By Matthew McKibben | February 12, 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Writers: Rob Liefield (character), Fabian Nicieza (character), Rhett Reese (screenplay), Paul Wernick (screenplay)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Karan Soni, Ed Skrein, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano
In almost every possible way, it’s a borderline miracle Tim Miller’s Deadpool not only exists, but that the movie works as well as it does. After years of false starts and ill conceived attempts at bringing the character to screen (I’m looking in your direction, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), it’s a minor miracle 20th Century Fox didn’t just permanently bury the character forever. Luckily, a few years back, 20th Century Fox hired Tim Miller, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, both), and Ryan Reynolds to create a test reel of sorts to show the studio what a Deadpool movie might look like. Someone (possibly Ryan Reynolds) leaked out said footage.
The footage spread like wildfire. No matter how diligently 20th Century Fox tried to remove all embeds of the footage, there was no way they could keep up with the “you have to see this” mania that surrounded the footage. Fans’ passion for the footage created a groundswell, putting dollar signs in the eyes of the powers that be at 20th Century Fox. So on a certain level, it’s a minor movie miracle the movie exists at all. But the real miracle of this whole thing is that this movie is out-freaking-standing. Somehow, someway, 20th Century Fox got the right director (who has no real previous directorial experience), the right writers (both credited with the equally amazing Zombieland), and the right star (Ryan Reynolds) to craft what is one of the funnest and funniest superhero movies of all time.
Deadpool is a hard movie to wrap one’s head around, not because the plot is overly complicated, but because the plot is overly simplified. While you can describe most plots with a few sentences, you really only need one to describe what happens in this movie: A former mercenary named Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) falls in love with a woman (Morena Baccarin), gets cancer, agrees to turn his body over to an agency that promises to cure him, gets scarred (purposely by the bad guy) in the process, and then hunts down the man who scarred him. That’s it. There are no hidden layers. There is no complexity or grey area in the villains. There is no complex monologue about the nature of right and wrong. It’s just a super human person hunting down the superhero person who, in the process of making him “super,” also ended up making him super “unfuckable.” Deadpool isn’t really out to explore the world around it, nor is it out to explore the complexities of hero life. In fact, as the hero constantly reminds us, “I’m not that kind of hero and it’s not that kind of movie.” In a world where all of our superhero movies have gone overly complex (a trend I support, by the way), I found this movie’s stripped down and bare bones approach to be refreshing.
The movie itself only really has 4 scenes in it. You get the freeway chase you’ve seen in the movie’s trailers and TV spots, you get the montage of him meeting and falling in love with his wife, you get the scene where he’s turned into the indestructible titular character, and you get the big fight scene finale. Each of those scenes has little flashback moments, but that’s really it.
And yet, despite its simplicity, the movie is continuously laugh-out-loud funny, highly imaginative in its fight and action choreography, and even manages to pump your heart a few times. A movie this simple, that seemingly lacks the complexities and emotional resonances we want from superhero movies these days, should be a mess. The fact that it’s not is a testament to the creative team behind it.
I’ve always had a kind of love/hate relationship with Deadpool, as a character. Because he’s virtually indestructible, I’ve often found the character boring, with the stories kind of predictable. He’s a guy that’s gonna kill a lot of other guys in exciting and highly brutal ways. He has no real weaknesses and is going to crack jokes and break the fourth wall over and over and over and over again. I found myself on the verge of having some of those complaints again this time, but Tim Miller and Co. had a handle on when to pull back the reins a bit, and when to let out the clutch and give the movie some gas. Two hours of unadulterated Deadpool would have been exhausting. Luckily, there’s more going on than just joke after joke after joke.
Although this is a 20th Century Fox movie and not a full-on part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Deadpool does seem to be a happy marriage between the kind of highly kinetic and fun action movies Marvel has more or less perfected at this point and the kind of work Marvel is doing with their Netflix based shows like Jessica Jones and Daredevil. There’s a grit and grime to this movie that I hope starts becoming more a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, when push comes to shove, Deadpool is going to handle his business, but this movie is also smart enough to put these characters through the wringer a bit.
Deadpool is, without a doubt, the best comic book comedy of all time… by a significant margin. It’s hard to even think of another recent comedy that succeeds at producing laughs at the rate they’re produced in this, let alone an action movie that accomplishes the same feat. Deadpool, in some ways, kind of reminds me of 30 Rock, in that it seems motivated to produce a hearty laugh every 30 seconds or so.
On top of everything else, Deadpool also has some interesting critiques to make about comic book movies. Because he’s a character that breaks the fourth wall (speaking directly to the audience) and a character that cracks a million jokes a minute, both the characters and filmmakers are able to play off classic comic book movie tropes and put their own creative spin on them. The movie has a lot of fun with explicitly playing with the notion of “if this were a typical movie, this would happen right here.” There’s a lot of this kind of thing in Deadpool:
Ryan Reynolds was absolutely born to play this character. There hasn’t been a comic book movie this perfectly cast with the titular character since, well, maybe ever. He’s as perfect for the character as Christopher Reeve was as Superman, as Patrick Stewart is as Professor Xavier, as Robert Downey Jr. is as Iron Man, and, well, that’s about it. There are others who come as close to perfect as you can get without fully achieving perfection, but for whatever reason, don’t fully get there. But Ryan Reynolds is 100% perfect for Wade Wilson/Deadpool.
Deadpool is Tim Miller’s directorial debut and based on what he’s done here, he’s going to be someone to keep an eye on going forward. I hate to keep using the word “miracle,” but that a first time director was able to turn this problematic, hard-R rated movie that’s overly sexualized and overly violent, into a movie that is highly entertaining and fun seems a bit like a minor miracle here. There are directors who have a lot more tenure than this guy who wouldn’t have been able to pull this movie off quite like this. The movie zips along and has its own visual style and flare and I can’t wait to see what else this guy can do.
The real heroes of the movie, though, are the writers, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. They were also responsible for the equally surprising and hilarious Zombieland from a few years back. Coupled with that movie, I’d venture to guess that they’re going to be writing their own checks soon and will be highly in demand as screenwriters. They seem to have perfected mixing comedy with heart and highly imaginative action set pieces. While they don’t give a ton of thought to the villains (Ed Skrein and Gina Carano), the secondary characters are fairly fleshed out, especially T.J. Miller’s Weasel, Stefan Kapicic’s Colossus, and Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
If the movie does have one glaring fault, is that although the material kind of calls for it, the lack of complexity and intellectually stimulating material makes the proceedings ultimately somewhat forgettable. I had a blast while I was there, but this isn’t one that I’m going to spend a ton of time thinking about. My friends and I won’t really jump into what it all means. Again, that’s the point. There are times when Ryan Reynolds breaks the fourth wall to let you know that that’s the point. What the movie lacks in complexity, it attempts to rectify with its heart. This is a movie that’s first and foremost going to appeal to your inner 14 year old, but it also has a love story that is unlike any seen in movies today. Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin have a natural chemistry that worked in giving the movie the heart it needed.
Leaving the theater, I laughed thinking back on all of the pre-release rumors that Deadpool was going to be PG-13. The movie is chock full of sex, violence, sex, and then violence. Will a TV edit of this movie ever be possible? I can’t wait to see this on TNT a couple years from now. How does one make a TV edit of a movie where a guy shoots 3 villains through the head with one bullet, or a movie with one of the funniest sex montages of all time? There is an element of this movie being somewhat disposable…that it was fun and funny while I was watching it, and was highly competent in the content it produced, but not one I’m going to spend a ton of time thinking about. If I were 14 years old, this might very well be my favorite movie of all time. Regardless of how well it plays five years from now, this was one of the most unhinged mainstream movies I’ve seen in some time. I hope the folks at 20th Century Fox realize what made the first movie so special and let this same exact creative team come back for the sequel. While I prefer superhero movies that speak more to the human condition, this was one of the funnest and most expertly crafted superhero movies I’ve seen.