Thursday, February 18, 2016

Movie Review: "Deadpool" by David Pretty

Just as we're closing in on the saturation point for superhero movies, Deadpool arrives in the nick of time to parody the entire genre and nudge it into the realm of full-blown adult entertainment. As a kid, never in my wildest dreams would I ever think that a hard "R"-rated comic book property would be released in February of 2016 and pull in $135 million dollars during its opening weekend. In the immortal words of The Great Vizzini "Inconceivable!" 

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a motor-mouthed merc who's chosen profession gives him carte blanche to threaten would-be stalkers within an inch of their lives. One night he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a delightfully vulgar hooker who turns out to be his soul-mate. Just when the movie seems destined for a "happily ever after" ending and the shortest run time ever, Wade gets diagnosed with terminal cancer and realizes that he's going to die. Like really, really really soon

With his options quickly drying up, Wade accepts a sketchy offer from a professional pall bearer / Agent Smith impersonator known only as The Recruiter (Jed Rees). The proposal is simple: guinea pig our experimental treatment and we'll cure your cancer and give you superpowers. Win, win! Well, in a classic example of clicking "I Agree" before reading all of the "Terms and Conditions", Wade soon finds himself laboring under the questionable bedside manner of the maniacal and decidedly-British villain, Ajax (Ed Skrein) who's motivation *surprise, surprise*, turns out to be less than honorable.

Eventually Wade escapes captivity, but not before he's horribly scarred from head-to-toe. With help from his nominal partner Weasel (T.J. Miller) and odd-couple roomie Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Wade re-brands himself as Deadpool, a virtually unkillable killing machine hell-bent on tracking Ajax down and pummeling a cure out of him. In addition to this primary action item, he also does his best to protect Vanessa at arm's length while dealing with the X-Men's surprisingly-aggressive recruitment quotas.

As soon as the film's snarky title credits started to roll by, I knew that the film's producers were gonna do things right. In order for this to work we needed plenty of rapid-fire dialogue, twisted banter and a constant parade of salty irreverence and I'm pleased to report that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick hit it out of the park. On paper, the character of Deadpool is like Spider-Man crossed with Jason Lee in Chasing Amy and Mallrats. He's sarcastic, profane, acerbic, cocky and a veritable font of pop-culture knowledge. In other words: he's your average a comic book shop owner but heavily armed and dressed up in spandex.

Now you can have the most dynamic, colorful, witty dialogue imaginable, but if it's not well-delivered and well-directed the entire artifice crumbles. Gilmore Girls, I'm looking in your direction. Er, sorry (not sorry). Mercifully the cast is up to the challenge and none moreso than Ryan Reynolds. Fuck Leonardo DiCaprio and his digital teddy bear, here's a dude who really suffered for his art. Between the constant physical abuse, full-body makeup, and being sealed up in a full-length costume for most of the movie, Reynolds is clearly game to do whatever it takes to bring this character to life.

Sometimes critics have a hard time taking Ryan Reynolds seriously in dramatic roles, but even the most cynical douche-nozzle has to admit that he's absolutely perfect for this role. Even early on Reynolds shows how adept he is at delivering rapid fire dialogue that relies heavily on comedic timing. I was laughing so consistently during the pizza delivery scene that I kept missing out on jokes. Even when he's vacuum sealed in that red and black costume his body language is still incredibly expressive.

Reynolds is equally on point during those rare, relatively-quiet moments. His scenes with Morena Baccarin are completely bereft of any pretension. Indeed, they're both asked to do some pretty crazy stuff on-screen and neither of them exhibit a hint of self-consciousness. Reynolds sells Wade's love for Vanessa and his desire to spare her any pain so effectively that his insane gamble makes perfect sense. Then, during the torture scenes, our hero goes from wise-assed to apoplectic with rage in a flash. His hatred for Ed Skrein's character is downright palpable, especially when Vanessa inevitably falls under his auspices. 

Speaking of Morena, I love how Vanessa is just as bawdy, perverted and uninhibited as Wade is. Mercifully, the writers managed to make her a tad more interesting than the average female action movie love interest. If you don't believe me then compare her to Natalie Portman's milquetoast Jane in the Thor movies. Even though screenwriters are virtually obliged to write all women now as generic ass-kickers, I'd still much rather see that than the former prevailing attitude which depicted women as professional hostages. Fortunately Morena is more than believable in the whole "tough as nails" capacity.

As subversive as Deadpool can be at times, it's still bound to action movie tropes, conventions and nigh-obligatory story beats. For example, it's pretty much mandatory that the love interest will be menaced by the bad guy at some point. In the defense of Reese and Wernick, they tried to keep me guessing within the narrow confines of their limited parameters, especially where Vanessa is concerned. Just when the story started to hint at an inevitable direction, the writers subverted my expectations, which is always a pleasant change. And whenever they had to adhere to cliche, they just tapped their main character to break the fourth wall and give them shit over it.  

The balance of the cast is equally solid. Ed Skrein isn't the most developed villain in cinema history, but at least he has a motive above and beyond "I AM EVIL". In the end you'll love to hate him just because of the sheer unmitigated joy he exhibits cranking out mutants in the most agonizing way possible. T.J. Miller is refreshingly frank and knows his limitations as Wade's fair-weather friend Weasel. Also major props to the casting department for tapping 60's / 70's-era singer and actress Leslie Uggams as Wade's blind room-mate Al. I In a lesser film, Al would be treated like a porcelain doll but here she's subjected Deadpool's acid tongue just like everyone else.

X-Men fans can also rejoice knowing that our favorite Borscht-flavored mutant has finally been represented on-screen properly for the very first time. Over the years we've seen something billed as "Colossus" in Bryan Singer's X-Men movies but in-name only. Thanks to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, voice actor Stefan Kapičić and motion-capture work by Andre Tricoteux and Greg LaSalle, we finally get the Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin we all know and love. Can you imagine what other X-Men characters would benefit from a makeover if this same creative team got their talented mitts on them? 

And it's not just the character's size, ornamental haircut and striated metal skin I'm talking about; Reese and Wernick really nailed the character's boy-scout persona. In Deadpool, Colossus winces at the eponymous hero's potty mouth, turns away during an inadvertent costume malfunction, espouses the benefits of breakfast as the most important meal of the day and gets ill at the sight of graphic violence. Sure, he inexplicably fails to liberate Dopinder's (Karan Soni) trunk hostage or prevent Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) from torching a bunch of goons and, yes, upstart strong girl Angel Dust (Gina Carano) proves to be a bit too much of a challenge, but, hey, they got a helluva lot more right than wrong.

As for our favorite X-trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Brianna Hildebrand's popularity is literally blowing up on the sosh meeds! With her surly, uncommunicative attitude, unimpressed facade and pre-battle Tweets, she's a pretty broad Millennial stereotype but she's also the welcome catalyst for a series of truly memorable scenes. I love how she constantly spars with Deadpool and the two eventually grant each other some modicum of respect. I sincerely hope she finds her way into the X-Men franchise proper or, at the very least, becomes a fixture in the inevitable deluge of Deadpool sequels.   

Here's the most promising thing I can say about the movie: I keep coming back to the writing. Realizing that Deadpool constantly blathering at the audience for close to two hours straight would likely lose its luster, the screenwriters wisely decided to deliver their story in an unconventional manner. After snagging our attentions with the incredible overpass action sequence, Reese and Wernick then dollop out Deadpool's origin story in tasty little morsels. They keep jumping back and forth between present day and flashbacks until all the blanks are filled in and Deadpool proudly tells us that we're "up to speed".

As a side note, Deadpool also benefits from pretty much the same approach that Attack the Block used for its own soundtrack. Interspersed amongst Junkie XL's electronic score is a slew of ironic / not ironic selections like "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, "Careless Whisper" by Wham! and "Shoop" by Salt-N-Papa. And just like in Attack the Block, the end credits feature an original rhyme called "Deadpool Rap" by YouTube luminaries TeamHeadKick.

Now this what I'd call a CGI-soaked film but what little there is pretty impressive. Case in point: the previously-mentioned Colossus looks incredible. As for Deadpool himself, this could very well be the best-looking and most-accurate superhero costume ever committed to film. I love how the special effect team took the time to animate the eyes on the mask. It's a nice touch that not only dovetails perfectly with Ryan's performance it actually manages to enhance it.

Perhaps my only complaint with regards to Wade's appearance is how he looks unmasked. Frankly, I wanted them to go more gruesome and more gnarled, perhaps something like this. As it stands right now he just looks like your average burn victim, which isn't going to cause the sort of consternation shown in Vancouver's Chinatown as depicted in the film. This is so obvious that it's kinda hard to sympathize with Wade's desire to stay away from Vanessa. Indeed, if she reacted in horror to his face we'd be sorely tempted to write her off as a superficial bitch.

Above and beyond this minor beef and the sometimes-mechanical plotting, there's one other issue which, funny enough, hearkens back to my earlier Kevin Smith reference. Although the action sequences in Deadpool are par excellence, the dialogue scenes were clearly shot in the quickest, most perfunctory and workmanlike manner possible. If you want a stark contrast to this, just re-watch Guardians of the Galaxy and take note of how James Gunn clearly put a ton of effort into the dialogue set-ups versus the bland Lucas-esque shot / reverse shot approach used here.

This is a shame 'cuz if these scenes had been shot with the same sort of flair and imagination that matched the dialogue, it could have complimented the word-play perfectly. But being a first-time director, perhaps Tim Miller didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the dialogue and the performances. And, yeah, I understand that, but I think the film is a bit poorer for this conservative stance. What I'm saying is that the film could have been even more creative, gonzo and artistic with a more visionary eye behind the camera.

Okay, I'm done. I don't wanna talk about the movie anymore for fear of spoiling so much as a single gag or scene.

But one last thing: to the clueless parents out there who started up this moronic "Give Us A 'PG-13' Deadpool Movie So My Spoiled, Whiny, Afterthought Brat Can See It" petitions, get a fucking clue. When I was a kid there were tons of bad-ass "R" rated movies that I really wanted to see, but I either had to wait until I was old enough or find some sneaky way to see it. Either alternative will do more to build up character in your dumb wiener kid then trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. It's people like you that kept comic book movies in the ghetto of "children's entertainment" for far too long. So, fer Chrissakes, teach your kid the meaning of "No" just once in their entitled lifetimes.

"Oh won't someone think of the children!" Fuck that, I'm tired of acquiescing to your ill-conceived motivations to breed. It's about time movie makers started thinking more about discriminating adults and artistic integrity than appealing to half-developed brains and making sure that every possible demographic is covered for the sake of a few hypothetical profit points. Hopefully the unmitigated success of Deadpool will finally make Marvel Studios sit up and take notice. Can you imaging what a Guardians of the Galaxy movie would be like if the kid gloves were taken off?

Here's the best thing about Deadpool: it's so unremittingly perverted, foul-mouthed and violent that a "PG-13" cut would render it as about comprehensible as the "R"-rated cut of Peter Jackson's Dead  / Alive.

Okay, we're done here. Just go out and see the friggin' movie already.

Except you, Matthew. You just stay right there and watch another episode of Arthur.

Tilt: up.

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