Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Deadpool

2016, d. Tim Miller

I was there when Deadpool was born.  That's an awkward way to phrase that.  What I mean is I had joined in on the big X-Men comic book bandwagon of 1990/91 that sold a bajillion copies and created a trend that virtually broke the entire industry.  Deadpool was introduced right at the precipice of that time in New Mutants #98.  To say he was unremarkable would be putting it lightly.  He certainly didn't strike me as anything noteworthy or special.  But all it takes is the right writer, or the right artist, or the right creative team to break a character out.  That would have happened in the late-'90's, long after I had jumped off that bandwagon.

I missed the Deadpool boat.  I couldn't get past the Liefeld tiny feet and thigh pouches to give him a shot.  Plus, anti-heroes aren't typically my thing.  My take was that homicidal mercenaries aren't heroes and really shouldn't really be celebrated.  I can be kind of square sometimes. 

I watched from the outside as Deadpool inexplicably grew in popularity more and more, from team member to guest star, from mini-series to ongoing, from one book to multiple books a month.  These days Deadpool comics and guest appearances are rivaling that of Wolverine back in the aforementioned 90's X-Men heyday.  Point being, I've read all of at most a half dozen comics starring Deadpool since the early 1990's and they've done absolutely nothing for me.  I don't care about the character, and, by and large, I didn't care about the movie.

I agree that Ryan Reynolds was always a better candidate for a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed mercenary than he was for Green Lantern, but that's about as many shits as I was willing to give the project.   In the wake of a botched Deadpool (also played by Ryan Reynolds) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (as the whole movie was a botched effort) I cared even less to see a Deadpool movie.  Even after that lively proof-of-concept video was released, the ones that had fans salivating and ultimately led to the studio greenlighting a modestly budgeted picture, I still didn't care.  At all. 

Look, I just wasn't that into Deadpool.

And then, in the monor-ist of minor miracles, the movie got made. With an R rating. And the adverts for it were...promising.  And the posters and billboards and Ryan Reynold's twitter feed were all perfectly done bits of meta marketing.  Altogether, it was still not enough for me to really care all that much.  I genuinely appreciated how this underdog story actually came to fruition, even if it didn't have my excitement or overall interest.

And then it made some bank.  Some major, major bank.  And both fan and audience reactions (beyond those whose thing it just wasn't) was unbelievably positive.  At that point it went from outside appreciation to casual interest.  He still wasn't a character I was interested in spending time with, but on the word of so many friends and critics (nerds and non alike) I suspected an eventual watching when it got to the home market would be in the offing. 

But one day, I found myself rather taken aback when my wife, who gave even less shits about Deadpool than my two shits, suggested we go see the movie on one of our rare child-free evenings.  And for some reason we did.  And, beyond all expectations, we had a damn good time.

Deadpool is a damn fun movie.  It's not going to be everyone's cuppa, as it is excessively violent and excessively vulgar, but it's so extreme it's like a Bugs Bunny cartoon gone wrong... which may be the perfect analogy for Wade Wilson.  He's very much of the Bugs Bunny sort.  He's a wily trickster who makes punchlines out of creating wildly elaborate scenarios that get people killed in very dramatic/comedic extremes.  Also like Bugs, he's fourth wall breaking.  He addresses the audience directly throughout the movie, and more than a few times makes clear allusions to the fact that he's in a film, or that he exists in a cinematic franchise universe where "it's like they couldn't afford any other X-Men".

The first half of the film is one large set set piece taking place on a bridge in Vancouver (well, actually some unnamed city, but it's Vancouver) intercut with Wade Wilson's backstory about how he came to be.  The bridge fight is very clever and enjoyable in both its extreme violence and Wade's incessant dialoguing (which alternates between intentionally goofy and rather witty).  Then Colossus and his young protege, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, join the frey and things get even livelier as it loosely ties itself into the X-Men franchise while still keeping its distance. 

The flashback scenes find Wade Wilson as a mercenary for hire who finds a shared sense of humour and ultimately love with Vanessa (and utterly game Morena Baccarin, making for a winning, if twisted, romantic comedy), right up until he discovers he has five types of aggressive cancers and a short lifespan.  This puts Wade in the sights of an agency who is promising a cure if he takes part in their experiment, their experiment being extreme torture to force people to manifest any latent mutant powers they may have.  After the torture threatens even Wades seemingly limitless endurance, his power of rapid cellular regeneration (meaning he can heal any wound) appears, but it leaves him looking horrifically scarred, like a burn victim).

He can't go back to Vanessa so disfigured, so all he has is his revenge on the men who made him that way.  The second half of the film is Wade seeking his revenge (or a cure), while the men whom he's seeking revenge on are trying to proactively stop him, which brings Vanessa back into the picture, as well as Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

The plot is a little pedestrian, but it's its simplicity that works so well, especially told how it is.  Breaking the story into two halves and intercutting the flashbacks with the action allows everything to live and feel vital without slowing anything down.  It seems to always be propelling itself forward.  Not to mention Wade is always running at the mouth, and most of it is quite entertaining.  There's a spirit to the overall picture that just works and everyone involved seems to be up for.  It's light, but not without its tension or moments of weight.  Miller and company do an excellent job at making Wade Wilson a likeable (though hardly respectable) character, and even at times you have to admire his commitment even when he's outmatched.  He's not very bright, but he is kind of valiant, in his own way.

The film looks pretty great for its budget.  It negotiates its few fight sequences incredibly well, and it's through limited budget that they seemed to have innovated, making it all feel like fresh action.  It's also pretty refreshing for a film like this to have a climax that is, in most regards, small potatoes.  It's a 1980's action movie style ending, where it's the good guy vs the bad guy with some destruction around them.  It's not a save the world scenario, it's just kill or be killed.  There's no other stakes beyond that.

I was pleasantly surprised, and, what's better, highly entertained.  This is a product of dedicated vision and limited (perhaps non-existent) studio interference.  If works so well because the filmmakers and performers got to make the film they wanted to.   I'm not a converted fan of the character, but I would go as far as to say I'm now a fan of Deadpool the movie.  I look forward to a sequel.  Even though it made so much money, I hope they keep the budget tight so if forces Miller and company to stay inventive. 

Congratulations Ryan Reynolds...after four failed comic book properties, you've finally made one you can be proud of (though maybe don't show your grandma).