Tuesday, February 16, 2016


 4 / 5 

What a weird, wonderful little #humblebrag of a movie Deadpool is.  It wants to pretend it isn't trying so damn hard to please us, and hopes it's coming across as anarchic and subversive -- but, in fact, once you get past the graphic sexual references and even more graphic violence, Deadpool embodies the zippy sense of fun and lighthearted silliness that is missing from the recent wave of big, bloated superhero movies.

Yes, Deadpool is sometimes big and bloated itself, particularly in a final showdown whose purpose and setting mostly mystified me, but I didn't much care by that point; Deadpool had won me over with its casual tone and its flippant attitude.

After the endless and mindless attacks on every possible sense that have come with the slew of Marvel and DC movies, Deadpool harkens back to what made the granddaddy of all modern superhero movies, Richard Donner's 1978 Superman: The Movie.  Like that film, everything rides on the buff shoulders of its star, in this case Ryan Reynolds, who has apparently learned well from his previous foray into comic-books stuff.

For a large part of the movie, Reynolds plays Deadpool behind a mask, a liability that he turns into a pliable, expressive and expressive part of his performance.  It's the sort of acting that never earns awards, but probably should, Deadpool manages to generate a wider range of honest emotions than most awards contenders.

Bear in mind, this is coming from someone who finds little to enjoy about superhero movies and has come to deplore on-screen violence; to find so much to enjoy in an ultra-violent superhero movie is a complete surprise, but Deadpool works because it follows the most basic rules of moviemaking -- it puts rich, memorable characters into a solid story. (Plus, it's not in 3-D, so extra points for that.)

Following that story is a bit tricky at first, since Deadpool begins midway through its plot.  My fear that it would assume the audience knew all there was to know about its main character -- the biggest liability of the labyrinthine, confusing Avengers movies -- proved unfounded.  Deadpool starts where it does because it's the best and most interesting place to begin, then moves back and forth through its story in ways that show off its central character best.

Deadpool is, of course, an origin story; then again, what good movie isn't?  In general (though not specifically), it begins at the beginning, starting us off in the fictional world where the X-Men are superheroes.  "Oh, no," I thought as I watched, "it's a spin-off."  No worries.  It is and it isn't.  If you don't know what X-Men are, why did you choose to see Deadpool anyway?

In dribs and drabs, Deadpool weaves back and forth through the story of Wade Wilson, a former soldier who leads a pathetic, bitter life as a sort of hitman for people who can't afford hit men -- he doesn't kill his victims, just their self-esteem.  Before he turns into Deadpool, Wade knows he's a big loser in a dead-end life and adopts a cynical, pop-culture-heavy patter that he continues when he dresses in the leotard.  His bitter humor is the guiding force of the movie, and yet it never comes cross as angry or mean, just appropriately sardonic.

Wilson falls in love with a woman who doesn't mind at all that he's sort of a loser.  Then ... well, look, the plot points are as incidental to the movie as they were to Superman.  It's a film rich with story but not heavy with it like the other super hero movies, and the most interesting thing is that the best parts of the plot are the ones where people are actually talking to each other.  How many superhero movies can you say that about?

It does, of course, all lead to a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, one that results not only in Wilson becoming tragically disfigured, donning a suit and naming himself Deadpool, but also introduces the arch-villain, a guy whose name is known to most comic-book fans, I guess, but was such a ticklish surprise to me throughout the movie that I don't want to spoil it.

But all of Deadpool was that kind of a surprise, so much so that I was willing to forgive its overstuffed climax and the murky motives of its bad guy and instead focus on its spirit.  Sure, it's needlessly violent, obsessed with sex, and so cocky that there are moments when you want to reach out and slap it -- but that's exactly what Deadpool would want you to do, so instead you just smile, shrug and go along with it.

Viewed Feb. 15, 2016 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


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