Deadpool movie review: origin story with a potty mouth

Deadpool red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Callous, crass, unpleasantly smug. Supposes it’s being edgy because its protagonist swears a lot, but it’s like a child saying bad words just to be naughty.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The more I think about this movie, the more I dislike it. And I only just saw it last night, less than 24 hours ago. Gimme a few more days, and who knows how much I’ll hate it. Maybe this is the sort of movie people are referring to when they say you need to switch your brain off to enjoy it. “Don’t think about Deadpool too much! You’ll ruin it for yourself.”

This is not the sort of recommendation I will ever give a film.

The opening credits of Deadpool are pretty darn brilliant, and you don’t even have to think too much about them to see that, though it’s plain the movie believes it’s being extremely witty and clever with them. I won’t spoil them for you, but suffice to say that my hopes were momentarily piqued: this seemed to be a hint that the people involved here were interested in deconstructing the comic-book movie, that Deadpool was going to hold up the tropes of the genre for, if not outright ridicule, then at least a goodnatured ribbing. We’ve had a solid decade and a half of mutants in spandex since the rebirth of the comic-book movie with 2000’s X-Men, and it’s inevitable that the clichés can get a bit tiresome at times.

But then Deadpool dives right into the clichés and splashes around in them for an hour and 45 minutes, showing no interest in being anything other than an utterly conventional origin story, as former special-forces solider Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds: Self/less, Woman in Gold) gets his mutant genes activated — this is happening in the X-Men universe — becomes virtually indestructible, and hunts down a bad guy who, ultimately, kidnaps the woman he loves (Morena Baccarin: Spy, Stargate: The Ark of Truth) as a threat to Wade. (In one of the movie’s trailers, she gets to say: “I’ve played a lot of roles. Damsel in distress ain’t one of ’em.” That line did not end up in the movie, perhaps because she is nothing but a damsel in distress. This could not, needless to say, be any more cliché. Oh, wait; yes, it can: she’s a hooker with a heart of gold. Really.) Deadpool supposes it is being edgy because its protagonist swears a lot, because it tosses out jokes about anal sex, and because it grubs its way through a completely gratuitous scene in a strip club that gets some naked breasts onscreen. It’s like a child saying bad words just to be naughty. Or like someone emotionally stunted who doesn’t want to confront the horror of what’s in front of him and so makes a joke about it. This is one of the supposed new breed of “adult” comic-book movies — like last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service — but it’s the same old shit with any genuine emotion and subtlety ripped out and replaced by whatever callous and crass flotsam would garner it an R-rating. (The director here is first-timer Tim Miller. He worked on FX on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. This is precisely the sort of superhero movie you would expect to get with that pedigree: “cars tossed around in slo-mo” and “guys complain about how women have romantic agency” appear in about equal measure here.)

There are genuinely dark and adult places this story could have gone, but it avoids them completely. Wade is lied to and tortured by villain Ajax (Ed Skrein: The Transporter Refuelled, The Sweeney), whose motives are completely absent: the plan is to mutate Wade and turn him into some sort of “super slave,” but what this means and what purpose it would serve for the bad guys, we have no idea. Deadpool could have been brutal like, say, Robocop, but instead it’s more like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, except it gets meta in a way that fails to substitute for the ferocity that is not here. The unfunny “comic relief” character (T.J. Miller: Big Hero 6, Transformers: Age of Extinction) suggests that Wade do something he wouldn’t normally do because it “might further the plot.” Wade breaks the fourth wall to offer snarky asides to the audience. He doesn’t have anything terribly sharp to say, it’s just meant to be clever on its own that he knows he’s a character in a movie. I don’t know the precise form that takes in the comic books — in which he apparently knows he’s a character in a comic book — but here he doesn’t merely know that he’s a character in any ol’ movie but in the specific X-Men movies we’ve been watching since 2000.

The joke that I suspect screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who together wroter G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Zombieland) intend to be their most incisive meta-reference might garner a laugh at first, but then, as you think about it — that dread “thinking” — it brings this flimsy excuse for a movie collapsing in on itself. Wade isn’t just breaking the fourth wall, and he’s not just breaking those X-Men movies, he’s breaking his own movie. And he’s really unpleasantly smug while he’s doing it. Deadpool is so intent on making fun of superhero movies that it forgets we need to care about this one. Wade is a psychopath — he was even before he got mutated — who enjoys killing: he keeps telling us he’s “not a hero,” but he’s the hero here, and we are meant to cheer for him without reservation. We’re supposed to like that he’s a psychopath — perhaps it’s meant to be okay for us to cheer for him because, as we are constantly reminded, this is only movie fakery. But that’s not how that works. (The most self-referential joke here reminds us that Reynolds is hardly a great actor. This also may have been ill-advised.)

It all adds up to absolutely nothing. This is the end of comic-book movies if this is the only place left to go.

see also:
Deadpool 2 movie review: kryptonite for superheroes

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