Review, “Deadpool” – 0 stars (out of ****)
Released February 12, 2016
Directed by Tim Miller
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Cinematography by Ken Seng
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, TJ Miller, Ed Skrein
Running Time: 108 minutes
Budget: $58 million
Worldwide Box Office (as of this publication date): $673.2 million
“Deadpool” is a contemptuous, joyless and utterly worthless filmgoing experience. And we should lament the sad viewers who have been so broken by mainstream movies to think otherwise. I can deal with self-loathing characters, in fact some of the best ones in cinematic history are cynical, self-haters: Jake LaMotta, Charles Foster Kane, Holly Martins, even Han Solo! But what I can’t stand is a self-loathing film. A movie where everyone involved knows what they’re doing is stupid, and instead of trying to make the best of it, distance themselves from the material by constantly calling attention to how flippant they are about it.
From the opening titles which credit the director as “some overpaid tool,” we’re to understand that this movie scorns the genre. This is the “cool kid’s” super hero movie that doesn’t really do what the others do and instead points and laughs at them, inviting us to laugh along. We’re on the inside now, we get to talk to the hero, call out that he’s Ryan Reynolds, call out that TJ Miller is the “comic relief” sidekick, call out that this is part of the confused “X-Men” franchise. What this movie pretends to offer is a subversion of the genre.
Except it isn’t that, because beyond the crass jokes and constant breaking of the fourth wall (which defenders will argue comes from the comics,) the movie still slogs through all the motions of a superhero origin story. The only difference is it does so while constantly telling us we shouldn’t care about it. The character of Deadpool is immortal, his injuries regenerate immediately, so there’s already no stakes to what happens to him. His disgusting mutation is turned into an improvised joke-off between Reynolds and Miller, taking away any plausibility that he won’t get the girl in the end because of it. The villain’s seem to have no motivation besides to further the plot and set Reynolds up for more zingers. We have absolutely no reason to care about the character or his plight. At every single step, the movie loudly tells us it’s a waste of time, but in doing so somehow thinks it’s justifying itself.
People will say, “Well, it’s just an enjoyable comedy and should be viewed as a parody,” but what is the humor? Is Deadpool making a funny joke when he tells the villain he has something in his teeth and then says “Made you look?” I don’t believe people are really impressed with the comedy, and are instead laughing ironically because every joke is a wink to the audience that we’re all in this stupid experience together. It’s been hailed as Marvel’s first R-rated movie (which it isn’t — that’d be “Blade”), but who is the audience for this comedy? Is it comic book fans? Is it adults who are sick of these films and like to see them skewered? If the Deadpool character is just going to boil down to Reynolds dusting off his “Van Wilder” character again, why not just make a “Van Wilder” sequel and actually make a comedy with humor and soul?
Just a few examples of the dialogue below. Humor is definitely subjective, but let me know the next time you casually quote any of these lines:
Deadpool: “I’m half afraid, half angry. Is there a word for that?
Weasel: I don’t know… frangry?
Deadpool: I know right? You’re probably thinking “Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my very own movie”? I can’t tell you his name, but it rhymes with ‘pullverine. And lemme tell you, he’s got a nice pair of smooth criminals down unda’.
Weasel: You are haunting. You look like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado.
Deadpool: Thank you.
Admittedly, I’m no fan of superhero movies. I don’t have a hard rule on them, I’ve just been disappointed enough times to know that story is sacrificed to service the built in fans while still trying to appeal to new viewers. So these movies effectively have too many masters and end up watered down. But I liked “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Batman Begins,” parts of “Iron Man and “Iron Man 3” just to name a few. The genre’s an interesting one in that it strangely should only appeal to children, yet these things pull in billions of dollars, and many adults, if they’re going to go to the cinemas at all, are only going to see these movies. I’m not dismissing the cultural importance, and in fact I think “Deadpool” being so popular while simultaneously dumping on the genre is very telling. I think (and hope) that what it suggests is superhero fatigue. That we’re collectively – filmmakers and viewers – admitting the bar is dreadfully low and we don’t care, and that soon that will be reflected at the box office.
“Deadpool” is making a ton of money, so I’m sure there will be a sequel, but I do think this is a sign of a change in audience tastes and needs. The superhero genre is like a harpooned whale bleeding out and dying as it still makes waves. It won’t be overnight and we may not see it fully until films like “Batman V Superman” underperform, but for example, how silly does the self-seriousness of that movie seem after the “Deadpool” experience? How does the “X-Men” franchise incorporate a parody into its marketing universe? “Deadpool” to me is to the genre what Donald Trump is to the Republican party, a confused hybrid of self-mockery and arrogance that reveals the weaknesses of its movement, telling us to see these movies while ripping it apart from the inside. In the best case scenario we joke about how fun it is to see the spectacle caving in on itself, but at a certain moment it’s time to just let it die and move on with more important things. Maybe go see a movie in theaters that actually has something to say.