Harrelson isn't awful, but plays the character way too far over the top, drawing far too many acting points from Al Pacino's detective in Heat without realizing that Triple 9 is a much more subdued movie, and that a red-eyed fanatic screaming at the top of his lungs while running people over doesn't quite fit the tone that the movie is going after. Pacino could get away with that sort of thing in Heat because Heat was that sort of movie, set in Los Angeles, a town accustomed to casual lunacy, and because the screaming that he engaged in was plainly an artifice designed to shock people into compliance. The film also has a bad habit of giving Harrelson what appears to be psychic powers and the capacity to teleport into situations he had no way of feasibly getting to, so as to allow him to save the day in a "cool" fashion. Not traits designed to endear a character to me, particularly not in a movie where the limitations of what particular characters know about each other at any given moment is so integral.

Final thoughts:     Despite all the comparisons I've been making, Triple 9 is not as good a movie as Heat was, but that's faint criticism if ever there was any. What it is, is a damn fine cops and robbers movie in the style of Heat, one with good actors and good direction underlying a story of crime and murder as compelling as any I've seen recently. Such flaws as mar the landscape don't serve to do more than push the movie down to a simple "good" rating, but a good movie is nothing to be ashamed of. Particularly in Doldrums Season, one takes what one can get.

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  The Eagle has Landed.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Alternate Title:  A Romantic, Heartwarming Journey of Self-Discovery and Love

One sentence synopsis:    A deranged mercenary suffering from inoperable cancer undergoes a radical procedure designed to cure him by making him a super-soldier.

Things Havoc liked:To say that Deadpool was a movie with a troubled history behind it is to say that Avatar made some money or that Battlefield Earth was poorly made: a description that is technically true in every way, and yet utterly inadequate to describe the thermonuclear scale of the problems associated with the character and his cinematic existence. Having made his debut in the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie in which the legendary "Merc with the Mouth" had his goddamn mouth sewed shut, the prospect of a full-on Deadpool movie seemed... remote. And yet, six years later, what has 20th Century Fox gone and done with the legendarily 4th-wall averse invulnerable mercenary, but made a movie about him. And then released it in the doldrums. With Ryan Reynolds still playing the lead.

In fact, let's talk about Ryan Reynolds for a second, because this situation is just too strange to gloss over. Reynolds has been jonesing to play Deadpool for a long time, at least since 2003 if the internet is to be believed. His dream came true back in 2009 only to implode into a singularity of near-perfect suck, in a film that not only took away the vocal chords of one of the most prominent talkers in comics, but did so in the midst of a film that was also a colossal trainwreck in several other dimensions. Origin's failure having left the prospect of a standalone Deadpool movie in tatters, Reynolds bided his time by making crap like Paperman, Turbo, Self/Less, The Woman in Gold, R.I.P.D., and yet another comic book disaster of a film, this time on the DC side of the spectrum, 2011's Green Lantern. Yes, Reynolds has had the occasional success in the midst of all that dross, but were it not for the inexorable rise of Marvel and the corresponding bonanza of Superhero movies that we are all in the middle of nowadays, there is strictly no chance that this thing could possibly have gotten made, let alone with the same damn actor attached to it, an actor who already presided over a $350,000,000 superhero flop. Coming off a string of something like nine consecutive bad movies, and with his last appearance as the character one of the low points of the genre, was there really any chance that Reynolds and first-time director Tim Miller could possibly come up with something good?

Well... it turns out that yes. Yes there was.

Deadpool is a good movie, veering on a great one, and that is a statement I was certain, to the point of wagers, that I would never say. And yet here I stand, saying it, and the credit for why I am doing so can really only go to Ryan Reynolds himself, the man whose labor of love this has been for more years than I have been writing these reviews, and who, given one final chance to get the character right, finally hits it right out of the park. Green Lantern was a disaster, yes, but what most people have forgotten is that Reynolds was actually pretty damn good in the movie, albeit unable to overcome massive deficiencies in the film's writing, directing, and scope. Unburdened at last from the chains of inferior filmmakers, Deadpool affords Reynolds a chance to finally break loose, and boy does he ever. His incarnation of Deadpool is just perfect, foul and crazy and demented and twisted up and vengeful and violent and bloody and utterly contemptuous of the very concept of the 4th wall, constantly stopping for outtakes, asides, and strange breaches of continuity that do not hesitate to satirize the less-than-shining path that Reynolds has walked to get to this place. As Wade Wilson, a goon for hire with a deranged sense of humor, who veers constantly on the edge of being an unlikeable douche but never quite jumps over the line, Reynolds finds his true calling, as if Van Wilder grew up to shoot and slice men for money and make sardonic jokes along the way. This is the kind of character that can quickly become unwatchable, requiring as it does a delicate balance between actor, writer, and director, and while there are wobbles at times, Deadpool's total disregard for continuity allows the character to become whatever is required for a given scene, be it a tender romantic scene with his girlfriend, screaming rage at the bad guy, orgiastic violence against a horde of mooks, snarky asides to the audience, or often, all of the above. I've seen a lot of movies try to make characters like this and fail, but Reynolds has the same robust lack of inhibition that characterized his work on Green Lantern here, and wordlessly softens the most assholish parts of the character while sharpening the others. The result is a lot of fun.

And part of the reason it's so much fun is because of the cast around Reynolds, which begins with Morena Baccarin, another actor I had given up on after she went on from Firefly to do approximately nothing. Yet here she's just great, a match for Reynolds' twisted humor and lunatic disregard for social mores, complementing Wade Wilson almost perfectly. If, as I am often told, some people just "make sense" together, then these two do, and the establishment of just what makes them tick properly (particularly a running gag involving ever-more ludicrous sob-stories about their awful childhoods) sets the tone just right. The villain meanwhile, played by the usually-useless Ed Skrein (see the latest Hitman movie if you want proof of that), takes a page from Spy, whereby if you wish to make your asshole hero more likeable, give them a villainous foil who is even more of an asshole by several orders of magnitude. Skrein isn't much of an actor and never has been, but he can play a smarmy British douchebag as well as anyone, granting the audience license to enjoy the catharsis of having a psycho like Deadpool inflicted on him and his plans. Supporting roles are generally strong as well, with particular accolades due to Brianna Hildebrand, playing Millenial X-man Negasonic Teenage Warhead (this is apparently a real character), whose signature is bored disinterest with Deadpool's antics, and T. J. Miller as Deadpool's friend and bartender, Weasel, who effectively plays a cross between his character from Silicon Valley and his character from Big Hero 6, a stoner slacker who accepts the insanity of Deadpool and his surroundings with nothing but snark, because what the hell else is he supposed to do?

And then there's everything else. Direction, writing, cinematography, not the best we've ever seen in a superhero film, certainly, but far from bad. In keeping with a lot of films from the last couple of years such as Ant-Man or Iron Man 3, Deadpool is a film with a limited scope, attempting to avoid superhero fatigue by means of concentrating on its strengths of comedy and action. Being one of the only R-Rated Superhero movies ever made certainly helps with this, as the action is crisp and bloody, if not spectacular, and the comedy, with a few exceptions, is right on the money. A standout opening scene gag, replete with layered jokes, references, and Easter Eggs, all set to the Juice Newton Adult Alternative staple Angel of the Morning, is one of the funniest things I've seen at the movies in a long time, and is easily the best credit sequence since Watchmen. Ditto a sterling after-credits sequence, about which I will say nothing beyond the fact that it takes place in the smoking ruins of the Fourth Wall and introduces the possible movies to come in a somewhat more... direct manner than most of us are accustomed to.

Things Havoc disliked: The plot of Deadpool is nothing to write home about, a standard origin story mixed with a formula threat from a generic bad guy and his army of disposable evil leather-clad gunmen. Given the disasters that attended heavy plot-laden movies like The Wolverine or X-men 3, I suppose playing it safe on this front was inevitable, but it is reasonably hard to generate much concern for the mechanics of the film when neither the characters nor the director seems tremendously interested in them. More important is the sidelining of several major characters as the plot goes on. Baccarin's character, after a strong beginning, fades into the background as the movie becomes more of a formula piece, as does the inventive humor, which never quite departs, but does get a lot less fresh. Perhaps the filmmakers thought they had to lead with the A-material, and they probably weren't wrong, but the result is that the second half of Deadpool is considerably less strong than the first. Not an uncommon failing with movies in general, to be fair, but one that does keep Deadpool from attaining the heights of its more lavishly-funded brethren.

Overall though, the problems with Deadpool aren't in the form of some terrible decision made by a studio hack, or a particular scene that misfires spectacularly, but rather a lack of audacity. I know this might sound strange given how audacious a prospect it was to bring this movie to the screen in the first place, and I'm not trying to pretend that there wasn't an element of risk that had to be weighed, but for a character like Deadpool, in a movie that frames itself as being very much bereft of taste, restraint, and common sense, there is a palpable sense that perhaps not everything that could have been done with this character and these settings, was done. Some characters, such as the blind old lady that Deadpool rooms with, seem to have been effectively left in as an afterthought, as they have nothing to do with any aspect of the plot, nor any particular element of interest that draws them. The fourth-wall breaks, while many, are mostly pretty standard 90s-era fake Indie fare, and don't quite live up to the promise that the film's marketing campaign (which involved outright trolling at points) seemed to make. Maybe I'm projecting too much, but I found myself filling the holes in the film with my own mental suggestions, hoping that it would push the envelope even further and reach even higher, but it never really did. The filmmakers seem to have intended to make a serviceable film, and did so, but great art is made by those who dare more.

Final thoughts:    Comparing Deadpool to great art is not going to do me any favors with the segment of my audience who thinks I don't spend enough time watching silent black and white films about sad clowns flipping pancakes by the illumination of a bare light bulb, but the point is justified, I think, by the fact that the movie Deadpool reminds me of the most, ironically, is last December's Star Wars Episode VII. Obviously the films are very different in tone and scale and budget and intention, but what links them in my mind is that they both felt like proofs of concept, attempts to justify to someone at their respective studios, or perhaps to the audience itself and critics like me, that films like them were even possible in the first place. And like Star Wars before it, Deadpool, whatever its failings, answers that implied question with an emphatic yes. It is not a great film, nor a great comic book film, but it is a damn good one, a better one than I expected to see from this actor and that director and these conditions that it was made in. Already green-lit for a sequel, Deadpool may yet prove capable of the potential I saw within it, or it may become yet another franchise to collapse under its own weight. But if nothing else, Deadpool has earned the right to exist, and that alone is justification enough.

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  Heat: Atlanta.

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