I wanted to hate Deadpool so very much.
I was dragged to see it by occasional In Reel Deep collaborator Holc on opening night, amidst a gaggle of excited nerds, and tried to pre-justify the two precious hours I was about to waste by envisioning the scathing review it would spawn.
But I can't do it. It was fun. Goddammit, it was fun.
Deadpool is the baby of Ryan Reynolds; he was attached to the project way back in 2004 and has been trying to push it through the Hollywood system ever since. Even after Marvel made comic book movies big business with Iron Man, there was great resistance in bringing the loudmouthed character to the screen. It was only after some self-financed test footage was "accidentally" leaked, to massive online acclaim, that Reynolds and director Tim Miller were allowed to proceed.
If you don't know Deadpool, he curses a lot. He's a bad boy but with a heart of gold, meaning he does his best to gruesomely murder evildoers only. He also breaks the fourth wall often, speaking directly to the audience in a Frank Underwood style that somehow stays a few steps ahead of "unbelievably grating." Miller and Reynolds take advantage of that character trait and then some, turning Deadpool into the ultimate movie for comic book nerds who love references to other franchises and studio gossip they've read online.
They make frequent use of Reynolds’s celebrity, dropping comments about Green Lantern and “sexiest man alive” as much as they can muster. They also mock his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, maybe the worst movie ever made and Deadpool’s first appearance onscreen. There, he’s a bland but chatty mercenary named Wade Wilson who is ultimately mutated into Baraka from Mortal Kombat and pitted against Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in a remarkably asinine final battle. There was truly nowhere to go but up.
He’s the same Wade here, only with a love interest (Morena Baccarin) and a best bud who owns a bar (T.J. Miller). He helps the little guys (and girls) take down bigger foes, until he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer and suckered into a experimental program that turns out to be Wolverine’s “birthplace,” Weapon X. Luckily, he gets a mutant healing power; unluckily, he’s horribly disfigured and continuously tortured by fellow mutant Ajax (Ed Skrein). After surviving a massive fire, he sets out for revenge but vows to maintain his commitment to never-ending wisecracking.
What makes Deadpool work, against all odds, is its relentlessness. If the movie slowed down for even a second, it would die. But its love scenes are quick-witted and short, its action is frenetic, and the script stuffs in “jokes” at a speed that would put Airplane and Hot Shots to shame. If one misses, the next hits; if you’re tired of Deadpool shooting people, well, now he’s stabbing them. If you’re tired of Deadpool himself, well, here’s Colossus and a witty remark about Professor Xavier’s mansion (its exterior is visited several times) lacking the other, more popular mutants. It’s a refined insanity that knows its audience perfectly; you could make a strong argument that over a decade in development hell (and a “small” budget of $58 million) kept everyone involved on their toes and pushing for something at least resembling cleverness.
You could also make another argument (and many are) that this is the Beginning of the End for our newly ubiquitous cinematic institution; despite strong reviews, a common refrain is that “nothing good will come” of Deadpool‘s success. To which I respond: oh no! I sure hope the comic book movie industry doesn’t start producing schlocky crap!
Avengers: Age of Ultron was not good. X-Men: Days of Future Past was not good. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does not look good (and if backstage scuttlebutt is to be believed, DC’s whole universe could be in trouble). Simply put, this is not any sort of “golden age” for comic book movies. Marvel hit some home runs at the start, but we’re now firmly in hit-or-miss territory.
If other filmmakers try to copy Deadpool‘s style and tone, they’ll fail. It walks an incredibly fine line between “enjoyable” and “annoying as hell” without somehow toppling into the negative, quite an accomplishment for a first-time director and his very committed star. I look forward to some executives thinking the takeaway is “more cursing and blood” and inadvertently planning their own career funerals. As much as we seem to be dipping towards Idiocracy on a daily basis, what audiences are responding to here isn’t gore and the f-word; it’s just good entertainment. And that always proves much harder to come by.