From his much-aligned debut in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, fans have loudly clamored for a movie that would do justice to Deadpool. To say that it’s been a long, troubled road to release is an understatement; the film was stuck in development hell as far back as 2000, left to wait in the shop window as a carousel of filmmakers came in and out without ever really liberating it. Fox began treating it seriously not long after test footage leaked to positive reactions in 2014, and even when things were starting to look good, the creative team had to fight budget cuts as well as a proposal to make the film PG-13. At long last, the Merc with a Mouth has arrived on the big screen (again, technically speaking), and his fans seem to be quite happy with Deadpool, even though it’s a decent flick at best, where the parts are clearly greater than the whole.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, reprising his role from Origins) is a former soldier turned mercenary, who intimidates for hire and spends his time at the bar where his best friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) works. There, Wade encounters escort Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), and the two become romantically involved after trying to one-up each other to see who had the more unfortunate upbringing. All’s well until he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, causing him to volunteer for a top-secret program that promises to not only cure him, but also give him extraordinary abilities. His time in the program sees him subjected to rogue experiments, which make him cancer-free and bestow him with accelerated healing powers, but also leave him looking like – in his own words – “a testicle with teeth.” Enraged and craving revenge, he becomes the masked vigilante named Deadpool and aggressively hunts down his former captors Ajax (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano), a pair of mutants who have considerable powers of their own.
Before I continue this review, I’d like to tell you where I come from when it comes to my familiarity with the titular character. When I watched Origins all those years ago, I had never heard of Deadpool, so I didn’t understand why my friends who have were all worked up about his portrayal. Fast forward a few years, and I learned more about him as his face started popping up on apparel as well as video games such as Marvel v. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. After this film was given a release date, I read a couple of the comic books featuring him – namely Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool: Dead Presidents, and Deadpool: Classics Killustrated, all of which I found very weird but quite entertaining. I admit I wasn’t pumped for the film, but I knew I had to watch it when it came out because the buzz around it was so strong.
From a story aspect, Deadpool is derivative and haphazard. At play here are two storylines – Wade’s origin/pre-disfiguration tale and his present quest for revenge – that run alongside each other, and the film tries to tell them both by using flashforwards and flashbacks. Now, these certainly aren’t bad techniques since so many films employ them, but the key to them working well is ensuring that both storylines are compelling and/or thoroughly enjoyable, and that’s where the film falls short. Frankly, the origin story is absolutely boring to the point of being a snoozefest. It doesn’t pull off anything new (not that it needs to, but come on, the filmmakers could have done something fun here considering that Deadpool is never about playing things safe), and it halts whatever momentum is built up in the present sequences, which do play out in a standard plot structure for a revenge flick, but have the benefit of Deadpool’s antics to spice things up. Thankfully, once the origin stuff is off the table, that’s when the film gets pretty fun (though it never escapes its trite nature), but by then, the film is operating at a level that’s lower than it ought to be.
If you ask me, I think that director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are aware that they have a fairly derivative plot on their hands, and they try to compensate for that by barraging their audience with as much humor as they can in an attempt to keep the proceedings lively. For the most part, it works, as I’d say that about 60 percent of the humor actually sticks. The experience is akin to watching a stand-up comedian come onstage and, instead of delivering the material prepared beforehand, proceeds to hurl every single joke that he or she knows at the crowd. There are some incredibly hilarious gems here, like Deadpool’s penchant for dark humor and visual gags as well as the back-and-forths between Wade and Weasel. As for the rest of the humor, it’s like a Family Guy episode crossed paths with a raunchy comedy, meaning it can be quite juvenile and tends to miss its punches since there’s often no buildup to them. If dick jokes are your cup of tea, then you’ll feel right at home here. Otherwise, that shtick wears out its welcome rather quickly. Reese and Wernick bring in Deadpool’s hallmark of breaking the fourth wall, and it – with the exception of being used to precede the flashbacks – works to great effect, as it makes for some of the film’s best moments, especially the self-aware quips that connect this film to other superhero flicks. The humor can get messy here and there, but it generally gets the job done.
The Deadpool comics are full of dynamic personalities, but I wouldn’t use those two words to describe any of the characters here, despite some of the talents’ efforts of bringing them to the big screen. Wade is certainly a colorful figure, what with his penchant for craziness and potty mouth, but he’s never a compelling protagonist. By the film’s end, he’s the same person he was at the beginning, even if you were to arrange all the scenes in chronological order. I also wonder wonder this Deadpool is mentally unstable like he is in the comics – if he’s supposed to be, the film never touches the subject. Regardless, there wouldn’t be a reason to watch this film if it weren’t for Reynolds, who absolutely nails the quirkiness of the character, from his sashaying movements to his smart mouth. Vanessa is a generic love interest whose sole purpose is to play a damsel in distress, but Baccarin manages to establish a comfortable, peculiar chemistry with Reynolds. Also sharing good chemistry with Reynolds is T.J. Miller, whose impeccable comedic timing comes in handy since he plays a character that’s basically a walking humor tank. X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) make their way into this fray, but they’re mainly used as serious foils to Deadpool, whose interactions with them result in some great comedic beats. The villains themselves are just that, villains. Not once do they ever come across as threatening, and their plans – or lack thereof – render them as stupid and mere end goals for Wade’s revenge. They don’t even get the chance to chew some scenery, so it seems like a waste of time for Skrein and Carano to even be here. Indeed, there’s hardly a developed character in these parts.
There’s no doubt that the film is designed to be a lively affair, and the craft appears to reflect that vision. Tim Miller stages the action sequences such that both Deadpool’s knack for bloody violence and his sense of humor are heavily emphasized, and they prove to be quite vivacious. The film does make extensive, obvious use of CGI, but they aren’t distracting apart from Colossus, whose texture appears to resemble rubber more than it does steel. If there’s one thing that I wish the film featured more, it’s color. I’ve long said that superhero films shouldn’t shy away from color even when keeping in line with a dark tone, and while this one isn’t dark, it doesn’t pop with colors like it should. Sure, there’s a good helping of red for obvious reasons, but it’s usually set against black or grey color schemes. On the other hand, on point here is the soundtrack, comprised of an original score by Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL and music by other artists. While Holkenborg’s work isn’t exactly memorable apart from a couple of tracks, it does – like the songs by Juice Newton and DMX, to name a few of the artists – serve as an extension of Deadpool, as it reflects the spirit of the character. Overall, the film generally cracks and sparkles when it needs to, and that’s in large part to the filmmaking craft.
Deadpool isn’t a terrible movie, but I wouldn’t call it a great one either. Character and story (the two things I’m drawn to most in any film) are in short supply, and the humor doesn’t always stick, but I can’t deny that it has an attitude that crackles and proves to be refreshing. I’m certain that most fans are happy with what they’re getting with the film, and you know what, all the power to them. What we can all agree on, though, is that the sequel will surely be better. Just give Deadpool a story that’s as equally weird as it is entertaining; it’s what he deserves to truly come alive in all of his quirky, profanity-laden glory.
* Photos courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation