Thursday, February 25, 2016

Deadpool


While watching Deadpool I was reminded of the scathing one-star review Roger Ebert wrote on Kick-Ass. In it, he decided to shirk "being cool" to call the film "morally reprehensible" -- for him, Kick-Ass was not successful satire. Instead, it was an uncomfortable nightmare in which a bunch of cursing, psychopathic kids engaged in brutal violence played for laughs. I didn't really agree with Ebert's view on that film, but I kinda felt something similar during Deadpool and have to wonder what Ebert would've made of this "other" costumed mercenary's brand of snark and gore.

As comments on the superhero genre repetitions, both Kick-Ass and Deadpool function in relatively similar ways: they up the ante on familiar plots, go for the hard-R, and get shamelessly brutal.  They are positioned differently: these "heroes" don't save the world, they just battle other, possibly bigger assholes. Sure, Deadpool stars adults, but it's hard to watch it without knowing it's paying special fan service to loudmouthed teenage boys. This is an aggressive comedy made up of all spattered brains, dick jokes, shit jokes, and a collage of metafictional, pop culture-driven one-liners designed to make semi-aware dude-bros feel smart when they "get" the reference (see also: Family Guy).

Deadpool is clever about what it does, and in certain ways it might even be brilliant.  Yet, I have to admit that when it comes to crass, violent comic books, I think I found the game more interesting when the point was to see what would happen if real world fan-kids tried to fill the roles of masked vigilantes, disturbing results and all.

That's all to say that I didn't find Deadpool terribly interesting.  Which is not to say that it isn't successful in what it sets out to do.  If that's confusing, let me spell it out for you like this: Deadpool is really good at it's thing. It's a slick, glossy, sick-minded piece of work that knows how to exploit an action sequence.  The question is: is that enough?  The second, more hypothetical question is: why am I surprised that this movie - the meta-Marvel violent comedy that finally separates the label from everything else coming out of the studio - doesn't seem to be made for me? Don't answer that.

Deadpool is a character famous for breaking the fourth wall and commenting on not only his own actions, but external events, and the medium of comics as a whole. There are conventions that are being addressed and actively subverted whenever Deadpool shows up, and in adapting the concept to the screen, that spirit has been kept largely alive. This is a one-punch lesson in visual metafiction, and throughout the movie Deadpool breaks through every possible barrier to address the audience, supply a comment on a comment, make note of exactly what you as viewer might find either awkward or weird or cliche or maybe kinda gross. And yeah, a well-placed metafictional lens can excuse a lot.

In this case, metafictionality paints a thick layer of varnish over an otherwise boring origin story, a too-easy run of action sequences, and the ever present narration. It's relentless, like hanging out with the smartest insult comedian in the room as he carries out the tasks on his to-do list.  [I'm tempted to do a Deadpool-style footnote here to comment on Reynolds, but fuck it, I'll just leave it here: Reynolds may be both the perfect actor to play Deadpool and the most irritating.  He's that dude, that bro, Van Wilder with the deranged, douchebag smile and a tendency to fall into that voice.  That Wade Wilson-perfect voice that drips with a sort of gleeful condescension.  The voice that sounds like a manic Jim Carrey impersonation. It's no wonder he's a Deadpool fanboy. Take that as you will]

The joke density of the script is exceptionally high, and this is the major reason why so many seem to feel the film is a fresh addition to the genre: you kind of have to appreciate how much director Tim Miller is willing to just go for the nastiest possibility.  Every shot, every frame, every movement seems designed to help facilitate a joke or a glib comment, and that carries into the energy of what might otherwise be another mundane scene in which every goddamn thing in sight blows up.  Beyond the jokes, though, we immediately realize that mundane scenes are exactly what we're watching. As the schtick starts to become tiresome towards the end of the film, we find ourselves bearing witness to the rescue of Wade's wife Vanessa (Homeland's Morena Baccarin) from the number one offender on his hit list.  We know from the outset this is where we'll wind up, just as there's never any question of how these events will actually end.  So, when Deadpool walks into another massive shipyard of destruction, flanked by two minor X-Men - Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the cool, frightfully underused Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) -- and carries out yet another in a long line of obviously choreographed, lackluster fight scenes, the only thing keeping it afloat is some combination of above average one-liners and narration.

If it works: the film is gold.
If it doesn't: you're watching just another Marvel-movie climax, only this time the film itself seems to fully understand that there's nothing that new or interesting about it. Which is, well, frustrating...

For me, the things separating Deadpool from the others of its ilk only worked about 65% of the time. Sometimes it lost me because the visuals weren't as imaginative as the narration. Other times I couldn't stop thinking about how completely insufferable the Deadpool fanbase born of this film is going to be.  We're going to be seeing an awful lot of Wade Wilson and an awful lot of his copycats, and frankly? I'm already anticipating that exhaustion.


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