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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