To say the movie market is over saturated with superhero films is an understatement. When they attempt to add depth, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, they face a backlash from critics and fans for not following the simple Marvel formula. If too many stick to the tried and tested, people become bored. Deadpool can’t be placed into either pigeon hole. So what is it?
The common line is it’s the R rated violent superhero comedy, that isn’t really a superhero film. All that is true. From the opening credits it’s clear the movie is very self-aware and the jokes are going to be aimed at everyone, including themselves. Having no fears about where the gags fly proves to be very liberating for the makers.
As in the comics, Deadpool breaks the fourth wall. The level as to which he does it here is surprising. When being dragged to the X-Men mansion he asks: “Stewart or McAvoy? I can never keep track of these alternate timelines.” Gags and nods come thick and fast, many leaving Easter eggs for those with knowledge of the character’s history. Others are just for pure laughs, like poking fun at Ryan Reynold’s turn as Green Lantern.
If that was his failed attempt at a superhero franchise, playing Deadpool has been his redemption. Admittedly, he’s had to take it to an adult level. This tone is set very early on. The plot moves along with the present day Deadpool flipping back to his past. There, he was in love with Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa, a prostitute he meets in his local bar.
These early exchanges between Reynold’s as Wade Wilson and Baccarin teeter on a level of cringe that would lead most movies to fail. Thankfully it lasts for ten minutes before their relationship is advanced and the more natural humour once again litters the scenes.
Having the origin story as a series of flashbacks prevents the script from stalling. It allows the laughs to flow while the heart of the characters slowly takes shape. Wade is diagnosed with cancer and then offered a cure from a man dressed as Agent Smith from The Matrix. What appears like a legitimate superhero programme turns out to be the world’s number one torture destination.
Their method is to inject a serum that stimulates latent mutant genes while exposing the subjects to high degrees of pain. The theory being stress will make the mutant strands activate to protect the host. It’s a case of death or super-powers, whichever comes first.
It’s no spoiler to say Wade Wilson survives, otherwise we’d have no film. He’s left with regeneration powers similar to Wolverine, with the ability to regrow body parts. The bad news is he is scarred to the point he doesn’t think Vanessa would take him back.
What follows is a revenge plot. He wants to find the man that caused the pain and visual damage. What stands in his way is the X-Men. Well, actually just two. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Their interference allows the British bad guy, named Ajax, a chance to realise who is after him and then capture Deadpool’s woman.
It’s all pretty simple but that plays to the film’s strengths. It’s not trying to be a philosophical superhero film and its adult themes means it doesn’t have to pander to the younger Marvel audience. The action sequences benefit from the removal of violent restrictions. And it becomes clear what type of film it really is.
It’s not a grown-up superhero flick. It’s a modern action film.
In the eighties, before the modern craze of super-powers and capes cluttered the box office, action men were kings. Like the westerns before, the niche market found a way to rule. Like the current superhero phase, over saturation became the norm.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis are just some of the big names from an era that stretched into the next decade of film making. After that, more actors took on roles in simple action movies, with varying degrees of success.
Once you realise that Deadpool isn’t a true superhero flick, the category it best falls into is action. The jokes are reminiscent of the cheesy humour people like Schwarzenegger would use. Except the humour here is noteworthy and the action sequences have caught up with the times. Long after superhero films have been shelved again, it’s easy to imagine Deadpool still fighting his way through enemies and cracking off edgy jokes.
The weakest part of the movie is how the X-Men have been shoehorned in. Obviously Wade Wilson is part of that universe, a failure to mention this would have been unthinkable. But Fox, the rights holder to these particular Marvel characters, would have been better advised to make this a standalone affair.
Their desperation to have something akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a painful imitation. Deadpool should be allowed to find his place in the movie landscape, freed from the shackles he spends nearly two hours making jokes about.
Yes, he has mutant powers, but we can accept that and move on. Allow him to face foes in standardised action flicks. Leave superheroes, like the X-Men, to deal with their own impending apocalypse.