I’m not quite sure who Deadpool is for. I've narrowed it down to two demographics: is it for teens and 20somethings who hang out on Reddit all day, who endlessly riff on each other’s posts like the Judd Apatow ensemble with brain damage, or is it for 30something guys in cargo shorts who post about bacon on Fark? I think it could be for both, and for any white male who spends a lot of time online and believes cheap dick jokes are the edgiest form of comedy.
Which is fine (like the movie itself, which is fine). Every demo deserves a film for it, and out of all the critiques you can throw at Deadpool (it’s cheap, it’s badly structured, Colossus is blown AGAIN), you can’t say it’s lazy. Deadpool has its eye on this demo and it is in a tizzy trying to please them. The jokes come at such a pace that rapid fire doesn’t even begin to describe it; there is such a totality of endless riffing that when the movie stops to be serious - to become a grim revenge tale or to become a sweet (?) love story - you feel like someone has slammed on the brakes at 100mph. Thankfully these scenes (all terrible) are short-lived; you sit through a couple of minutes of Deadpool being kinda serious and then it’s back to another joke about modestly outdated pop culture stuff (these are the jokes that make me think the movie is ultimately aimed at the baconistas at Fark - what Reddit user is laughing at a joke about the Spin Doctors? I think maybe the writers, Zombieland’s Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, as well as surely-he’s-improvising-a-lot star Ryan Reynolds are trying to tailor their 30something references for 15 year olds).
When you’re throwing that many jokes out there, some are bound to land - it’s just the law of averages. Ryan Reynold’s snarky/smarmy delivery undercuts a couple of his best lines, but co-star TJ Miller is pretty much batting a thousand. Between the two of them there are enough laughs to make the comedic aspect of this movie successful, and I suspect that the stuff I found funny will be very different from what other people found funny. It’s scattershot, so there’s always someone in the theater laughing at something. I admire that, even if it took me a few minutes to adjust to the pace of attempted witticisms.
It’s everything else in Deadpool that’s kind of a problem. The best action scene in the movie is the opening sequence, and it’s the same action scene that already ‘leaked’ on the internet a couple of years ago. There’s a bravado - in terms of violence, silliness and filmmaking - that is lacking from the rest of the film. The sequence is stylish, if in that eye-rolling ‘kewl’ way (lots of slow-mo flipping and CGI bullet cases flying and shit like that), but at least there’s style (director Tim Miller got his start in video games and special effects, and you can see the influence on the opening action scene). As the film wears on Deadpool swirls down the drain of the generic, fighting feebly against the current with jokes. Even the violence kind of tapers off, morphing from ultra-violence (a motorcyclist gets his head sliced off and then the severed head is kicked into someone else like a soccer ball) to standard action movie violence (shooting and hitting guys in hallways and warehouses).
The movie is endlessly meta and keeps breaking the fourth wall, so why doesn’t Deadpool himself ever acknowledge the absolutely trite, uninteresting revenge plot at the center of the film? Told during overlong flashbacks, we meet Wade Wilson - a mercenary with a heart of gold - when he falls in love with a hooker who services the burly dudes at his favorite merc bar. Their happiness is punctured by Wade’s cancer diagnosis, and in an attempt to cure himself (for her. It’s romantic, don’t you know), Wade subjects himself to a crazy experiment that will kickstart his latent mutant genes and cure his cancer. It turns out the whole operation is a torture chamber, and when his mutant genes do kick in, Wade is terribly disfigured. Unwilling to let his love see him like this, he vows to hunt down the guy who ruined his face and force him to fix the damage.
The flashback structure doesn’t work because the flashbacks don’t interact with the present tense stuff. It’s just Deadpool chronologically remembering how he got to the beginning of the movie, with the flashbacks interspersed at regular intervals. This gives the effect of following two different stories that both feel like they have foregone conclusions - there’s no hope of a surprise at any turn. I appreciate the flashbacks because they allow us to get right to Deadpool in full costume kicking ass - the worst part of any superhero origin is waiting and waiting for the character as we know him to show up - but they’re done artlessly.
What’s more, there’s no difference between Wade pre and post experiments (he's even being meta before he becomes Deadpool), rendering the flashbacks even more redundant. The guy is, frankly, a total asshole the whole time, and I was not in any way, shape or form invested in him or his journey. I enjoyed watching him kill people and listening to about 40-60% of his quips, but I just didn’t give a shit about Wade Wilson as a person. I think the studio sensed this - for some reason he’s a merc who only helps out decent people, which feels like a studio note to make him slightly more likable. It doesn’t work. Of course Bugs Bunny is an asshole too, but I’m experiencing his shenanigans in four minute bursts. And no Looney Tune ever asked me to care about his inner struggle.
The main revenge plot is a total nothing, and Deadpool just goes through the motions and standard montage (with a humorous twist, of course, although weirdly not a self-aware one) until it comes to a largely generic conclusion. There are some wonderful moments in the final battle, but in general this scene feels like somebody ADRed filth over a bog standard mid-budget superhero finale in a dock/scrapyard/place with debris that can be rearranged to give a sense of a larger space. Joining Deadpool at the finale are two X-Men (I appreciate that he jokes Fox couldn’t afford any other ones), Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Little Warhead is a total bust as a character - sullen teen reads as ‘catatonic’ when placed against a motormouth like Deadpool - and Colossus gets shoehorned into a boring square role, like Garth Ennis writing Superman. What’s worse is that Colossus is a CGI character the whole time and he looks mostly like a cartoon. I’m glad that Fox doesn’t give a shit about continuity, because I would hate for this to be the version of Colossus we’re stuck with in future X-Men movies.
This movie lives and dies on Ryan Reynolds, and he is giving it his all. As I said above, nobody will accuse Deadpool of being lazy when it comes to the effort they put into the comedy, and nobody will accuse Reynolds of being lazy when it comes to playing the role. The fact that this movie exists, seven years after Reynolds first played the character in the offal that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a version of Deadpool that gets roasted here), is a testament to the sheer willpower of Reynolds. This guy has spent the better part of a decade trying to get this movie off the ground, and he looks to have given every single take his all. He can be a bit smarmy for my tastes, but there’s a Canadian geniality to him that undercuts a lot of that.
His love interest in Morena Baccarin, who seems to be right on the edge of doing something special… if only the script would allow her. Her Vanessa is just a generic (there’s that word again) girlfriend in peril who has a slight twist overlaid on her - she’s a hooker with a heart of gold and a dark sense of humor. Baccarin mostly holds her own with Reynolds, although no one except TJ Miller is allowed that many zingers in this film. But there’s a smolder to Baccarin (familiar to her fans from TV) that the movie never allows her to truly explode into a fire.
Besides Miller the rest of the cast is passable. Ed Skrein is the TV level villain, and Gina Carano is wisely kept quiet most of the film. Karan Soni is funny as an Indian cabdriver (did I use the word generic yet?), but otherwise the film is largely devoid of memorable characters. There’s a lot of time spent on Deadpool’s roommate, an old blind black lady named Al, but not much comes of that. Which is a legitimate tragedy, as Al is played by Leslie Uggams, a Tony-winning actress (and the star of a truly fucked up piece of hicksploitation cinema called Poor Pretty Eddie, which I cannot recommend enough) who is obviously game to have fun.
Deadpool’s biggest sin is that it, to use a term that Deadpool would probably use, blows its load in the first 20 minutes, leaving the rest of the movie to be sticky and slowly grow cold. It’s not uncommon for films to be unable to maintain manic first act energy, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film run so completely out of cinematic steam as this one, and I definitely have never seen an exhausted film be carried so heroically on the back of one performer like this one is. Calling Deadpool a Ryan Reynolds vehicle is underselling how absolutely, completely vital Reynolds is to every frame of this film. Without Reynolds Deadpool simply doesn’t work.
Whether you think it works in the end will depend on how much of the humor you like and how forgiving you are of the film’s slow deflation of style. This is one of those movies I dread putting on Rotten Tomatoes, which doesn’t allow a nuanced opinion - you loved it or you hated it! I liked Deadpool better than I thought I would, but that was a pretty low bar. In the end I respect Deadpool more than I like it - it sticks to its guns, it creates a kind of obnoxious superhero movie we have never seen before, and even though it can’t sustain its tone it can sustain its attitude. I like the ways the movie breaks the fourth wall, moments that remain unusual in multiplex movie-making. It’s completely juvenile, but how can you hold that against the film when that’s the whole point?
So I’ll give the movie a fresh (now this review is getting as meta as the movie) because it’s being so true to itself. Sure, it’s about as shocking as a middle schooler giving his teacher the finger, but there’s something adorable about that kind of juvenile nonsense. And while Deadpool’s flood of bad language and violence makes it too ‘adult’ for kids, it’s nice to see a comic book movie that embraces SOMETHING juvenile.