Wednesday, February 17, 2016

'Deadpool' Is Kind of Exactly What a Deadpool Movie Should Be

Okay, first off, if you get nothing else from this article, please please please get this: DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO SEE DEADPOOL. It's rated R for a reason, and yet I saw whole families with kids as young as what must have been seven sitting and waiting eagerly for this newest superhero film. No. Don't do it. Not appropriate. And it's not inappropriate like The Matrix was inappropriate, it's inappropriate like taking your seven year old kid into a stripper bar is inappropriate. Because there's a stripper bar in the movie. And it's not pulling any punches.

Actually, to be honest, even if your kids are well old enough to see and appreciate an R-rated movie, probably don't take them anyways. You have better things to do with your life than sit awkwardly next to your own child as you watch the couple on screen have an extended sex montage that includes strap-ons. Probably don't take your parents to see Deadpool either. Maybe don't take anyone you're not really really comfortable with, okay?

That disclaimer out of the way, it seems like these days all we're talking about is the little superhero movie that could. While it did take eleven years for the film to be made, and while the production had to dodge constant attempts to derail it or slash its budget, at long last Deadpool has arrived in theaters, and the audiences are really okay with this. I mean, really okay. Record-breaking first weekend for an R-rated movie okay.

So obviously we're all very happy for the filmmakers and for Ryan Reynolds who can presumably now sleep easily because he's fulfilled his life's ambition*, but it's time to actually look at this movie, outside of all of the hype and the insanely clever marketing, and ask, "Is this actually a good movie?"

The answer, of course, is that yeah, it's pretty good. It's not a spectacular film, though. I feel the need to make that clear. Deadpool is fun and entertaining and pretty much exactly what I was expecting, but it's not the best superhero movie of all time, and it's not even my favorite movie so far this year. It's just a well made, fun popcorn movie. Which isn't all that bad.

The actual plot of the movie is paper thin (and told completely out of order), but here goes: Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a gun for hire who has no particular ambitions beyond being a bad guy who beats up worse guys. Then he meets a girl, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), and he falls in love. Not because she's beautiful, even though she is, but because the two of them fit together like two incredibly messed up weird puzzle pieces. Their words, not mine.

Wade and Vanessa are totally happy and thrilled until one day Wade faints and has to go to the emergency room. The verdict? He has late-stage terminal cancer. He's definitely going to die. Vanessa is all about finding a way to beat this, but Wade is just trying to figure out how to spare her the pain of watching him waste away.

Then this guy shows up, a really creepy looking guy (Jed Rees), and tells Wade that there's an option he hasn't thought of. Mr. Creepy represents a group that looks for cases like Wade's and helps them. If the program works, Wade will be a superhero. If not, he'll die. But he was going to die anyway, so it's not a bad deal.

After a lot of deliberation and one genuinely heart-breaking crying session, Wade decides to do it, slipping out in the night without telling Vanessa because he wants her to remember him as he was. Awwww.

Upon showing up at his new program, however, we find that Wade might have accidentally just signed his life away. The people running this are more supervillain than superhero and they're trying to cure Wade in the worst way possible. See, they inject him with a drug that activates any potential mutant genes he might have, then they put him through "extreme stress" situations to see if he'll mutate. In other words, they pump him full of drugs and torture him constantly to see what will happen.

For a long time nothing happens, frustrating Wade's torturers, "Ajax" (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano). Eventually, though, he pisses them off enough that they put him in a horrible torture device designed to keep you constantly in a state of near suffocation, and then lock him in for a weekend. It works. Wade's mutant powers activate, but they come with a horrible side effect. Lesions form and slowly cover his entire body, making him look like the only man to survive having all of his skin burned off at once. It's kind of gross and obviously very painful.

It's only once he mutates, though, that Wade finds out what the real plan there is. He's not going to be a superhero or be sent on government missions: this place doesn't make heroes, it makes super-slaves. He'll be fitted with a control collar and sold off to the highest bidder. It doesn't matter if Wade survives the torture or not. He's never going home.

Obviously this is when Wade escapes.

He nearly goes on a rampage that wipes the whole place out, but Ajax, whose real name is Francis and who hates being reminded of that, claims he can cure Wade's lesions if he wants to. So instead Wade lets himself be burned down with the building, allows them to think he's dead, and plots like a hell of a lot of revenge.

Okay, so all of this actually happens in flashbacks. The actual story picks up about a year later. Wade Wilson has now transformed into Deadpool, focused and deeply insane vigilante superpower person. He's constantly rebuffing the X-Men's offers to join their team - mostly so they can keep an eye on him - and spends his days hunting down Francis' henchmen so that he can find the big man himself and get his skin fixed.

Because, let's not get confused, this movie is not about Wade Wilson, champion of the underdogs, stopping a super-slavery ring for noble reasons. I mean, he does stop a super-slavery ring, but not for any altruistic purposes. And he doesn't so much stop it as kill a lot of the people involved. His actual motivation throughout the entire film is getting Francis to fix his skin so that he can tell Vanessa he's alive.

That's the other thing. It seems that Wade Wilson is kind of a coward. He's terrified that if he tells Vanessa he's alive and she sees what he looks like now, she'll be horrified and never want to see him again. He can't handle even the idea of that, so for a year he's just let her go on thinking he was dead and stalked her from afar.

When Francis and Angel figure this out, they decide the only solution is to kidnap Vanessa and use her to draw Deadpool out. Spoiler alert, it works.

That is, not kidding, the entire plot of the movie. Well, I left off the very end, but seriously that's the sum total. It's not a complex movie, for all that the confused timeline, breaks in the fourth wall, and witty repartee try to convince you it is. It's actually a pretty simple love story, and at its best it works because of that.

The great strength of this movie is that it is, in fact, really romantic. People said that jokingly when the trailers hit, but seriously, this movie is a genuine portrait of a romance you're really rooting for. Wade and Vanessa might be a pair of weirdos, but they're weirdos who have a genuine connection. Unlike so many movies where the hero is just trying to get back to his girl, we in the audience actually totally get why Wade Wilson wants to come home to Vanessa. They work. They like each other. Watching their courtship and relationship is watching two people who really really like hanging out. I get them. They might be messed the hell up, but their relationship is actually really healthy.

Not going to lie, I view them as #relationshipgoals. While they both work in, shall we say, "extralegal fields" - Wade is a mercenary and Vanessa is a sex worker - they go about their relationship with honesty and a refreshing lack of jealousy or backbiting. Wade isn't emasculated by dating a sex worker and Vanessa doesn't feel the need to nag Wade to be someone he's not. They're just good together and you really want them to get past the garbage and live happily ever after.

So the fact that Wade's issue in this movie isn't saving the world is kind of a big deal. We so rarely see male characters genuinely insecure about their looks, but that's the crux of this movie. Wade Wilson is afraid Vanessa won't be able to love him like this. That's the entire plot in a nutshell, and it's fascinating. Even better, it's not swept under the rug at the end. There is (SPOILERS) a happy ending, of course, but Vanessa herself admits that Wade's new face is going to take some getting used to. That's not being a shallow bitch, that's being honest about adapting to a big change.

It's really funny. I didn't go into this movie expecting it to be genuinely romantic and to feature one of the healthiest relationships I've ever seen in a superhero movie (besides Steve and Peggy), but I'm certainly not complaining. And the other relationships in the movie were pretty great too. 

Representing the X-Men we had Colossus (Stefan Capicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), a lethal combination of Russian mother-hen and sullen teenager. Their interactions with Deadpool were pure gold because of how Colossus was constantly lecturing Wade about doing the right thing while NTW just rolled her eyes, popped her gum, and made ego-busting little comments. I loved them.

On the more normal human front, we had Weasel (T. J. Miller) and Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), both characters who appear in the comics and who were well represented here. Weasel was a great sounding board for Deadpool's crazy and Blind Al was just all-around fun. Oh, and Dopinder (Karan Soni), the lowkey homicidal cabdriver was pretty great too.

But really this was all Deadpool's show. I can't quite put into words what it was like watching a Deadpool movie that actually got the character, but you'll definitely know it when you see it. He breaks the fourth wall, makes horrible inappropriate jokes about horrible inappropriate things, and is still definitely obsessed with Mexican food. He's the Merc with a Mouth we all know and love, so if you were looking for a movie to do right by the character, I think you'll be well pleased.

If you are, however, not already a fan of Deadpool and aren't sure if this is the film for you, I want you to go back up and read the first two paragraphs of this review again. Don't let my comments on how romantic it is fool you: this is still a ridiculously filthy and hilariously violent movie. There's a multi-minute graphic sex montage right after the two main characters have a one-upmanship contest over whose childhood was worse which includes references to child molestation**. This movie is not for the faint of heart or stomach.

In a larger sense, though, Deadpool works not because of the gross-out humor or because of the graphic sex scenes or because of the whole bit where Deadpool tries to beat up Colossus and just breaks every bone in his body. It works because we as an audience are really used to superhero movies now, so a film that is self-awarely satirizing these films, especially with a lead character who knows he's in a superhero movie, is just what we all didn't know we wanted.

Deadpool is essentially reminding us how silly all these superhero movies really are. It's looking at us with an eyebrow up and pointing out, "Hey, you know who dresses up in spandex and beats up muggers? Crazy people. Crazy people do that. Normal people stay at home with their Netflix."

We're so used to accepting that Captain America has to fight Red Skull because the fate of the world is at stake that it's oddly refreshing to see a weirdo in a red suit beating up henchmen for nothing more than petty revenge. It's a reminder that as big as the superhero world can get sometimes, it's also very small and very human.

But that's all probably thinking way too hard about a movie that's not taking itself seriously at all. When we get down to it, this is the deal: Deadpool is funny, obscene, and definitely rated R. If any of that sounds appealing to you, if you want to see a great love story with a lot of nudity in between the heartfelt connections, or if you just want to see Ryan Reynolds being snarky and murdering everyone, you'll probably have a good time.

What more do you need?

I need more Vanessa and Wade. That's what I need.
*Kind of sarcastic, mostly not. 
**That sounds bad, but in the context of the film it's actually rather well handled. Wade Wilson was canonically sexually abused as a child, as was Vanessa, and the way these two characters deal with trauma is always through humor. It's this moment, when they both realize they have matching baggage, that we see them actually falling in love. So, while it's weird, I wouldn't consider this a bad way to deal with heavy issues like sexual abuse. It's organic and bizarrely sensitive?