TimMiller, 2016, USA-Canada
The reason why films like ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ have proven so successful is surely not only their humour but in the sense that they feel like huge money-making studios are looking over their shoulder less, that they have at least some room to breathe. You can’t help but watch ‘The Avengers’ with one eye aware of the huge calculations and scheming around each character; and studio wariness is maybe why ‘The Fantastic Four’ was so dull, even if basing it more on the Ultimate universe was a bold move. Not that there isn’t a corporate presence behind ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Guardians’ but you get the sense these films are written by people rather than committee, that they have their own voices. It certainly adds to evidence that the more interesting stuff is happening on the edges of the super-hero genre.
‘Deadpool’ himself proves a formidable character, one that overwhelms the film that the whole aesthetic is filtered through his sarcasm, from the opening titles to the closing credits. The promotion itself takes a pot-shot at ‘Spider-Man': “With great power comes great irresponsibility” it says, with Deadpool striking a faux-sexy pose. Indeed, so all-consuming is this attitude – especially as numerous other characters also talk this way – that one might miss the moments of earnestness. But Deadpool can’t shut up and although that ought to be annoying, he is very funny and this makes all the difference. This isn’t quite the wisecracking that Spider-Man does as camouflage, but something more acerbic and relentless, something more fraught. So okay, perhaps it’s also camouflage but of a different kind, a coping mechanism. It helps that Ryan Reynolds plays him with such conviction, giving a caricature texture that implies there is more viewpoints and emotions outside of this particular world than we’re seeing. It’s in the way his gag about dreaming of Liam Neeson in a ‘Wanted’ scenario is funny, but the tone and the delivery segues into something hushed; it’s as if he is delivering the gag to both distract from his real thoughts and as if it’s a reflex-action that really isn’t needed right then but he can’t help but finish it. Okay, so he’s finishing the gag for our benefit as the external audience, but the shift to a more quiet and anticlimactic note moves into something more revealing and poignant. It’s in the way he thinks he’s been so disfigured that his girlfriend won’t want him anymore only to discover he is wrong. It’s in how the final kiss is played straight, if briefly, with no sarcasm attached for distraction. All this hints that there is more going on beneath the knowing surface, of both the film’s character and it’s reality.
It’s easy to see why Deadpool would be a genre favourite: he is an invulnerable killing machine with a fanboy’s snarkiness about the very genre he is a product of. He gets to beat bad guys un-ironically and pull jokes at the context all around him simultaneously. It knows exactly what it is doing as a wish-fulfilment fantasy in a way that ‘American Ultra’ didn’t, deconstructing by self-referencing the genre without resorting to saying “what if this was real?” like ‘Kick Ass’. This is, after all, the same reality as the The X-Men, but even so Deadpool will make a joke that maybe the film couldn’t afford more than two of X-them. (And there's a joke at the expense of the X-Men time-travelling storylines...) It’s not as anarchic as it thinks and maybe those straight moments make it more conventional than it thinks, but those moments also ground the drama, balancing out the meta-gags.
One would think Deadpool’s arrogance is born of invulnerability, but the film shows that he was like this before becoming Deadpool. In fact, many of the characters he associates with are similarly wide-cracking, perhaps turned down a notch or two: it’s a mode of expression that seems as defensive as it is passive-aggressive, a means of talking about difficult subjects whilst burying them with outré humour. For example, he connects with his true love Vanessa (Moreena Baccarin) by trying to top each other’s traumatic back-story: indeed, one-upmanship plays a big part here. Perhaps what is most surprising is that Deadpool – the film and the character - has his cake and eats it in our faces. It’s easy to see how the very qualities that make this so funny – its in-your-face knowingness, its snarkiness, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall – are the very things that would put a viewer off if they aren’t on the same page. Breaking the fourth wall is one of those tics that usually throws me out of the film’s internal logic (as it’s often mistaken for cleverness) but director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick find a quick and seamless balance, often by making these breakages all so quick and in the service of comedy rather than being ponderous: it’s in the way other characters say that Deadpool should visit a place because it’s bound to further the plot; or when Deadpool is trying to figure out the mathematics of breaking the fourth wall within breaking the fourth wall.
Perhaps in its appeal to more adult fanboys ‘Deadpool’ has fulfilled the promise that might have once have been expected of a solo Wolverine venture. The story otherwise turns out be a standard origin tale with the inclusion of other franchises – just like, say, ‘Ant-Man’ (and of course there’s the Stan Lee cameo) – and perhaps this ordinariness is a surprise/disappointment when so much else seems agreeably wayward. Narratively, despite the surface bells-and-whistles, it’s conventional. The action scenes are brutal, taking this to a higher rating than usual, and possess enough physicality to compensate for the CGI. And it all ends in a grand punch-up, of course. And it’s true that by letting Deadpool hog the limelight as both hero and anti-hero, the film’s nominal nemesis Ajax (Ed Skrein) isn’t left much room to make a mark. So as formulaic as it actually turns out to be, ‘Deadpool’ is greatly entertaining, funny, and possessed of a surprisingly genuine emotional angle that eludes so many other entries in the genre.