Monday, February 15, 2016

Deadpool: A Fun, Adult Not-Superhero Movie (For Adults)


Director: Tim Miller
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein

Love—and some various body parts—are in the air this Valentine’s Day with the release of Deadpool. Now, dear reader, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a filthy casual when it comes to comic books. Growing up, I never had an outlet for comic books, and I never had any Big Brother-figure to give me hand-me-down comics, either. Going into Deadpool, I didn’t know much about the character—except for what I learned about him from 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (but let’s not talk about that…ever.) I knew that Deadpool is supposed to be more of an antihero than most other comic book characters, and I knew that Deadpool is a jokester. With fourth-wall-breaking fun, I found Deadpool to be quite entertaining—but Marvel’s villain here, again, was pretty lackluster.

Deadpool obviously follows the exploits of Deadpool, formerly known as Wade Wilson (Reynolds). After being dishonorably discharged from a special ops team, this military man turns mercenary, and he takes contracts to help the little people—as Wilson explains, a punch in the face is earned. As he settles up a contract with his friend, Weasel (Miller), he meets a woman with a sense of humor as dark and deranged as his own; to boot, Vanessa (Baccarin) also shares Wilson’s high-flying libido. Years into their relationship, Wilson learns that he has late-stage cancer throughout most of his body, and he believes he’s sparing Vanessa from watching him wither away by abandoning her. He enrolls in a shady research program under the control of Ajax (Skrein), and with Skrein’s help (read: torture), Wilson’s cancer is cured, and he becomes the avocado-skinned not-superhero we all know and love. Deadpool’s mission? Find Ajax, make him fix the avocado skin, and then kill him.

Now, I mentioned “libido” and “kill” in the last paragraph, so parents, listen up: this is not a superhero movie to take your kid to. Toward the beginning of the film, there’s an extended montage of Wilson and Vanessa as they, uh, push the boundaries of their relationship; at another point, Wilson and Weasel go looking for leads in a strip club, and there’s gratuitous nudity— It’s a strip club! (Here, I looked over at a father and son in the theater, and the father leaned in close to his kid, likely saying, Don’t you dare tell your mother about this.) Along with the sexual encounters we see on screen, we also hear about as much sexual humor as you’re likely to get from Deadpool. On top of that, there’s still a high level of ultra-violence that’s supposedly a trademark of Deadpool, from splattering blood to downright decapitation to full-on flattening. There’s an R-rating for a reason, people, and you’ve been warned. Find a babysitter, ditch the kids, and see this movie for yourselves.

Really, I can’t think of another actor who could play Deadpool like Ryan Reynolds. It’s a little disgusting to think about, but his prior performance as Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine stole the show, and I’d have loved to have seen a stand-alone Deadpool movie back then. This style of comedy—one full of punchy dialogue and physical humor—is right in Reynolds’ wheelhouse. Deadpool’s comedy seems to harken back to his performance in Waiting, a comedy about raunchy restaurant staff from 2005 full of similarly-punchy dialogue, and Reynolds shines in that type of humor. His comedic timing is what sells his comedic performances, and his calling card is a tell-tale pause that helps drive his character’s jokes. His comedic acting here isn’t just about his dialogue, though—his job becomes even harder because he has to bring that same silliness without using his face, since he wears the Deadpool mask throughout a good portion of the movie. Overall, Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool, and Deadpool is Ryan Reynolds; he was literally born for this role after “…Freddy Kreuger face-f*cked a topographical map of Utah.” A friend mentioned that Ryan Reynolds has been wanting this movie to be made for years, and he actually took a good deal of the production onto himself, proving, again, that he is the actor for this particular character. 

The beauty of the Deadpool character is his versatility, since Deadpool can be everyone and everything. I know I’ve leaned on this book before, but I’m again reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s border fiction: Blood Meridian’s seeming main character, simply known as “the Judge,” is larger than life—a suzerain of the earth, he calls himself. Literary critics try to interpret his character time and time again, and all of the interpretations fit, so you can’t really say they’re wrong, since he fits and simultaneously doesn’t fit these various categories. The same can be said about Deadpool—all of these interpretations fit. No matter how absurd the situation, Deadpool always finds ground to stand on, and because of this, the character pushes a lot of boundaries and almost denies classification.

Because of this versatility in Deadpool’s character, one of the greatest things I thought about this movie was the sex positivity—much of which is shown on-screen (again, leave the kids home). Since the beginnings of film, Hollywood and the film industry have largely promoted heteronormativity—a love story can only involve a man and a woman. We see the same thing in Deadpool in Wade’s early relationship with Vanessa, sure, but with that heteronormativity, there’s a good level of sex positivity—once more, going back to the sex montage, it’s clear that they have a healthy relationship based on exploring one another’s sexuality. Once we see Wilson’s transformation into Deadpool, however, we see even more exploration in the character’s sexuality: the internet has been throwing around words like “pansexual” and “omnisexual,” meaning that Deadpool sees anyone as a sexual partner. Dan Tracer explains, “Deadpool has been portrayed as an omnisexual flirt who will go after any gender that happens to strike his fancy at any particular time,” and those moments of “any particular time” flash on the screen over and over and over. Again, the versatility afforded in the Deadpool character means that he can be anything, and it was refreshing to see less heteronormativity on-screen (plus, Deadpool more or less gropes Colossus’ metallic manhood, which got big laughs in my showing).

The issue I have with this movie is the same one that I had with Ant-Man last summer: the villain isn’t threatening or memorable. Ajax, a mutant with heightened reflexes and nerve endings that don’t work (meaning he feels no pain) seems like he could be an interesting villain, but part of the problem here is that he feels more like a henchman than a supervillain—think of Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. “As Ajax, Ed Skrein fails to become a truly threatening or memorable villain,” Daniel Krupa notes, “since he’s given so little to do.” The whole point of Ajax in the movie is to fulfill Deadpool’s revenge plot, and he doesn’t have any real endgame—there’s no villainous terror plot that has to be stopped like in Avengers: Age of Ultron that would connect him to the larger world or make it feel like there’s more at stake than simple revenge. Really, the worst thing he does is create mutants through medical experimentation and torture, and then he sells the mutants as slaves to the highest bidder, whether that bidder is a government entity or a real supervillain. Now, is this a villainous thing to do? Obviously, yes, but because there’s no real checkmate coming that Deadpool has to prevent, there wasn’t much tension in the character, so I have to chalk this up to another Marvel movie where the main character has to destroy a foil of him- or herself.

Overall, would I watch Deadpool again? Hands down, yes, and I plan to buy it when it comes out. While the film didn’t stray too far outside the boundary of the superhero genre, it does stray a bit further in making fun of that genre—the beginning of the movie attests to that, since the opening credits list the director as “an overpaid tool,” and they mention a “British bad guy” and “a super hot girl” instead of listing any actors’ real names. The actual plot may not push many boundaries, but the metacommentary on the genre through the numerous times that Deadpool breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience is really refreshing, and it almost made me engage with the movie more, since it felt like we were all in it together. If you have the time to spare and want to have a lot of laughs at an odd take on the superhero genre, this is the movie to see.

Outside readings:

Krupa, Daniel. “Deadpool Review.” IGN. IGN, 6 February 2016. Web. 15 February 2016.

Tracer, Dan. “First Queer Superhero Lead? Ryan Reynolds Opens Up About ‘Deadpool’s’ Fluid
           Sexuality.” Queerty. Queerty, 4 November 2015. Web. 14 February 2016.