Monday 22 February 2016

Deadpool | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Sorry Iron Man: you’re no longer the most entertaining superhero.

We expect a couple of things from a good superhero movie. First, of course, is action punctuated by violence. We’re happy if we walk away with a favourite scene or two. Second is a superhero who’s fun to watch. If we’re lucky, he or she will charm us with a couple of quotable quotes.

Choosing such scenes or quotes for Deadpool, directed by Tim Miller, proves problematic. That’s because every scene entertains . . . and almost everything this film’s namesake says (and he says a lot) elicits at least a chuckle.

Typically, people who don’t stop talking annoy us. Ryan Reynolds’s Wade Wilson/Deadpool talks . . . and talks . . . and talks. He never stops. But here’s the difference: whether he’s skipping, getting tortured, taking a cab ride, or hacking off bad guys’ (or his own) limbs, this audience addressing antihero leaves the viewer wanting more.

There’s something awfully compelling about a protagonist who pops his head out of a mid-air, upside-down vehicle and says, “Shit. Did I leave the stove on?”

Deadpool, which broke the box office record for an R-rated film’s opening weekend, shows keen awareness of its position in a long line of superhero films, and it exploits that position brilliantly.

Typical Superhero Story, Atypical Storytelling Techniques
What Wade Wilson wants is pretty straightforward: to apprehend Francis/Ajax, the villain responsible for Wilson’s Freddy Krueger-like complexion. It’s the way the story unfolds, however, where Deadpool makes its mark.

As soon as the opening credits roll, the film sets itself apart: instead of stars’ names, superhero film character tropes (e.g. “the hot chick”, “the British villain”, “a moody teen”) and other gems appear.

The story begins with a day in the life of Deadpool. A super-extended action sequence (with references to everything from Monty Python and Judy Blume to 127 Hours) periodically flashes back to how Wilson obtained his powers. Such storytelling acrobatics echo Deadpool’s thrillingly unnecessary spinning flips. Moreover, plunging the viewer into the action underscores the potency of this character.

Then, down comes the fourth wall, which Deadpool not only breaks, but obliterates with Ferris Buelleresque panache. Wilson plays off superhero film clich├ęs while boldly conceding his own role as a character in a movie. He preps us for another character’s “superhero landing”. He stops the music that accompanies the overused slow-mo superhero walk so he can make a phone call. He speculates on whether the conspicuous underpopulation of the X-Men headquarters that he visits stems from his film’s budgetary restrictions.

In the ultimate fourth wall mischief, Deadpool pokes fun at Ryan Reynolds the actor’s looks-rather-than-acting-fuelled rise and at Reynolds’s disastrous Green Lantern (2011) movie. He even comments on “breaking a fourth wall within a fourth wall”.

A Stark Departure 
The Marvel cinematic superhero roster, despite its continuing success, stood to benefit from another eccentric character. Yes, the Avengers films are highly enjoyable, but doesn’t all that teamwork slightly detract from the narcissistic splendor of Tony Stark/Iron Man?

Along comes Deadpool, shrewdly marketed as the (wink wink) perfect date movie (which doesn’t escape Wilson’s commentary) for Valentine’s Day weekend. And couples do get a love story of sorts, but more important, they get a new kind of superhero whose moxie transcends that of Iron Man.

Undoubtedly Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man did a lot for the superhero subgenre, but Reynolds’s Wilson, with his chummy approach, contemporary cultural references, rebellion against superhero conventions, and crude asides better connects with adult viewers.

Examples? Okay. Iron Man flies around in a computerized metal suit that is the result of his engineering genius. Deadpool takes the cab (and doesn’t pay the driver). Iron Man has an arsenal embedded in his suit. Deadpool throws his weapons in a Hello Kitty bag, which he’s prone to forget. Tony Stark lives in a beautiful cliff-side contemporary home surrounded by his inventions. Wade Wilson rooms with an elderly blind woman in a cluttered apartment. He passes gas as he walks by her and says, “Hashtag drive-by.” Stark wouldn’t do that.

Tony “It’s moments like these when I realize how much of a superhero I am” Stark is a narcissist. Wade “This shit’s gonna have nuts in it” Wilson is a smart-ass. Who would you rather spend time with? – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

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