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February 12, 2016

Movie review: Deadpool

Postmodern overload knocks out ultraviolent superhero movie’s ability to tell a compelling story

Deadpool flips the script in its opening scene already. The camera smoothly glides between bodies suspended in mid-air, tracking farther and farther back until we see a car dangling in the air shortly after a fatal collision. Fight Club’s first scene immediately comes to mind. Meanwhile, the opening credits inform us that the film we are about to see star “a moody teen,” “a British villain,” “a CGI character,” has an “overpaid tool” for a director and “ass hat” producers. Clearly hoping the audience will smirk with approval at the use of these terms that appear to lay bare the chaos behind the slick final product, the film is in fact a bit of a mess, and its streak of postmodernism greatly contributes to the ultimate mediocrity.

Deadpoolis the latest Marvel Comics character to get his own film, although the character did appear in the unimpressive X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which gets a shout-out here. Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson/Deadpool in both films, and the actor is nothing if not self-deprecating. Reynolds even manages to reference himself at one point by claiming that nobody would make the mistake of thinking he got this far in his career because of his stellar acting abilities.

Rating: **½
Directed by Tim Miller
With Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein and T.J. Miller

Wilson is a vigilante who protects young girls from predators and stalkers, but he soon learns that he has late-stage cancer and very little time left to live. That is when a mysterious man shows up to promise him superhuman powers and immortality. Of course, these powers come at a price, and Ajax (Ed Skrein), a villainous mutant who is impervious to pain, is a mean-spirited fellow who quickly becomes Deadpool’s nemesis, although the reason is not clear at all.

This is no usual superhero movie. Besides the hollow humor of the opening credits mentioned above and a presentation steeped in references to other superhero movies, their characters and their cast members, Deadpool’s guiding gimmick is to have a visible narrator, namely Wilson/Deadpool himself, break the fourth wall to address us face to face. That is because the film opens in medias res, and the red spandex–wearing Deadpool allows us to catch up on the back story by relating it directly to us while deploying his trademark wit and sexual innuendo.

From Wilson asking the bartender for a blowjob (a cocktail) to telling a prostitute he just he will put his balls in holes (they will play the skee ball arcade game) to warning a stalker that while he has soft spots he will soon show his hard spots (no comment), the film is not for the under-aged. In an early sequence, we also go through an entire year of kinky romping that includes vampire teeth and a strap-on. This is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Deadpool is the logical next step in a world where we can expect comic universes to meet, but not being content with just mixing the comic universes, the film also incorporates real life, a little like the infamous Julia Roberts moment in Ocean’s Twelve. Lines blur, ontological distinctions collapse, and the playing field is leveled, as Wilson, Deadpool and Reynolds all exist in the world of the film while being both equal to and distinct from each other. It even calls to mind the devil-may-care attitude of Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, for example when Wilson wonders out loud whether this film has so few X-Men because the studio was unwilling to spend more to use them.

A great deal of the audience’s enjoyment will depend on their willingness to engage in this kind of exercise that uses the Tarantino approach to depicting violence by numbing it down through excess. In fact, the brutality, which includes a few decapitations, is not at all dissimilar from that of Kick-Ass, although Deadpool lacks the latter’s more compelling “struggle against the bullies” factor to justify to violence, at least to an extent. Enjoyment of the film also depends heavily on the viewer’s sense of humor and threshold for inanity, as Wilson/Deadpool simply never stops talking.

Everything is real when everything is fake, Deadpool seems to say. This is a film that is likely to divide its audience sharply, as it is something you either take to or not. The climax, inexplicably set on an abandoned aircraft carrier, is visually boring as hell, with gray the scene’s primary color, and bad special effects are deployed when the whole thing inevitably collapses.

For those who have grown tired of the average superhero film, Deadpool certainly marks a significant departure from its peers. However, this is not a character one grows to like or even know, because his story — particularly in the first act — flips backward and forward at random as the screenwriters chase after whatever piece of action they can come up with. This is postmodernism gone haywire, and while many will be entertained by the buzz, the story plays out on a level of fluff that can be comical at times but never connects with our hearts.

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