Stale jokes and hypocrisy abound in ‘Deadpool’ (2016)
Tim Miller’s directorial debut “Deadpool”(2016) joins the recent movement of postmodern, subversive superhero films such as “Guardians of the Galaxy”(2014) and “Kingsman: The Secret Service”(2014). Starring Ryan Reynolds as the wisecracking, fourth-wall breaking, red-clad antihero, the film lavishes in its gory, scatological excess and attempts to dismantle all the tropes of its Marvel forebears. It even pokes fun at Reynolds’s box office flop “Green Lantern”(2011)—“Don’t make me wear green,” Deadpool mocks. But behind its subversive mask lies a film that feels anything but rebellious.
The film begins with one of the best opening sequences in recent memory, as self-deprecating credits of “starring some hot chick” and “written by some ass hat” intercut a comic book-esque, slow-motion car accident. What follows is a Tarantino inspired highway shootout which introduces the cocky swagger of our antihero, Deadpool. Nicknamed “Merc with a Mouth” in Marvel comics, Deadpool annihilates his enemies with only 12 bullets and samurai swords, but deals deathblows through his insouciant, sardonic taunting of their dead bodies. Miller introduces the film’s self-awareness, parading excess and gauche humor — this isn’t your father’s comic book; Deadpool uses hashtags and emojis! The film, however, fails to evolve past this one note of the opening scene and recycles the same material and gags for nearly two hours.
But to give us backstory, Deadpool rewinds to how he got into this mess. A local mercenary, Wade Wilson finds meaning in his new girlfriend, Vanessa, the only one who can tame his motormouth and keep up with his wit. After a relationship montage consisting only of sex scenes, Wade suddenly faints and discovers he has terminal cancer. He resorts to extreme genetics experiments with the British scientist Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), better known as Ajax. The treatment works, for the most part. Wade is now cancer-free, and mortality-free, as his cells can regenerate at lightning speed, allowing him to grow back any part of his body and withstand any injury. The only injury he can’t fix is his deformed face due to minor burns that his friend calls offspring of “Freddy Kruger and a topographical map of Utah.” So Wade Wilson drops his mercenary act to become “Deadpool” and track down Ajax to fix his face — a plastic surgeon could have done the trick, no? But this is one aspect of the parody that works — there are no grand motives here, no fighting for humanity or Earth itself — it’s just a shallow man trying to make himself hot again and save his vanity.
Reynolds channels Jim Carrey from “The Mask”(1994) but sullies Carrey’s playfulness with the film’s cocky exhibitionism. Carrey was a child in an adult body whose humor came from that interplay. Reynolds is the obnoxious pairing of crude teenager in an adult body. When Ajax begs Wade to shut up, you can’t help but agree. Deadpool’s ultimate weapon is his mouth, as he fires off joke after joke in hopes of mowing down his adversaries like a mediocre insult comic. The fourth wall becomes an antagonist which Deadpool must constantly break, beat and kill, until he must find other methods of self-awareness. The film revels in its ribald excess like a punster who gluts himself on audience’s groans and rifles off anal sex jokes until we’re the ones getting screwed.
The film’s only goal seems to be to dismantle its predecessors, but in its monomaniacal pursuit of satire the film just tells the same jokes ad nauseum. The ultimate irony is how this subversive parody becomes pastiche and apes the trite superhero films it tries to contrast. What begins as defiantly postmodern ends as banally “Spiderman”(2002) with Vanessa de-masking and kissing Wade to reveal the true hero underneath — hypocrisy never looked so sexy. Indeed, when Vanessa takes off his mask, the film itself takes off its mask and stops its masquerade as a subversive film and reveals itself to be traditional superhero melodrama. The fight scenes all feel the same and so does the film’s core. While “Deadpool” may talk a big game, it still must follow the same structures and movements of its forefathers. In other words, Miller can use Stan Lee as a bartender in a strip club, but Lee’s style still determines this film’s arc. As Deadpool might say, “Cool story, bro.”
“Deadpool” is now playing at the Nugget Theater in Hanover at 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.