Deadpool (2016, dir. Tim Miller)
Deadpool is a tricky film to write about because the movie comments on itself and its genre so incessantly that it is likely making the criticisms a reviewer would pen before they do so. That doesn’t mean it is a movie that is critic-proof by any means. Deadpool is an incredibly self-aware movie, and when any piece of media exhibits that much meta-commentary, it begins to walk a thin line between remarkably clever and self-sabotaging. I believe Deadpool walks that line to its finale but never actually falls to either side, leaving it an adequate movie.
Wade Wilson aka Deadpool has always stood as a fourth wall breaking antidote to the soap operatic X-Men corner of comic books. I can’t say he’s a character I have ever enjoyed solo and I’ve made a couple attempts to get into runs that have a lot of critical praise. When I have enjoyed Deadpool, it has been in the context of a team setting, with ‘Pool as a background commenter. I loved Rick Remender’s X-Force run which had Deadpool in a very crucial but not main character role. It was a just enough self-awareness to help balance a storyline that was bleak and dealt with heavy themes. His role in the current Uncanny Avengers comic book is also fun, and he’s balanced with a team that is taking matters seriously.
In regards to the film, I deeply appreciated that it jumped into the action and let the origin unfold in small chapters along the way. It pushes the expectations of what comic book super movies can be with gratuitous violence, sex, and language. Just like science fiction, super movies should be a wider swath of tones and content than they currently are. However, for as much winking and nudging Deadpool does it doesn’t break any real conventions of the super movie formula.
The opening credits announce the cast as a list of formulaic stereotypes (A CGI character, British bad guy, comic relief sidekick) and then go on to feature those specific characters. Not once does the script attempt to surprise us with something new. Yes, there are tons of sight gags, but they don’t stretch the genre conventions in any way. We still have a tragic origin, torn from the woman he loves, a hero out for vengeance, a showdown with the villain that puts the woman in peril, and a big ‘splosion at the end. I was particularly let down by the pat happy ending that I felt kicked the legs out from underneath the filmmakers’ entire tongue in cheek approach.
Deadpool also has significant tonal problems. It wants to be nihilistic yet then endearing about its lead and his love interest. But I found myself not caring about the two of them because the film had done such an efficient job of pushing this “give no shits” mentality. There is an underlying desperation in the humor of the movie; it is another case of the filmmakers’ attempting to underplay their concern yet at the same time obnoxiously yelling their jokes in our faces. It ends up feeling very forced and when the jokes don’t hit they are the cringiest of cringe. What I expected and truly wanted out of Deadpool was for them to push the boundaries of the character’s anarchy even further. Shoehorning in a cliche lost love plot just doesn’t work for this character. It works for a movie studio that, while allowing the director and screenwriters to joke about cliches, still demands these cliches are present in the film because of how well they test in focus groups.
What Deadpool should have been and could have been was a middle finger to the entire supers genre. It stands as a missed chance to openly parody and mock the very cliches it goes on to present with a knowing shrug. There were so many instances where fourth wall breaking could have gone further, where genre play could have been more outlandish, so many times the decision could have been made to tear the structure of the movie apart to make more than just a slightly sillier comic book movie but into something amazingly hilarious and destructive.