Deadpool: No, It’s Not a Remake of the Fifth Dirty Harry Film. Stop Asking., by Ian Brill
After years of fan anticipation, an off-brand appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and a leaked special FX test, the popular Marvel comic book character Deadpool finally stars in his own film. Directed by Tim Miller, written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, and starring Ryan Reynolds (who also produced), Deadpool is portrayed with his trademark quips and fourth-wall breaking. I’m hardly the first person to notice that Deadpool is a very Bugs Bunny-esque character, and that is evident within the first few moments of this film. But Bugs’ films were a few minutes long, as potent as they were compact. While one of the shorter superhero efforts at 108 minutes, the film strains to make a connection between its humor and storytelling.
Deadpool starts with the former Wade Wilson in a comics-accurate red and black suit, already in wise-cracking mercenary mode. A set piece on a city highway starts the film, which should be familiar to those who have seen the leaked FX test. A “bullet countdown” signifies that the film may find a way to combine Deadpool’s humor with kinetic action.
That humor is established upfront thanks to Deadpool’s narration and trademark running monologue. Reynolds sells every joke with a charming mix of cynicism and enthusiasm. Those steeped in “fanboy culture” will appreciate the meta-jokes about Wolverine, Reynold’s previous role of Green Lantern, and other aspects of superhero films that get referenced; Deadpool feels like the first film to livetweet itself. If only the content was as captivating as the commentary.
While the film starts in media res, the action is interrupted by flashbacks to Deadpool’s origin. The sequences make for some odd pacing, with each section communicating so much information the audience will feel that divided about where to invest themselves, and many may choose to opt out. Indeed, after the triumphant debut set piece, Deadpool feels like it may just be an excuse for Ryan Reynolds to make Robot Chicken-esque jokes. But then a moment arrives that gets to heart of what Deadpool is about: laughing through the pain.
In one of the flashbacks, Wade meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a prostitute who works in a bar for hit men. Ryan Reynolds has chemistry with everybody, but Baccarin goes further than most in meeting his sly delivery perfectly. Their romance is illustrated in a montage that takes full effect of the film’s R rating. This is one of the few superhero films to give its protagonist a sex life, and the romance flowing over a sex- and kink-positive sequence is a refreshing antidote to the homophobia found in some of Deadpool’s insults.
But alas, Vanessa and Wade must spend most of the film apart. The film runs out of steam when Wade gets cancer and becomes the subject of experiments in what may or may not be the Weapon X program (it’s clear that Fox’s X-Men films want to establish a shared universe, but not have to bother with any consistent continuity to do so). Deadpool’s narration, which is the saving grace for a film that feels so stitched together, drops out for most of this section. The villain Ajax (Ed Skrein) is fully introduced after a brief appearance at the beginning. His role, performance, and this entire section feels like a throwback to superhero films of the 00’s, with special effects and grimacing faces burdened with selling the drama of the moment.
The film never truly recovers from this. While it shuttles towards its conclusion rapidly, the action scenes never utilize the novelty of the opening. The only thing that saves the movie are Deadpool’s quips, which seem to be what the filmmakers are truly interested in. They will either work for you or not. It’s reference-heavy, smirking humor. The film does the humor a disservice by not better connecting it to proceedings happening onscreen. There can be a pathos to Deadpool’s mania, but when the story starts to feel “by-the-numbers” all we are left with are jokes, no substance. While there are still solid laughs to be found, it reneges on the promise of the early scenes. And when dealing with mercenaries, especially a merc with a mouth, you never renege on a promise.