If, like me, you’ve recently found yourself becoming tired of the increasingly redundant superhero/ comic book movie formula that has come to prominence in the film industry over the past fifteen years, rest assured that Deadpool shares the sentiment. This is a movie that fully embraces its role as the black sheep of recent superhero studio offerings, reflected in its self-referential, irreverent attitude and crude content.
Deadpool is, much like its title character, a reluctant, outrageous and mostly hilarious instalment in the expanded X-Men film series – one that shows as little loyalty and respect for its own expanded universe as it does for other supposedly wholesome family-friendly superhero movies that have come before. The film’s stylish opening credits set up its smart-ass, self-deprecating tone in referring to cast and crew by stereotypical tropes – e.g. “directed by an overpaid tool”, featuring “a villain with an English accent” and also starring a “hot chick” – rather than their real names.
Note that such stereotypes are common throughout other superhero movies, not least Marvel’s own; the main difference between them and Deadpool is not so much that this film breaks away from the typical formula (without its sense of humour it would undeniably appear as formulaic as anything else), but that it is excessively self-aware of that formula. It openly embraces the subsequent shortcomings of its own genre before inverting those conventions upon themselves.
Deadpool himself often looks to the audience, casually breaking the fourth wall as he shares in-jokes that play off our preconceived notions of what to expect from this kind of movie. He throws out quips regarding the lesser budget of his film in comparison with the larger ‘franchises’, his own character history (including that misjudged appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that you’d think he’d rather forget), and even acknowledges the naysayers who claimed Deadpool would never get his own movie nor would Ryan Reynolds be a successful casting choice in the central role. Here he goes some way to proving them all wrong, flipping a middle finger in the process.
The coolest thing about Wade Wilson, the quick-witted mercenary who becomes ‘anti-hero’ Deadpool, is that he’s largely a spokesperson for those of us who roll our eyes when the Avengers continually come out on top in perfectly choreographed set pieces; or when Hollywood flippantly destroys entire cities and incurs several casualties that we’re not supposed to care about because the camera doesn’t focus in on them.
In fact perhaps the best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s not, despite initial appearances, simply out for those kind of mindless thrills. Violence, while at times bordering on excessive (though trust me, there’s much worse to be found elsewhere), is not simply there – it has a point. That it’s done in somewhat flippant and comical fashion is what will offend more conservative viewers; that its point is, in the end, to ridicule the high-minded moral compass of other movies is what will turn others off because here they can’t sit quite as comfortably in their seats as when they’re watching the good guys win.
Whether this character resonates with you or not (and by his offensive nature, there will obviously be some with whom he doesn’t gel), one can’t deny that he is a gifted individual; which indeed, for some, will make it all the more galling that he willingly chooses not to perform the noble heroics we’ve come to expect from such a character. He could be a hero… but hey, the world has enough of those anyway.
I think there are two main groups Deadpool will especially appeal to. The first and most obvious are those who simply wish to lap up the dirty jokes, half-naked attractive people on screen, and all-round tone of underworld seediness. Come to it just for those things and you certainly won’t leave disappointed. The second, a group in which I fit quite easily, are those jaded by the repeated formula we’ve become so used to seeing and who find it refreshing to have something different on offer from a major studio.
This is, after all, a superhero/ comic book movie not for kids, but adults – adults who may realise now just how watered down those other movies are. Here is one with excessive swearing, violence, and a potential heart of gold that it willingly – and repeatedly – rips up in front of your eyes for the sheer fun of it. Featuring a protagonist who is, in stark contrast to a ‘true hero’ like Captain America, a rather shallow man (the choice of Ryan Reynolds for the role is itself the subject of self-deprecating humour at one point) using his newfound powers for personal gains, namely revenge motivated primarily by the loss of his good looks.
The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” is inverted time and again – even the usual redemptive character arc is neatly avoided at the last moment. Wade Wilson remains the same ‘Merc with a mouth’ at the film’s conclusion that he was at the beginning; the movie retaining its stubbornly flippant attitude to the end. In this case, it fits, and for me it worked out brilliantly.
Tonally and stylistically, I found the whole movie to be well-crafted and immensely enjoyable. Be aware that it is likely to offend if you don’t share its sense of humour, or its thoughts and opinions on the genre of which it is an entertaining part. But of course, there is also another element to all this; what some people might consider the ‘elephant in the room’.
That is the undeniable fact that this is still a movie by a major studio. While it is essentially making fun of its own methods, it is profiting by doing so, and those profits will ultimately go towards making movies in the same vein that may return to the same old habits. I do however feel that this is a different, bigger conversation for another time. And really, there was no better way to tackle this particular Marvel character than the way in which they did so here.
As a standalone film and all-round experience, I can’t deny the great time I had with Deadpool. There will surely be a sequel; I hope they push the anti-PG bar even further with it. For right now I don’t mind backing Hollywood to do so, even if they have got to a point where they’re selling our own jaded attitudes back to us.
8 / 10