Ah, the 90s.
Double denim, fades, hi-tops and skinny jeans. I can’t help but ponder the nature of cyclicality as I stand amidst the uber hip, be-faded teenagers in the queue to watch Deadpool.
The 90s were an odd time for comics. After the ‘dark age’ well and truly came into its own in the mid-to-late 80s the last decade of the 20th century marked a surge in demand for more mature content in the medium. The era of- These fucking kids, wearing their Ramones and Nirvana t-shirts without a hint of irony – “Maus”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” eventually gave way to an era that- Bet these little fucks couldn’t name a Ramones album if their lives depended on it– my friend, contributor and fellow podcaster Danny B eloquently describes as the “guns ‘n’ muscles” years.
The character of Deadpool neatly encapsulates, for me, the sense of excess intrinsic in 90’s comics. Created by Rob Liefeld (a man whose proportion defying line-work is the dictionary definition of excess) and Fabian Nicieza (in a ‘knowingly’ shameless rip-off of DC’s Deathstroke) the puerile, fourth wall breaking Merc With a Mouth represents a movement in comics that never really did it for me. A lot of the supposedly ‘mature’ comics of the 90s completely missed the point of what made their forebears so epochal. “Watchmen” was a great book because it dared to use the comic book medium to address the important social, moral, philosophical and political issues of its age, not because it had tits and violence in it. It’s as if the comics creators of that era used the term “mature” interchangeably with “a 13 year old boy’s idea of mature”.
Despite the character’s ubiquitous cosplay convention presence, legions of adoring fans and fairly decent videogame appearance I’ll admit to always nurturing a little bit of snobbish disdain for the character.
Deadpool was something that stopped being cool after you got past the age of about 15.
Such was my indifference to the Merc with a Mouth that I didn’t even bemoan Ryan Reynold’s original turn as a barely recognisable version of the character in the 85% terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine. When rumours first began to circulate about the possibility of a solo Deadpool film my first and only thought was “why?”.
But that was before that test footage leaked and the combined force of sheer willpower from the aforementioned legion of fans, director Tim Miller and the infinitely charming Mr Reynolds forced the project into being like a (dare I say it) Green Lantern construct.
Even I had to respect that.
Flash forward 12 months (which, ironically, is exactly what this film does) and that final red-band trailer actually had me excited, despite my original shrugging ambivalence to the character.
Sitting in the cinema, cappuccino in hand- Look at these little turds, how is it possible to take 8 selfies in 5 minutes?!?– from the cheekily irreverent credits sequence to the cheekily irreverent post-credits sequence the film knows exactly what it is and exactly what it isn’t and audiences will either love it or sneer at it accordingly.
While I’m sure the end result will be far more satisfying to the seasoned Deadpool devotee (or 13 year-old boys), I found the film to be a very enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud funny romp. Sure, I felt a palpable lack of any real substance which I think might lead to diminished enjoyment with subsequent viewings but to accuse Deadpool of failing to be anything other than fun is like accusing Citizen Kane for failing to be in colour. More than possibly any other comic book property, Deadpool has the right to eschew the pathos, nuance and complexity that we tend to demand from our superhero media in this day and age. It’s simply the nature of the character.
That said, the film does a much better job with its central romance than a great deal of superhero fare. A lot of this is due to the talent and charms of genre mainstay Morena Baccarin as Wade Wilson / Deadpool’s love interest Vanessa and her easy chemistry with Reynolds. Indeed, that their year long courtship is depicted in a five minute kinky sex montage yet their eventual separation and reunion still manages some sort of emotional pull is no mean feat. If Sean of the Dead was a romantic comedy with zombies Deadpool is a romantic comedy with, well… Deadpool, with all the cartoonishly over-the-top violence and dick jokes that that implies.
Narratively there’s very little going on here. It’s a pretty paint-by-numbers origin story with enough non-linear slight of hand and knowing winks to the camera to stop procedures from becoming too formulaic. Ex Special Forces mercenary Wade Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, signs a Faustian pact with a shady organisation who promise to cure his cancer and grant him superhuman powers. Predictably things go awry when Wilson learns that the plan actually involves subjecting him to prolonged bouts of extreme stress and / or torture in order to unlock any latent mutation in his DNA , before auctioning him off to the highest bidder as a super powered slave. Wilson escapes captivity but not before being hideously disfigured by his ordeal. Upon escaping Wilson, reborn as the heavily tooled up Deadpool, vows revenge on his captor Ajax (real name Francis Freeman) and intends to force him to his former rogueish good looks in order for him to become reunited with the lovely Vanessa.
The plot chugs along nicely and tab A is inserted into slot B with very little fuss, with knowing self-references dropped here and there (including a pretty chortlesome joke about how the budget wouldn’t allow for more than 2 X-Men to be at home when Deadpool visits the Xavier institute). Despite a generally flabby second act the feeling of general rompishness never subsides, with in-jokes, sight gags and lewd quips flying from the screen like the spent shell casings of DP’s numerous weapons.
Setting Deadpool within addled the X-Men film continuity is a nice touch allowing for some wry commentary on the franchise (and yes, there are some jokes at the expense of Wilson’s previous treatment at the hands of the X-Men series 10 years ago). Representing the Xavier Institute are a comic book accurate but glaringly digital-looking Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) with Brianna Hildebrand serving in a particularly compelling turn as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, embodying all the smirking disdain of Generation Selfie – At least one of those fucking kids is live-tweeting-. Having spent so long in the company of Marvel Studios for whom the word ‘mutant’ must be avoided at all costs, it’s nice to be alongside muties again outside of the ever-so-earnest entries into the canon by Bryan Singer.
All told Deadpool is just like the popcorn that those little bastards on the back row have started throwing; initially satisfying but lacking in overall sustenance. Film critic and national treasure Mark Kermode has compared the film unfavourably to the original Kick Ass and I kind of get that criticism. Whereas Matthew Vaughn’s entirely self-financed Kick Ass had a spirit of scrappy indie anarchism to it, Fox’s Deadpool offers more of a corporate approved non-conformity. It’s like that teacher who didn’t mind if you say “fuck” in class. After the novelty’s worn off you feel a little bit empty and deflated.
The film may not be the best film of the year, but it’s certainly amongst the best marketed. Opening weekend grosses have surpassed the studio’s wildest expectation given the film’s prohibitive R-Rating across the pond. A sequel (presumably with a much higher budget) is inevitable and while I’m not expecting it to be the Dark Knight of Fox’s Marvel world I have no doubt it will be every bit as fun (if utterly disposable).
Now, time to go make some chimi-fucking-changas!