Monday, February 15, 2016

Gunplay, Cosplay, Wordplay, Foreplay: Deadpool, Reviewed

The other movie I got to take in this long weekend was the long-awaited Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds. Despite my having shown the red-band trailer to the girls, they both insisted they wanted to see it, even though Fenya confessed that seeing it with her Dad and 13 year old sister did carry an 'ick' factor for her.

My nephew texted me late Friday night saying he had seen it with some friends of his from the U of A, and had quite enjoyed it. When I asked just how bad a parent I would be for bringing along my girls, he replied,"No worse than the guy who brought his two 6-9 year olds."


So let me just get this out of the way, parentally: yes, the movie is graphically violent, but less gory than, say, Django Unchained. It is laden with profanity, but my girls go to a public school, so it has been a while since I worried too much about that. And yes, there are numerous references to and a couple of fairly frank depictions of human sexuality (and let's face it, you really don't want Morena Bacarin sitting on the bench in that sort of situation, right?) but even those are played for laughs, and were only mildly uncomfortable to witness with my daughters.

No, the only real discomfort came (empathetically, for one thing) from a role reversal in the initial montage used to establish the tone of the relationship of two characters in love with each other, and the other involved the main character and a stuffed unicorn, but I like to keep these reviews spoiler-free, so let's press on, shall we? Yes, that's a good idea...

If you hate the idea of comic book movies, especially superhero films, Deadpool may not change your mind, but it could. It comes to the party fully aware of the limitations inherent to that particular realm of storytelling, and shares a wink with the audience through so many fracturings of the fourth wall that I half expected to see cast members in the audience with us. This self awareness begins with the opening credits ("Starring God's Perfect Idiot", "Directed by An Overpaid Tool") and barrels on relentlessly to the end credits (and beyond, natch).

Strange to say, though, the story is not without heart, and establishes the romantic relationship between mercenary Wade Wilson and his hooker girlfriend Vanessa with surprising swiftness, devoid of saccharin sentiment but feeling authentic and natural nonetheless.

Budget restraints meant the filmmakers had to do more with less, so the cast of characters is fairly slim compared to what we are used to from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or even the X-Men movieverse Deadpool resides in. The running time is a manageable 1:48, which also keeps things from feeling bloated.

Now, if the movie is lean and as self-referential as I've made it out to be, there is a reasonable worry that it might come off as a spoof, or a low-budget knock off, and I am happy to report this is not the case. Even though the main character references the latter point when he visits Xavier's School and observes, "Big house, funny I only ever see the two of you; it's almost like the studio couldn't afford any more X-Men..."

Despite being a pretty-boy who has had three previous comic book roles wither and die beneath him (which had very little to do with him, frankly), Ryan Reynolds is not only a very capable actor, but possesses tremendous comic timing and a passion for the character that sees him getting a producer credit on the movie. This helps him bring the gravitas needed to ground an otherwise fantastical and somewhat derivative plot, and to make a smartass killer who can't easily be killed somewhat identifiable with the audience.

The action scenes are capably done, but really excel in their imagination, such as showing the after effects of punching a 7 foot tall Russian made of organic steel, or how a healing factor can be used to facilitate an escape. Humour leavens fights that would be grotesquely bloody without them, but the added mirth ended up putting me in this weird sweet spot between watching Marvin getting shot in the face in Pulp Fiction and seeing Bugs Bunny fight that bull.

Even the cursing is intensely creative, with epithets and swears combinating in heretofore unimagined permutations. The result is a masters level discourse on profanity, delivered at a lightning clip by both Reynolds and comedian T.J. Miller in his role as Deadpool's friend and barkeep confidante Weasel. This will, unfortunately, make it very difficult for the girls to quote many of the funniest lines in my presence, and vice versa.

Most moviegoers will find their entertainment needs and urges satiated by this effective trifecta of action, comedy and romance, and pretty much in that order, too. Even those who feel they are perhaps getting tired of tights and fights at the movie house should give this one a chance, and I hope Kevin Feige and Zack Snyder and everyone else with an oar in the waters of comic book adaptation is paying attention to Deadpool, as it really is a breath of fresh air that could potentially reinvigorate the genre.

On the other hand though, nerds like me are going to keep coming regardless, so let's talk about Deadpool from that perspective, shall we? Now, full disclosure: I have read very little of Deadpool in the comics, so I can't really address precisely how faithful a rendition we got here (or didn't), but here's where I can weigh in:

The costume - spot on, right down to the white eyes they didn't do for Bale's Batman.

The powers - Deadpool has a regeneration gimmick easily the equal of Wolverine's, and sure, everything heals, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. Plus, it can be awkward when stuff hasn't fully grown back.

Colossus - played up as a bit of a self-righteous dork, but still a very committed and capable opponent (and, spoiler alert, comrade as well). "Did you eat breakfast? Here, take protein bar. Good for bones."

Negasonic Teenage Warhead - power set completely different from the comics (far more akin to Sam Guthrie/Cannonball of the New Mutants), but gets the idea of trainee X-Men into play, and is played with fantastic aloofness by newcomer Brianna Hildebrand.

Vintage X-Men 'Blackbird' jet - hell, yes.

Villains - Ajax (Ed Skrein) is the mad scientist peddling mutant soldiers, but is super powered himself. He is cruel, ruthless, and an accomplished and dangerous physical combatant, but worst of all, he isn't stupid. Gina Carano plays Angel Dust, his muscle, so she is even tougher than he is, and can go toe to toe with Colossus, Which reminds me...

Missed opportunity - I keep waiting for this to show up in a movie, but in the meantime, if you should develop super strength and find yourself fighting someone extremely dangerous and damage resistant, please consider throwing them 2-3 miles away, preferably into a large body of water. Let them lose time and energy running or swimming back to the fight while you mop up the small fry or take a breather.

Settings - the final showdown appears to take place amidst the wreckage of a beached helicarrier. I mean, it could be a regular flattop with some aftermarket HVAC, but I kinda don't think so. Now, this is surprising because even though Deadpool and the X-Men are Marvel characters (which means you get the Marvel logo before the credits and a Stan Lee cameo), they live in a completely separate and legally distinct universe than the MCU. The X-Men movies have no Avengers and no SHIELD, so where the heck did they get a helicarrier? Is this the beginning of normalized relations between Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox! Are these the first overtures of cooperation that could potentially end up Avengers/X-Men team up?!?

My head hurts and there is a bit of drool next to my iPad so I think I might have swooned or something there; let me wrap this up: Deadpool has both nerd cred and filmmaking chops. It is a raunchy, violent, bloodletting, cursing and fornicating excuse of a superhero movie that revels in doing everything that you shouldn't do in a comic book franchise, and it is succeeding because of that audacity, not in spite of it. Despite its crudeness, it treats both its audience and its source material with respect, and doesn't stumble when it needs to get serious to advance the story.

Kudos to the behind the scenes heroes who leaked the test footage they shot with (likely leak source) Reynolds and generated the interest that finally convinced Fox to greenlight this movie. I had a great time, and am eagerly awaiting the sequel (it's still a secret, but they allude to it after the credits; you'll see).

Ah, I see that the gentlemen from the government are here to take away my 'World's Best Dad' mug for exposing my daughters to this film; well, that was probably overdue, and I regret nothing.

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