“[It delivers its raunchy content] at a blustery satirical clip, but does so at the cost of forming a cohesive story or characters interesting beyond the most vague of outlines.”
by Ken Bakely
There is something intrinsically interesting about the idea of an irreverent, R-rated superhero movie. After all, the vast majority of comic book films are seen as heavily tested marketing projects, and so there’s a natural inclination to see something that’s rough around the edges and more shocking by an order of magnitude. Tim Miller’s Deadpool certainly delivers the raunchier content that it promises at a blustery satirical clip, but does so at the cost of forming a cohesive story or characters interesting beyond the most vague of outlines. The movie also runs close to two hours, which feels long – for energized comedies like this one, the conceit wears thin after about an hour and a half. For viewers unfamiliar with the property or not already sold on the film, it turns into a bit of a slog.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson, a retired Canadian-American mercenary residing in New York City. After being diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, he is contacted by a mysterious scientist referred to only as Ajax (Ed Skrein). Ajax proposes performing experimental procedures on Wade, with the possibility of not only curing his cancer, but allocating him near-superhuman physical abilities in the process. Wade reluctantly complies, but it soon becomes clear that there is a much more sinister intent here.
Ajax conducts a number of bizarre and torturous tests, with the intent of seeing if some kind of mutant transformation can take place. Wade eventually escapes his imprisonment at Ajax’s isolated laboratory, but the experiments conducted have left him severely disfigured. On the advice of his best friend, nicknamed Weasel (T.J. Miller), Wade decides to don a full body jumpsuit (head included), and create a superhero persona. Now going by the name Deadpool, Wade vows to use his abilities to reconstruct the remnants of his old life, track down his former girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), and find Ajax, hoping to put him away for good.
Deadpool’s rule-breaking style is quickly established in a series of mock opening credits. Title cards like “Starring God’s perfect idiot” and “Written by the real heroes here” are plastered onscreen over a slow-motion action scene, as Juice Newton’s cover of “Angel of the Morning” plays in the background. This tactic returns over the actual credits at the end of the 108 minute movie, when an animated Deadpool annotates the name of every actor with a sarcastic remark. It’s indicative of a relentless approach which marks the film as a whole. This is simultaneously admirable in terms of the script’s dedication to its individuality, and irritating in how it becomes exhausting after a point. There is, for example, only so many times that one can make a joke about Deadpool’s elderly roommate (Leslie Uggams), in terms of her blindness, age, or past addiction to cocaine, before the gag seems rather derivative and repetitive.
Additionally, there’s an excessive tendency to break the fourth wall, or make some other self-aware joke. The first few lines of dialogue reference the film’s place within in the X-Men franchise. Later on, Deadpool asks two sidekicks why they live in such a large house alone, and then concludes that there must have been other characters which were ultimately not imported into the movie from the source material. It’s this variety of cute side comments, from talking about other superhero movies or directly addressing the audience (including a post-credits sequence which directly mimics the one at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), which would have made Deadpool a killer short film, or at least a very good feature if it had been kept at 90 minutes or less. As is, the movie’s never overly obnoxious or insufferable, but it still feels like an rough cut, and is in desperate need of judicious trimming.
But if there’s one great, glimmering center to this whole project, it’s the performance of Ryan Reynolds in the titular role. He gives a hundred and ten percent from start to finish. He zips through his character’s zany dialogue with enviable ease and succinct comic timing. Deadpool may be a snarky piece of work, but Reynolds makes sure he’s a charismatic, snarky piece of work. The actor slides into character so well and embodies him with life that I’m tempted to anticipate the forthcoming sequel mainly to witness another two hours of Reynolds’ Deadpool.
And maybe by then, some of these problems will be smoothened out. Perhaps the issues I’ve described here are mostly attributable to Miller, Reynolds, and company working in fairly uncharted territory. But in any case, they do impede on the enjoyment of this movie – Deadpool is a film continually caught between its sense of humor and its intent to develop a genuine story arc which can be connected and adapted into further installments. Those ideals never congeal, and so the final product seems like a work-in-progress: too unestablished, too long, and too disconnected.