What do people want when they go to movie theaters? It’s a question some have probably never asked themselves. For me, it’s simply about being entertained. I was discussing “Hail, Caesar!” with some film friends, who were aghast at my four-star review. They were amazed I gave something so frivolous and devoid of depth such a glowing recommendation. There’s really no way to bolster the argument. All I could tell them was, at that moment, in that theater, watching that film, I was thoroughly entertained. In spite of all my years writing reviews, I’ve never found the process to be strictly cerebral. It’s the head and heart working in unison to produce a reaction to a movie.
Viewers’ heads aren’t going to get much of a workout from “Deadpool,” the new action film adapted from a popular Marvel comic. However, their hearts and funny bones might get a little bit of a tickle. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a wise-ass mercenary with a heart of gold. He takes jobs doing good deeds for the disenfranchised and tries to get by in a cruel, cruel world. At the diviest of dive bars he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a hooker with a sharp mind and an even sharper body. The two begin a whirlwind courtship, which comes to a crashing halt when Wade learns he has terminal cancer. Heavy, right? Well, this is a comic-book movie, kids, so don’t expect this whole thing to start turning into “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Wade is approached by a shady government type who offers him a cure for his ailments and superhuman powers. All he has to do is endure brutal, endless torture to see if there are dormant mutant genes that can be activated. Ajax (Ed Skrein) is a malicious malcontent in charge of a sinister operation that creates mutants and then sells them to foreign countries to be used as super soldiers—because that’s what evil people do. Wade is transformed into an indestructible killing machine but his super good looks are gone in favor of a complexion that only 20,000 gallons of Oxy could cure. The plot is full of nonsensical superhero shenanigans we’re all used to. Thankfully, “Deadpool” is painfully aware of this and director Tim Miller uses it to his advantage.
“Deadpool” is an extremely self-aware movie. It skewers the comic book movie in a similar fashion to 2011’s “Kick Ass,” playing with all the tropes and clichés we’ve come to expect from any movie with a Marvel logo prominently displayed. “Deadpool” breaks the fourth wall and not only talks to the audience, but lobs jokes right into the theater. Reynolds’ rapid-fire delivery makes “Deadpool” a unique character in the world of comic book movies, because unlike those other spandex-clad heroes, his moral compass is in a constant state of flux. The movie’s quest for vengeance is a bloody one, and its R rating certainly helps sell the character as a menacing merc with a mouth. Action scenes are brilliantly and lucidly staged.
Ryan Reynolds deserves a heaping helping of credit for the film’s success. Rarely does an actor fit so perfectly into a role. He perfectly captures the humor, anger and ultimately heart of his character. He’s as three-dimensional a character as we’ve seen in a comic-book movie, which feels painfully refreshing as the medium has grown ever so tiresome. If I had to offer any criticism to “Deadpool,” it’s that some jokes don’t stick the landing. While most of the quips are worthy of a smile or chuckle, there’s a few references that feel kind of dated—as if the script had been written in 2007 and gathered dust until it went into production.
There’s also a continuing struggle to work a good villain into these kind of movies. A friend of mine was talking about how in the old days Jack Nicholson was playing the Joker in “Batman” and Al Pacino was playing the Big Boy Caprice “Dick Tracy.” Now we get Ed Skrein, who is a perfectly adequate villain, but he never brings any real weight to the role. He’s just a smarmy foil to our hero who doesn’t have a lot of depth.
Small complaints aside, I really like “Deadpool.” If for no other reason, it brought enough variety to the proceedings to freshen up the stale genre that birthed it.