Tuesday, May 31, 2016
WITH GREAT SNARK COMES...AW, YOU KNOW THE REST: a review of "Deadpool"
Based upon the Marvel Comics series created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld
Screenplay Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Directed by Tim Miller
** (two stars)
OK dear readers, I've made it to the party and I've finally seen it. I have now finally seen the comic book film that earlier this year became not only the 5th highest grossing film of the year so far, it has also become the highest grossing film of the "X-Men" film franchise to date as well as the highest grossing R rated film of all time. Yes, the film I am obviously writing about is the subject of this latest review, Director Tim Miller's "Deadpool," his adaptation of the subversive Marvel Comics series. And now, that I have seen it, I am equally of the minds of why so many of you loved the film and also as to why I avoided it for so long and have remained ultimately soft over the end results.
Granted the character of Deadpool is one I really have only known by name as I think he is a figure that emerged long after I ceased reading comic books as my interests gravitated elsewhere. I was more than aware of the fervor over the possibility of a movie version for this character yet once the trailers hit, I was decidedly skeptical to underwhelmed. Yes, I could see that this film was being launched as the Marvel movie to upend and skewer all other Marvel films as well as being unapololgetically R rated to boot.
But even so, didn't the so-called subversive Marvel movie already happen with Writer/Director James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy" (2014)? That film was one I found to not be nearly as clever or as subversive as it thought it was, so with "Deadpool," I feared that it would be more of the same. Additionally, the fact that it was going to be an R rated feature complete with all manner of profanities and graphic violence was not something that I felt to be terribly groundbreaking--maybe when I was 12 years old, but not now. And therefore, I was also fearing that we would end up with something on the level of Director Matthew Vaughn's odious "Kick-Ass" (2010), the likes of which I never wanted to sit through again. While "Deadpool" was thankfully not as repugnant an experience as "Kick-Ass," it was not a grand success for me either, and that for all of its considerable energy and effort, the film was undone by its own ambitions which never really seemed to find a way out of the initial conceptual stages to become something truly inspired.
"Deadpool" stars Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, a former special forces operative (as well as master of an endless stream of self-indulgent sarcasm) who now works as a mercenary in New York. Upon meeting Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), an escort (and one equally adapt with an endless stream of self-indulgent sarcasm) at a local bar, the twosome begin a year long relationship that reaches its own crossroads: a marriage proposal merged with the news that Wade is afflicted with terminal cancer.
Not wishing to allow Vanessa to marry him only to watch him die, Wade is soon approached by a sinister recruiter from a secretive medical program who offers Wade the opportunity to partake in an experimental operation that will cure him of his cancer. Reluctantly leaving Vanessa behind, Wade agrees to the operation but is soon found in the clutches of Francis (he really hates being called that) Freeman a.k.a. Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his henchwoman Angel Dust (Gina Carano) inside of a laboratory and forced to intake the serum of Weapon X, a formula designed to awaken latent mutant genes after being triggered by a series of unspeakable tortures. Once those latent genes are brought to fruition, the victims are to be sold as superslaves to the highest bidders.
Once Ajax traps Wade inside of an airtight tube, cutting off his oxygen, Wade's mutant genes are released, curing his cancer, unleashing a new powers of super strength, agility and healing, thus making him essentially indestructible. On the downside, Wade's body and face are now completely disfigured with a mass of burn-like scars of which Ajax professes to have the sole cure. Escaping the chamber and surviving their first battle after seemingly being left for dead by Ajax, Wade, now christening himself as Deadpool, goes on the hunt for revenge against Ajax wile also hoping to reclaim the love of Vanessa despite his appearance and also continue to rebuff the offers to join the Uncanny X-Men by an ever persistent Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), a Russian born mutant with powers to transform his body into organic steel.
Now,, if all of this sounds to you like the current standard of superhero origin films, then you would be 100% correct. Although, with Tim Miller's "Deadpool," we are given this story with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek just moments before it spits in our eyes with a barrage of four letter words, CGI blood and gore and that aforementioned endless stream of sarcasm and self-congratulatory snark that Ryan Reynolds dolls out with undeniable glee. "Deadpool" is kind of like Marvel's id gone amok.
Yes, this film is easily the movie "Guardians Of The Galaxy" wished that it could have been as far as blowing a hole clean through the superhero film genre and the Marvel films in particular. "Deadpool," through its constant self-reflexive humor, breaking of the fourth wall--even within its own opening and ending credits--and a collection of in jokes that skewer the X-Men films and even Ryan Reynolds himself But even so, when all is said and done, "Deadpool" exists as a one-note movie because it really just is a one joke movie: a superhero/anti-hero that curses profusely and decapitates his foes with a rampant disregard for...well...anything. Snark for snarks sake may be fine for some (and from the massive box office, it clearly worked on a mass scale) but for me, it was just not enough.
For the steady and rapid fire stream of jokes, I can say that I only laughed heartedly a handful of times during the entire film. Maybe it was because a lot of jokes that were peppered throughout the film's ubiquitous trailers had already landed but mostly because the screenwriters just haven't cracked that inexplicable code that makes dirty words exist beyond being solely dirty words. As far as its level of humor is concerned, it did kind of wear on me that "Deadpool" wallows in the homo-erotic tension/fears of 12-year-old-boy locker room humor and never climbs out of that specific arena which really should be left behind in middle school (and truth be told, is often considerably meaner and funnier)...or at least, the films of the 1980's.
I've said it many times before upon this site, but there is a real artistry and swing to making vulgarity artful and with "Deadpool," once again, the filmmakers had the word but not the music or the rhythm to make it all sing. And once the violent splatter entered the scene, I found the film to be numbingly excessive just to just be numbingly excessive. There was no true release. Nothing to sail the words and the bloodletting over the top into being something truly unique where the nastiness works beautifully and you want more and more of it.
I'd say that "Deadpool" was only really confirming my initial reservation about it for the first third or so and I was resistant to it specifically because there is a real art to R rated humor, comic brutality with graphic violence that so few filmmakers have mastered. Of course, the firsts of its kind for me was indeed Writer/Director John Landis' "An American Werewolf In London" (1981) where its tone was a pitch perfect melding of significant horror and special effects with satirical humor. In more recent years, the likes of Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow and to a more consistent and brilliant degree, Quentin Tarantino are the new masters as they never take their eyes of of what is the storytelling prize, where their deeply drawn characters, situations and motivations are at the forefront and decidedly not the language and violence, a combination "Deadpool" never really reaches or understands.
For all of its supposed genre-busting, "Deadpool" too often upholds the conventions it claims to be satirizing. As a story, it is greatly generic, yet another simplistic revenge story and again something that Tarantino has re-invented and revitalized over and over again, making pretty much everything else pale in comparison. "Deadpool" also finds itself caught within the standard and tired extended climax, whic his indeed the cho of every other big budget climax that we have seen and still, there is no emotional or satirical payoff as the characters and story are so thin.
Returning to Kevin Smith for a moment, it just dawned upon me that he would have been absolutely perfect to imagine a character and concept like this for the silver screen--if not to actually direct it, but certainly to write it. Smith, a self-professed comic book geek, understand the nature of the comic book genre passionately and as he exhibited with his own cinematic universe in "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001), Smith worked with a level of satire that was so brilliantly labyrinthine that he poked fun at himself, his own creations, his film, his industry of choice, his audience and his critics to the point where there was absolutely noting anyone could say about or against the film that it didn't already say about itself.
Granted, Kevin Smith's outrageously vulgar in joke was not a film for everyone and...it never should have been. It was a vision that was so delightfully idiosyncratic and original that mass appeal was really never in its sights in the first place. "Deadpool," by contrast has those Marvel dollars (or better yet, Disney as they own Marvel) to think about rather than existing as an oddball cult film starring a titular figure who really should not care a whit about whether the audience likes him or not.
In this case, the demands of the industry won over something that could have been truly subversive and dangerously entertaining as the Marvel boat cannot be rocked too terribly (if at all). Furthermore, as far as likability is concerned, no amount of foul mouthed self-deprecating humor and blood drenched battles and killings in the world can change the fact that we are meant to be rooting for Deadpool from the very beginning rather than feel anything remotely challenging, disturbing or complicated.
Even so, "Deadpool" is far from a failure as it is a first rate production and Ryan Reynolds undeniably owns the role with his off-kilter, sing-songy delivery suggesting a hint of madness the film otherwise does not tap into. It is clear that Raynolds is hungry for this part and performs it to the degree where it assures that this character will be his signature character for as long as "Deadpool" movies are made.
Whether I can be attracted to signing up for another go round myself is a whole 'nother story.