After eleven years, Ryan Reynolds finally got to play Deadpool — the REAL Deadpool, not the horrible… thing they tried to pass off as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an otherwise decent movie. Deadpool hit theaters in February and was pretty much universally beloved by fans and critics alike. It’s irreverent at best and, honestly, vulgar at times (but in a good way, if that makes any sense). The film’s success immediately impacted the superhero film industry, sending Warner Bros. scrambling to cobble together an R-Rated “Ultimate Edition” cut of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I have yet to see and have heard mixed but mostly negative opinions on (basically my expectation, in all honesty). We’re likely to see a rash of “edgy and mature” superhero movies that don’t do anything but try to copy Deadpool‘s success while completely missing the mark as to why it was successful (hint, people love the character and Reynolds is phenomenal in the role and THE SOURCE MATERIAL DEMANDS AN R-RATED FILM, UNLIKE MOST OF THE OTHER SOURCES FOR THESE MOVIES).
Since the DVD and Blu-Ray dropped yesterday, I thought the time was finally ripe for my own review. I could have done this months ago, to be honest — I saw it opening weekend, after all — but since I didn’t, it seemed like the DVD release would be the best time to do it. Hey, sometimes I like to write something relevant rather than just reviewing things that came out years ago, if not decades ago. Before I get started, I’d like to thank two dear friends of mine — one for seeing the movie with me and being just as hyped about it all as I was/am, and one for having the (very) late-night conversation, after watching Star Wars, that helped me clarify a lot of my thoughts and ultimately led to this post. You guys know who you are; this one’s for you.
We all know this was a great movie. Whether or not you saw it, unless you live under a rock, you know this is one of the best superhero movies we’ve gotten. It’s an incredibly faithful adaptation of the character and plays to the strengths of the genre perfectly. So I’m not going to detail why it’s good. Everyone and their mother has done that, and we try to be original over here at our little blog. No, I’m here to talk about some of the finer points of the film. The things that really make it tick. The narrative, the characters, why some things might not be what they seem. Things like that. We’re about to go deep into this movie, folks, so strap in, and let me say right now that I am not apologizing for any puns, dirty jokes, or any other lame humor or foul language that might come out in the rest of this post. We’re dealing with Deadpool here. Things are going to get rough. And, of course, I should tell you now that there are going to be spoilers. Dude, the movie opened in theaters in February and it came out yesterday on DVD. Not my fault if you haven’t seen it yet.
One of the first things that occurred to me as I thought more about the movie is that it’s presented in a very odd manor. You see, the vast majority of films present themselves in chronological order. You have a beginning, middle, and end, and you see them in that order. Deadpool, however, throws that out the window because when your hero is absolutely insane and arguably not even a hero, the rules of storytelling no longer apply. When the movie starts, we’re already at the middle of the story. An awful lot of the movie is told in flashbacks. Like, I think most of the movie is flashbacks, actually. If we were to go in chronological order, we’d see: Wade meeting Vanessa, their relationship, his diagnosis, the experiment, his escape, his quest to track down Francis via his underlings, the bridge scene and its aftermath (which involves a slowly regrowing hand and a stuffed unicorn), Vanessa’s kidnapping, and the helicarrier battle. That means there are three, count them, THREE main events which take place during the present time of the film. Everything before the bridge is chronologically earlier than the time frame of the movie. And this means that there’s one very important factor to this story which many people may have missed:
Deadpool is our narrator.
All of the flashbacks are told from his perspective, and given the fact that the fourth wall takes a ton of abuse during this movie, it seems to me that the events in the “present” time frame are also told from his point of view. Remember, on the helicarrier when he gets knifed in the head, he starts hallucinating — and we see those hallucinations. We’re living this with Deadpool, from his perspective. And that shapes everything about the movie in some very important ways. Because Deadpool is a very unreliable narrator.
Let’s start with Vanessa. Except for a brief moment when she’s kidnapped, we only ever see her with Wade, and their relationship seems pretty perfect. It also seems like all they do is have sex, honestly. But remember, we almost always see her in flashbacks — told to us by Deadpool. The flashbacks are used to tell us relevant back story, which means we have to see in a short period of time why Vanessa means so much to him. Of course he’s only going to let us see his good memories. They’ve probably had plenty of fights — their argument after his diagnosis didn’t have the feeling of a first fight, for instance, but more like the fight of a couple who has a rapport and knows each other better than anyone else. Which is what they’re supposed to be. But there’s no reason for him to tell us about any other fights they might have had, and also he’s only interested in remembering the good things. She’s his Holy Grail, so to speak, so she has to be set up as if she’s the perfect ideal. I don’t mean that she’s an object; I mean that getting her back is for him the equivalent of a quest for the Holy Grail, so we have to see her the way he does, as though she were the most perfect woman in the world and their relationship was amazingly flawless.
While we’re on the topic of unreliable narration, I’d like to touch on Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. If you ignore the structure of the film, they seem pretty one-note and flat; he’s big and overly moral, she’s a moody teenager stereotype. But take into account that we’re seeing through Deadpool’s eyes? Well now you see why they seem one-dimensional. Deadpool only sees them as a big dude who gets in the way of his killing people and the little moody teenager he takes around with him. We never see them without Deadpool. So we never have an opportunity to see any other sides of them. But the narration isn’t the only reason; there’s one that explains their characterization even more, and which I think is even more interesting.
I’d make the argument that Deadpool feels more like a comic than any other comic-based film. All of the others feel like big epic movies. But look at the scale of this film. It all takes place in a relatively small area as opposed to city- or world-wide catastrophes like in every other superhero movie. It’s relatively short — under two hours long, in fact — and isn’t even about a big conspiracy or world-ending plot. It’s about a guy trying to get revenge and save the girl. It’s a very small scale. This isn’t a big multi-series crossover event. This is really a story arc that would take place across in maybe five issues, tops. And it would play out exactly as it does on screen, right down to when the flashbacks are inserted into the narrative. And this is why the characterization of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead feels so limited. Because if this were a comic? It wouldn’t be theirs. This is a Deadpool story, and naturally the comic would focus on Deadpool. Those other two? They’re X-Men. If you want characterization, you find them in their own series and read about them there. As guest starts in a Deadpool comic, though, they’re there for a particular purpose or plot point, and that’s it. They perform the functions they need to. You don’t need to know anything about them or see them grow as characters unless it’s absolutely plot relevant, because there’s simply no time for it when we’re focusing on Deadpool. And I actually think it’s really interesting that they managed to translate this small-scale comic book feeling to a wildly successful superhero movie. I don’t know why this aspect of the film hasn’t been discussed more. Did people not notice it? Or is it just not that big of a deal?
And while we’re on characterization, I’m going to end this by looping back to Vanessa. I’ve heard at least one argument made that she’s not depicted as a strong character the way she could have been, and that it’s disappointing that she ends up being the damsel in distress like so many other women in action movies. But I very much disagree with this, actually. She’s a very strong character, I’d argue. She’s shown to be self-reliant and very capable in any scene we see with her in flashbacks, and she’s pretty obviously taking good care of herself when we see her again in the present day, before she’s kidnapped. But here’s where things get a little tricky. Bear with me, I’ll get you through safely.
See, while it’s true that in the end she needs saving, it’s not because she can’t defend herself. In fact we see her try to do just that. But what has to be taken into account here is the fact that she’s going up against literal superhumans. Ajax/Francis can’t feel pain, and Angel Dust is a little like the Hulk, but not green. And I guess technically she has more clothing but it doesn’t do much considering she still flashed poor Colossus. But anyway, the point is Vanessa is only human. There’s only so much she can do against people who are beyond human. Expecting her to be able to get away without help is like taking five shots in a row and expecting that you won’t get drunk (or alcohol poisoning). You’re gonna hit the floor, and she’s going to need help. Neither of you has superpowers. I’m assuming. I probably don’t actually know you, so I guess you could? Probably not. Ahem. Anyway.
If anything, I think Vanessa is a stronger character because she needs saving. We see that she’s not perfect — she can handle herself but she’s not magically able to take down literal supervillains. And I don’t think her being saved cheapens her character. It’s not like she was immediately like “Oh, thank you brave Deadpool, I never would have done it without you!” She calls him out for being a dick and leaving her and not telling her why he didn’t come back sooner. Deadpool doesn’t “get the girl” until he’s proven that he deserves to, and he doesn’t do it with any feat of strength, but through sheer humanity, by admitting his faults and fears. Vanessa is one of the few characters I’ve seen who can play both the strong female character and damsel in distress roles, and not have either one cheapen or invalidate the other (for the record, the only other character coming to mind off-hand is Princess Leia).
And I guess that’s all I came to talk about in this post; I guess it didn’t devolve into dirty jokes and bad puns. I thought it would be longer and go deeper. (heh) But it was a lot shorter and quicker than I either intended or expected. (snicker) It happens to everyone, though, and it’s not the size that matters, after all.
All jokes aside, though, I think there’s a lot more to be said for Deadpool than one might think. Yes, it’s funny and violent and a little over the top. It’s raunchy and pushed the limits of the rating system just about as far as it could. But there’s a lot of depth and a lot to be explored as storytelling and how the film relates to others of its genre. All of these things combined certainly make it, for me, one of the best superhero movies out there. So if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it recently, or just want to see it again, get your hands (whether that’s two full-sized hands or one full-sized hand and one baby hand) on a copy and settle in with your favorite plush unicorn. You won’t be disappointed.
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