The self-aware super-anti-hero genre has a new, er, hero.
When it comes to the vast realms of the comic book movie franchise, the majority of Marvel’s output has always been a bit of a personal turn off. A never ending circle jerk of crisscrossing characters and universes in which no tale seems to be definitive; strategically measured and weighed up in order to strike an irritating, soul-sucking balance between fanboy wet dreams and a fun-for-the-whole-family atmosphere required to continuously generate that all-important revenue stream. Sure, there have been a few highs on the action front, and a few gasp-inducing moments over the years, but usually it’s an upstream swim through thick boredom with nothing but an overpriced pair of 3D goggles and a tank full of cringe being pumped into your face.
Thankfully, Deadpool, the latest franchise within a franchise, doesn’t fall into such a category. Like its darkly comedic, sometimes overly violent and increasingly foul-mouthed, but altogether self-aware cousins Kick-Ass and Guardians of the Galaxy, Tim Miller’s flick is part of my preferred Marvel minority in that it holds great appeal for a specific target audience. Namely, adults who don’t really give a fuck about superhero movies, particularly if said movies are produced by Marvel. Hadn’t heard of Deadpool’s character prior to seeing his face on the side of a bus? Neither had I. Haven’t seen any of the previous seven X-Men installments? Neither have I (not in a manner that I would class as paying attention). Does any of that matter? Nope. Deadpool is standalone in nature to the extent it feels separate from the usual shiny-high-speed-object-dangling-CGI-shitfest approach traditionally associated with Marvel, immediately making it warmly accessible to non-Marvel fanboys such as myself.
The advantage of a superhero picture taking itself less than seriously is that it becomes less about the backstory or the mythology, and more about the relaxed, throwaway rollercoaster of escapism that each franchise has the potential to realise, but usually fails in doing so. The difference here is that Deadpool is aimed at a mature (I use the term loosely) audience. It’s not a coincidence that these are the sort of comic book movies that standout amongst the clutter. From the superhero comics I’ve glanced at over the years, there seems to be dirty wit, revenge fuelled cold-blooded murder and various other illegal activities going on all over the shop. I’m hardly the first person to say this, but watering it down is not the way to go from an artistic point of view. When the characters and their situations are painfully unrealistic, even within the limits of their fantastic environments, the darker, edgier material intrigues us as it keeps us grounded in some sort of quasi-amusing and/or brutal reality.
Deadpool contains a welcome abundance of all this, propped up with the sort of extreme contemporary parody-based writing that blesses us with sharp, silly quick-fire comedy, all whilst making absolutely no attempt to be “timeless” in any way, shape, or form. The jokes and references will be outdated before you’ve left the theatre, let alone tweeted about them, but in the era of twenty-four hour multi-media access to every film and television show ever made, how often do you re-watch new movies anyway – especially brain-at-the-door superhero romps? The writers seem to have finally caught on to this, and deliver thusly. It would be easy to say the endless stream of filthy one-liners “wrote themselves”, but that would be doing a disservice to the seamless consistency displayed by the writing team. Compared to the overwhelmingly cheesy whiff usually prevalent within the Marvel universe – even when they’re trying to play things straight – this funny for the sake of being funny technique (again, see: Kick-Ass, Guardians et al.) is always a pleasant surprise.
Even the daft love story is nothing but a gloriously shoulder shrug against the ever-chugging, eventually overflowing comedy. In theory, it’s the plot’s driving force. In reality though, despite taking up half the film, it cruises by almost as an afterthought. This is quite deliberate of course; it’s merely the filling that spills out sporadically as the satirical layers are peeled back, one by one. Beneath said layers there isn’t actually a great deal of anything to get one’s teeth into. The characters, including Deadpool himself, are one dimensional, as are the performances. Ryan Reynolds doesn’t have a great deal to do other than time his shit-eating grin to perfection, but he does it well – certainly well enough that you can almost sense it under the mask, a factor that only makes Deadpool himself more appealing. He’s a ridiculous creation, and is conveyed as such. His character barely changers – other than physically of course – meaning his arc is practically a straight line. But it works. Trust me, if you have even a vague appreciation of the superhero juggernaut, or are merely an adult human being capable of living between your cynicism for a few hours (it can be done – I’m living proof), then you’ll laugh.
It’s not all industry poking and jokes about masturbation however – the grimy look of the picture has its place too, with the extravagant but well-blended visual effects left to their own devices to operate as well timed tie-ins to the overall tone. There’s a ton of slow-mo CGI, sure, but the action scenes are all the better for it. The individual fight sequences, too, are not exactly memorable, but in the here and now – the drum I’ve been banging throughout this review – it’s entertaining enough that you avoid looking at your watch. In fact, the pacing in general is a worthy example of dumb-superhero-moviemaking-101. Finally, and this is something that cannot be overstated, Deadpool is strictly a 2D release, only increasing its blunt and bitter old school feel. Without the usual 3D surcharge that we’re all but desensitised to these days, my ticket was not only under $10 (cheap Tuesday), but I was also able to watch it on the biggest, bestest downtown screen without those colour dimming, pointless vision adjusting plastic bastards over my eyes. Win.