‘Deadpool’ Breaks the Fourth Wall, But Doesn’t Break New Ground

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It has been a long road to the big screen for the character of Deadpool. His first appearance in a movie came in the universally despised X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where the character lovingly dubbed the “Merc with the Mouth” had his greatest weapon, his snarky one-liners, taken away from him by having the character’s mouth sewn shut. Of course, that happened in 2009 when the superhero genre of cinema wasn’t quite in the same shape that it is currently in – Fox had wrapped up its original X-Men trilogy with The Last Stand and Marvel Studios had only released two films in what would be their ambitious cinematic universe.

As the superhero movie became a staple of the multiplex and routinely the most anticipated movies of any given year, demand for a Deadpool movie became enough to the point where Fox had no choice but to give Deadpool his own movie complete with an R-rating for its die-hard fanbase craving their favorite hero not diluted for the widest appeal possible. Deadpool is a movie that should easily please the fans of the fourth wall breaking hero, though it has a number of structural issues that will turn off others. It is simply a mixed bag of a movie, one that travels in the well-worn tropes of the origin story without breaking new ground aside from its snark and vulgarity.

From the opening frames of Deadpool the film’s juvenile sense of humor is loud and clear. Instead of standard opening credits, the screen is graced with such credits as “A Film by Some Douchebag.” The story of director’s Tim Miller’s film unfolds in a non-linear fashion, but it is still a rather rote origin story. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary that looks out for the little guy. He spends his nights drinking in a bar for other mercenaries run by Weasel (T.J. Miller), sometimes starting a ruckus so he can win the dead pool, a form of gambling on which mercenary is likely to die next. At the bar Wade meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a hooker with a heart of gold that soon steals the heart of the snarky mercenary. Wade is soon diagnosed with terminal cancer and agrees to participate in an underground study that will not only cure his cancer but give him superpowers. But there’s little truth in advertising and Wade is subjected to a torturous process of transformation from the mysterious leader of this secretive operation, Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his henchwoman Angel Dust (Gina Carano). It’s only a matter of time before Wade breaks free, slips into some red spandex, and seeks vengeance on those who wronged him as the snide superhero Deadpool.

The jokes in Deadpool come at a fast and furious pace that despite a number of gags that simply don’t work, the film still maintains a playful sensibility about itself. Undoubtedly the weakest gags in Deadpool come from an overreliance on pop culture references, like Seth MacFarlane was hired to do punch-up on the script. Already a lot of these references are painfully dated, like one about Honey Boo Boo’s mother Mama June and a particularly crude zinger about Subway’s former spokesman Jared Fogle that should’ve likely been left on the cutting room floor. The stronger gags in the film come from Reynolds mocking his own onscreen persona in character, as well as jokes about his time as Green Lantern or the failed Deadpool from X-Men Origins. There are also the few jabs at the complex continuity of Fox’s X-Men universe. In one scene, Colossus (a CGI creation voiced by Stefan Kapicic) tells Deadpool that he’s taking him to see Professor X. The wisecracking Wade Wilson replies, “Stewart or McAvoy?” Aside from Reynolds mocking himself, most of the X-Men related jokes are pointed towards Hugh Jackman and Wolverine.

Unfortunately, Deadpool is unnecessarily shoehorned into the X-Men world, with Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) just kind of showing up at the film’s beginning and end without any real narrative purpose to serve aside from a quick one-liner about the film’s budgetary limitations. The inclusion of these characters seems more like a reaction to the interconnecting superhero films that are all the rage instead of a choice stemming from what the story requires.

The ultimate tragedy of Deadpool is the fact that the film does nothing truly special with its prolific profanity. Aside from its non-linear presentation, the script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is pretty much a by-the-number superhero origin story. There’s little to differentiate the story of Deadpool from that of X-Men Origins: Wolverine aside from its presentation – both are stories of experiments under false pretenses that wind up being quests for revenge. At the very least, Deadpool is self-aware enough to be passable in its charms.

If there’s any great failing to Deapool, it’s female characters. It’d be easy to forgive Vanessa as the hooker with a heart of gold if the character wasn’t a self-confessed victim of sexual abuse, admitting she was repeatedly abused by her uncles. Later she’s transformed into a damsel in distress, captured and dangled as bait for our hero. Even the other women in the film, Carano’s Angel Dust and Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead, have anything but a couple of lines dialogue.

Deadpool is a modestly entertaining superhero film plagued by the same set of problems that affect most origin stories. It has its moments of thrilling action, though the film’s budgetary limitations are clearly visible on the screen. Aside from the vulgarity of its lead, Deadpool doesn’t do anything that you haven’t seen before, except maybe seeing a superhero screwed with a strap-on. Ryan Reynolds is obviously having a blast in the lead role, and his enthusiasm definitely comes through. But Deadpool is lacking in characters that aren’t Deadpool, emphasized by the generic villain. Tim Miller’s film will please the most emphatic fans of the “Merc with the Mouth” but those unfamiliar with Deadpool’s quirks will likely remain unmoved and unable to differentiate Deadpool from countless other superhero movies.

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