Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: "Deadpool" (2016) Review

Does the smash hit superhero satire hit the mark, or miss it by miles? 


Marvel can do no wrong. Every time I think they’ve thrown out an idea for a movie that’s too out there – a high-concept adaptation that I assume is just too kooky for mainstream tastes – the exact opposite is proven to be the case. I was convinced, convinced I say, that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be that breaking point. A movie about a retarded tree voiced by Vin Diesel and a damn raccoon with a laser gun, featuring Dave Bautista in a major speaking role as an autistic Kratos? Not only was something so bizarre destined to derail the Marvel money-making movie machine, it had to be a Heaven’s Gate-type genre killer.  

Instead, it grossed almost $800 million at the box office and created an entirely new, ensemble-driven merchandising cash cow for Disney.

But surely, Ant-Man has to be a colossal flop, right? A C-level (at best) character, the original director walked off the movie, and T.I. was probably the biggest name involved in the entire production – it just had to flop hard, right? Well, it wound up being one of the most critically acclaimed movies of summer 2015 and only made Marvel a cool half-billion dollars in ticket sales.

Even when it comes to small screen sojourns, Marvel manages to knock it out of the park. There was at least a 99.8 percent probability that Jessica Jones was going to be an absolute train wreck, but surprise-surprise, the Netflix original was a huge hit and feminists praised it as some sort of profound reactionary rape culture commentary.

But Deadpool – a hyper-violent, bawdy R-rated superhero spoof directed by a guy who used to direct video game cutscenes, that couldn’t be propped up by the Disney-Marvel-Star Wars Industrial Complex’s mass merchandising Wehrmacht, released in the middle of winter? Oh yeah, this one HAS to be a dud. We’re talking Titan A.E, The Adventures of Pluto Nash level-disasters here.

Fast forward three months later, though, and The Merc with the Mouth’s second big studio movie has grossed in excess of $750 million and become the highest gross R-rated movie ever. At this point, I am now wholeheartedly convinced that Stan Lee could take a shit in a can, focus a camera on it and release it on IMAX and it would still make $100 million on opening weekend guaranteed.

I know this is a late review. Here we are, on the verge of Cinco de Mayo and I’m just now getting around to watching a movie released on Valentine’s Day. Don’t blame me though – it too me a while to find a full version of the movie online on Youtube … I mean, for the film to make its way to the local dollar theater, of course.

Before we get into a critical analysis of the flick, I’d like to state the while I am familiar with the character, I haven’t actually read any Deadpool comics since the late 1990s. Maybe they’ve retooled and retconned and rewritten the character extensively since then, but from what I recollect, he was a guy with a really messed up face who made lots of stupid puns and excessively broke the fourth wall. On that level, at least, this cinematic interpretation of Deadpool feels pretty authentic. With his nasally, Chael Sonnen-like inflection, Ryan Reynolds is actually pretty freakin' fantastic as the titular character, who totally comes off as that smug, perpetual frat-boy you envy for all the poon he gets even though he lives in squalor and can’t hold down a steady job to save his life.

For the most part, Deadpool is pretty good. Not great, mind you, but certainly more entertaining than something like, say, Days of Future Past or Age of Ultron. While it’s not riotously funny, it never really loses its momentum, either, and Reynolds' rapid fire smart-assery goes a long way in preventing th film from falling into the typical superhero movie doldrums.

As far as the plot for Deadpool is concerned, it’s fundamentally your straight-forward “vengeance is mine” chestnut. Stricken with terminal cancer out of the blue one day (just a few weeks after he tried to commemorate Halloween by eating out his significant other while wearing Dracula teeth, in case you needed the specifics), wise-cracking hired goon Wade Wilson decides to volunteer for some sort of mysterious mutant gene harvesting experimenting (in case you weren’t in the know, the film takes place in the same cinematic universe as the X-flicks, even though just two X-people ever show up in the picture – a peculiarity the main character hangs a lampshade on in what is probably the funniest moment in the entire movie.) So, yeah, he winds up getting regenerative healing powers a’la a certain franchise cash cow (let’s just say his name rhymes with “Polverine”) and is essentially cured of cancer, but at the sake of having his face melted into a craggy, Freddy Krueger-like visage. This forces him to leave his longtime girlfriend behind (cue the “how could she ever love a monster like me?" trope) and undertake a series of odd (hit) jobs en route to a fatal showdown with the man responsible for turning his mug into something resembling a sunburned frankfurter. 

There are some great gags throughout the movie. The opening credits sequence – a pastiche of the done-to-death bullet-time intros set to the tune of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” and featuring a plethora of in-jokes (such as a Starbucks cup with Rob Liefield’s name on it and a photo from 2011’s ill-fated Green Lantern movie) while the actors and producers are introduced as “douche bags” and “moody teenagers” -  gets the self-reflexive LOLs rolling early. The fourth-wall shattering humor is constant, culminating with one of the better post-end-credits stingers in recent memory (which serves as both a fond homage to Ferris Bueller and a sly jab at another Rob Liefeld co-creation - by the way, does anyone know if Dolph Lundgren's phone is still connected?)

From there, there are plenty of potshots at Fox’s X-Men movie megalith – at one point, the film’s anti-hero protagonist refers to The Xavier School for Gifted Children as “The Neverland Ranch” – and there are several fairly funny sight gags that also double as kinda-sorta exposition on the character’s background (be forewarned, however, this does include pegging as a pivotal plot point.) I really love how Deadpool was paired with two of the most random mutants in the Marvel-verse – a cereal-munching, C.G.I. Colossus who sounds like he is voiced by Yakov Smirnoff and, of all characters, the brooding, embossed-cover-era creation Negasonic Teenage Warhead – and the interaction between the three is definitely a hoot. How rare it is to find a comic-book-derived film where the dialogue exchanges, and not the cataclysmic multi-million dollar special effect laden "Apocalypse Porn" finale, is the true highlight.

While Reynolds' nonstop quips and obscure references certainly keep the film engrossing (for god's sake, a fuckin' WHAM album serves as something of a Chekov's gun), Deadpool ironically hits its biggest snags when it tries to snake its away around the typical superhero movie tropes. The flashbacks to Wade Wilson’s pre-super powers days are pretty mundane, and the whole Weapon X recruitment stuff drags on for far too long. The film’s central villain – a generic British guy whose superpower is that he can’t feel pain – is really bland and the rest of the antagonists, save Gina Carano’s super-strong super-villainess, are hardly anything more than cannon fodder. The rest of the supporting cast – most notably Deadpool's bartending best pal and his blind, elderly roomie – are totally unremarkable. 

Furthermore, the love story dynamic (yes, there actually is a “romantic” subplot running throughout the film) just feels artificial and forced, and the big junkyard donnybrook climax leaves much to be desired. Alas, although the film stumbles here and there, it’s definitely a more enjoyable film than the all-too-predictable, by-the-numbers MCU or DCU outings that have been shat out as of late, and it’s a refreshing (or, as some may see it, revolting) change of pace to see such wanton carnage, nonstop profanity and coarse double-entendres in a genre that, with the exception of The Watchmen and a whole bunch of indie adaptations, has remained in a state of arrested development since the first Christopher Reeves Super-flick came out. That, and it is a hoot to see Stan Lee making a cameo as a strip club DJ, in a scene that I am pretty sure features more bare breasts than just about any comic-based film since Heavy Metal.

Not everything Deadpool attempts works, but it’s just different enough to keep you tuned in regardless. While it’s far from being a stellar, adult-oriented genre-satire a’la 2015’s outstanding Kingsman, it’s nonetheless a better than average offering compared to your regular House of Mouse or Time Warner funny book adaptation, and hopefully, its surprising box office success opens the floodgates for more considerably less juvenile comic book movies to come down the pipes in the upcoming years (oh, you know you want you some hard-R Lobo in your future. You know you do.) 

So yes, Deadpool is pretty much everything you expect it to be and absolutely nothing you wouldn’t  and at the end of the day, that really can't be considered a bad thing whatsoever.


Two and Half Tofu Dogs out of Four


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