Saturday, October 29, 2016

Film Review: Deadpool

Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I know this review is months and months overdue, but it just got away from me.

I probably don't have anything too terribly original to say about this movie, the highest grossing R-Rated film of all time.  But I am incredibly conflicted about it.

The movie takes place in the X-Men cinematic universe.  It centers around tough-guy-for-hire Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds).  He is a foul-mouthed, incredibly violent anti-hero with a heart of gold.  He falls in love with the equally foul-mouthed prostitute named Vanessa (Monica Baccarin).  But their romance is cut short when Wade is diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  However, he is offered a chance for a possible cure by a shady organization that seeks only to trigger a mutation by systematic torture.  Once he breaks free he seeks revenge on those who did him wrong and win back his love.

As you can see, the plot is nothing too terribly original or special.  What makes this movie stand out is how the writers and director have approached the material.

Deadpool is an action comedy that knows when to take itself seriously and when not to.  The parts that entertain the most are the ones with the shockingly silly, violent, and irreverent gags.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick walk an interesting line: Deadpool is all about making fun of the superhero genre while not being a parody.  Parodies are elaborate comedy sketches devoid of any stakes or drama.  The writers manage to give the humor the insane, "anything goes" quality of movies like Airplane and The Naked Gun while at the same time making the quest of the character feel consequential. This is no easy feat.  Unbalance the movie a little in either direction and the either the humor or the drama falls horribly flat.  But somehow they make it work.  They constantly break the fourth wall and insert an amazing amount of meta-humor that creates a unique movie-going experience.  The humor feels tonally like it came from the mind of a fourteen-year-old boy, but the execution of it feels like the work of seasoned writers.

A lot of credit has to be given to Reynolds.  And in the reviews I have read of this movie I don't think I've seen proper credit given to his acting ability.  Yes, his natural charm and humor are cited as part of his overall charismatic personality that brings Deadpool to life.  But I think this misses something very important.  Deadpool is not a one-note, one-dimensional character.  I think a lot of people leave the theater thinking that he is.  But Reynolds shows us something different.  Deadpool isn't simply silly: he's broken.

While being tortured in the "clinic," he is told by the main villain "Ajax" (Ed Skrein) that Wade's sense of humor will not survive.  This is the only type of resistance Wade can mount.  He is helpless as they add torture upon torture.  The only way he can fight back is to keep his sense of humor.  His laughter is his armor.  His jokes are his weapons.  I was so impressed watching Reynolds in these scenes because you can see all of the layers to his performance while playing contradictory emotions like mirth, terror, despair, and arrogance all at the same time.  The violence he endures is harrowing.  There is a device in this film that is the closest thing I have seen modern minds have come up with that compares to the agony of crucifixion.  Reynolds makes the horror of this reality feel very real and unfunny.

And it has to be remembered that Deadpool spends most of the movie in a suit that covers most facial expression.  So Reynolds one of his most important tools as an actor (his face) removed from his toolbox and must rely on his line-delivery and body language even more.  And on this score he more than delivers.

Also director Tim Miller should not be overlooked for his incredibly dynamic storytelling.  The action sequences are often so funny that it is easy to overlook how masterfully they are staged.  The stunt work and fight choreography is top-notch.  And all of this even more impressive when you realize it was done with a relatively modest budget.  In terms of visual spectacle, Deadpool stands up to most summer blockbusters.

The rest of the supporting cast of characters never quite matches up to what Reynolds brings to the show.  Baccarin is fine as Vanessa, but she has little to work with except being the non-"damsel in distress" in distress.  Skrein is menacing but not much more.  TJ Miller plays Wade's friend, but his dead-behind-the-eyes performance continues to be a turn off.  Brianna Hildebrand does an interesting turn as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, an X-Men trainee with a acerbic adolescent wit.  But she is not there to do much but be a cynical sounding board to Wade's ramblings.

This movie is incredibly violent and so deserves its R-rating.  However, I have to say I quite enjoyed the creative use of the action.  Some may object to how violence is portrayed for humorous reasons, but it really did not bother me.  As someone who is a big fan of bloody, violent, and humorous spectacles like Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, I found Deadpool fit nicely into that niche.

Please allow me this digression for those who are confused as to how I could find this level of violence acceptable.  The bloody mayhem in Deadpool is always directed toward those to whom it is karmically deserved.  I emphasize that it is karmic, not providential.  We know that God wills not the death of any sinner.  But when wicked people do evil, they owe a debt that feels justified in most storytelling.  Films like Taken bank on this audience intuition in order to make the violence acceptable.  What would make the violence unacceptable is if our "hero" made someone pay a debt they did not karmically incur.  James Gunn's movie Super is a film I detest because of how it portrays superhero violence.  A typical scene has the hero, The Crimson Bolt, crack a man's skull because he cut in line at the movies.  While the victim was a jerk, the "hero" crossed a horrible line and made all of my sympathies and allegiances fall away from him.  Deadpool wisely caries with it the sensibilities of Taken and directs the violence only at those who karmically earn their deaths.  The closest the movie gets to crossing this line is when Deadpool encourages his cab driver (Karan Soni) to murder his romantic rival (but since this action never achieves fruition it does not drag down the movie).

And the movie acknowledges that Deadpool is not living the right way.  The X-Man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) plays the part of the traditional hero who is constantly trying to act as Deadpool's conscience.  And while his mocked as lame, Colossus nevertheless supplies a necessary voice and potential path to heroism.  Do not misunderstand, Deadpool falls WAY short of the heroism embodied by Colossus.  But there is enough of a connection there to envision a possible redemptive path (though very little progress is made in this first film).

The place where the film is dragged down is in the raunchiness of its sexuality.  I know there are some who find violence more abhorrent that explicit sex.  I have no argument against them at this time.  I respect those opinions and sensibilities.  But for me, it detracted from the story.  Wade and Vanessa's courtship is so sexualized that it actually caused me to become less invested in their romance.  And the constant references to sex in the jokes (both dialogue and visual gags) mostly turned me away.  Once again I refer to Army of Darkness that some bawdy sexual humor but it never felt overly dirty.  Deadpool felt like it crossed the line from naughty to filthy.

Which is a shame because this one major flaw weighs down the film way too much.  Therein lies my conflict: I want to like this movie a lot more and I wonder if at the same time I already like it more than a should.  With just a little bit of tweaking, this movie would be much more enjoyable.

But regarding the parts that do work: they work incredibly well.

4 out of 5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment