Box Office Democracy: Deadpool
Deadpool is a good superhero movie that people are going to convince themselves was an excellent superhero movie. It’s got a couple good action beats, it feels like a cohesive part of a larger universe without being overly constrained, it has a serviceable (and age appropriate) love story, and it’s clever… but not quite as clever as it thinks it is. You can wink at the camera and tell me that you know that you’re doing all of the usual genre clichés, but that doesn’t make the clichés any less boring. I wanted Deadpool to be a movie that broke the mold, but instead it just spends a lot of time telling you it’s better than the mold and not showing you.
Ryan Reynolds is kind of a fiat movie star; he’s handsome and famous but if you look at his credits it doesn’t seem like an impressive career. I have very few distinct memories of Ryan Reynolds performances but I do remember leaving Green Lantern and thinking, “This movie was kinda bad but it wasn’t Ryan Reynolds’s fault.” These are not the kind of ringing endorsements that careers are built on, but Reynolds feels like the perfect choice to play Wade Wilson. He’s funny and charming and the self-deprecation feels a little more real because he isn’t an A-list actor in his own right. The only other actor I could even imagine playing this part with the same zeal is James Franco, and that’s an objectively worse choice (although think of all the Spider-Man 3 jokes we could have gotten). Everything that doesn’t work about Deadpool is saved by Reynolds’s overwhelming performance, and all the things that work are pushed to even greater heights.
The rest of the cast fine but there are precious few standouts among them. I’m fond of Morena Baccarin but this part, even as the female lead, is small and gives her very little room to show anything. Gina Carano is the most imposing woman working in film this side of Gwendoline Christie and she looks like a million bucks in this, her second consecutive feature film that’s barely asked her to talk. T.J. Miller plays a comic relief character in a movie full of comic relief characters, and while he hits every punchline I never wished he was on screen more often. Ed Skrein might do the movie the biggest disservice as the main villain Ajax, as he’s just so unbelievably boring that while I want Deadpool to get his revenge I wish he could do it without having to hear another generic British bad guy deliver generic bad guy dialogue. Brianna Hildebrand seems like she could be a breakout star if she’s given enough chances to play Negasonic Teenage Warhead, although she’s certainly not in the next X-Men movie, would likely feel shoehorned in to any sequels in this franchise, and might simply never get another chance.
So I’m generally fond of the acting in Deadpool, and the action is a solid B+ (even if three of the top five moments were given away for free in the trailer) but where it fails to deliver for me is in the story. This is the same origin story then damsel in distress formula I’ve seen a thousand times. I was tempted to use hyperbole and say a million but I’m confident it has actually been at least a thousand times by this point. Deadpool loves to show how it knows that it’s a movie and how familiar it is with all these tropes but it isn’t brave enough to actually break out of them in any way. I’m sick of origin stories and telling me I’m going to see one doesn’t make it better. I’m slightly less sick of hostage girlfriends but only because a lot of movies don’t bother to develop enough characters to have compelling alternative hostages. It’s also disappointing that for all the snark they have about the genre that they direct none of it at the sexualized violence the genre is often bogged down in and even contributes some for itself. Deadpool is going to get credit for being clever and subversive and it’s only doing those things at a four out of ten and for it to feel real I need them to aim much higher.
I’m happy that Deadpool exists and I enjoyed watching it (when I wasn’t groaning at the idea of watching another person get experimented on until they develop super powers) but it isn’t there yet, and I hope the praise it’s getting doesn’t make it sit on its laurels. There’s a spark of great potential here and I’m instantly more excited for Deadpool 2 than I am for any superhero movie that isn’t Civil War because it could actually be something unique and clever. Deadpool is a great first step but I need them to keep going.