I don’t know if you remember Moonlighting, the show that ran in the late eighties with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. It was completely self referential with the characters regularly breaking the fourth wall; talking about the script, the producers or the audience. If you can recall it then that’s the kind of tone they’re going for with Deadpool too. It’s fun.
To some this will come as no surprise; it is the whole set up of the comic book the film is based on. It is violent, sexy and knowing and the main character regularly addresses the reader or says things that show he knows he is in a comic.
All of this is up on the screen as well and to the uninitiated it makes a refreshing change from all those other superhero films. The comic also has the lead interacting with and teasing other heroes in the Marvel universe and to some extent the film also does this. It is the X-Men he is mixing with though, rather than The Avengers, as this is a 20th Century Fox film and not part of the ever growing MCU. (It’s all about the rights) He only really hangs out with two of that famous gang as it is although others are referenced, with filmic awareness of course.
When writing about Deadpool in a piece on movies coming out at the start of 2016, I suggested it would be like Ferris Bueller meets Kick-Ass. It turns out I got that one right on the nose (stay to the end of the credits) but the fact is that it is not as good as Kick-Ass. That film poked fun at the genre in a less laboured way and had the distinct advantage of getting there first, on screen at least. There are still laughs to be had here but you don’t invest in the characters in the same way and it isn’t as surprising, as clever or as brutal. Also, the gags are hung around a pretty thin plot but that was never a problem for Leslie Nielson so I won’t criticise it for that.
Deadpool himself is a likeable lead. Ryan Reynolds has played a much straighter version of the character before, in the first Wolverine movie, which is alluded to in a more subtle way than you might imagine. He is undoubtedly totally amoral but they get the balance right and it is definitely part of his appeal. In the end though it is like all those rom coms that have tried to do something different; no matter how genre savvy it tries to be it can’t quite break away from convention. Deadpool still has the same plot beats we’ve seen a dozen times before. I’m not sure to what extent the movie aimed to burst the superhero bubble but as it is it briefly distracts before we return to business as usual. Roll on Captain America: Civil War.
If you like irreverent sex jokes there is stuff here for you (that’s not me), if you like cinematic intertextuality then you’ll be well served too (that is me) and if you hate comic book films (that’s definitely not me) you’ll go with it to a certain degree. Either way it a good night out.
The Ripley Factor:
Before I discuss the representations of women there are some other gender and sexuality issues I want to get into. In the comics Deadpool is openly omnisexual showing interest in men and women as the mood takes him. Carrying this over into the film would have been a significant step forward for depictions of homosexuality in the genre but they’ve not really gone there. There is the slightest hint that the guy might sometimes be attracted to men but it’s only there if you are looking for it. It’s an opportunity missed.
As there is precedent in the source material it is hard not to think that they steered away from this on purpose. They have made Deadpool’s love for his girlfriend his main motivating force so it is possible they didn’t want to distract from that by letting him have eyes for anyone else but if that is the reason it is thin. Given Reynolds public commitment to doing the character justice this time I would imagine he might have pushed for it and I fear the producers and execs may have quashed it. They clearly wanted to do something different but eviscerations and creative swearing don’t push boundaries anymore. Having a pansexual crime fighter would have done, in the best possible way.
As far as the equal treatment of women goes they could have been a little bolder too. There is nudity in the film and it isn’t really balanced. To be sure there is a lot of naked man on show but some of the women show everything. Looking back on it now I can see it might have been odd that all of those strip club scenes from other movies had their erotic dancers in tidy thongs but, authentic as this movie may be, it feels a little exploitative.
There are three main females in the film and they are all strong characters but conventionally so. First off we have Morena Baccarin as Deadpool’s girl Vanessa. She is brave but she does need rescuing and her profession is arguably not the most empowered. Then there is Gina Carano’s Angel Dust who is another super strong kick ass chick the like of which don’t really celebrate feminine qualities. Best of the bunch is Brianna Hildebrand as the brilliantly monikered Negasonic Teenage Warhead because she’s sullen and she’s cool but she’s still a bit of a trope.
Is this one for the kids?
Let me just go back and draw out some of the words from my review:
Hating comic book films
It’s not one for the kids.