Thursday, March 10, 2016

Overdue Thoughts on "Deadpool" (the Movie)

I finally saw "Deadpool" last week, and as someone who once wrote a very long (and surprisingly popular) blog post about why Rob Liefeld should stop taking credit for Deadpool, as well as a post about my thoughts on the leaked trailer for the movie, I guess I should probably post a review.

It's fantastic.

Most of my impressions from when I saw the leaked trailer last year were fairly accurate. This is very much the screenplay that got leaked several years ago, but kicked up a notch. I was worried they would water down the script, but they actually did the opposite. Rather than take out fan-service-y stuff and the salty language, they added more in. They even included Bob of HYDRA some random group of henchmen completely unaffiliated with intellectual property owned by Marvel Studios, which I totally didn't expect (I even said as much in my earlier post). They gave Vanessa (who may one day become the character Copycat) a lot more agency than she had in the screenplay, which I was happy to see. Weasel got a lot more to do, Blind Al was included for no good reason (but I'm still glad they did it), and the inclusion of Negasonic Teenage Warhead was great. I don't even mind that her power set is completely different from her comic book counterpart because honestly, the movie's power set for her is way cooler.

The movie has its share of problems. I do think the original screenplay was tighter. The new stuff with Blind Al did kill the pacing a little bit. It's hard to get away with introducing a brand new character towards the end of the second act. They also then spend a few minutes collecting a bunch of weapons only to accidentally leave them in the taxi before the third act, rendering it entirely pointless. Also, I thought many of the action sequences lacked a certain flair. Perhaps I've been spoiled by movies like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", but I rarely felt like the action kept me invested. Even so, they weren't BADLY shot or choreographed, I just wish they tried to push the envelope a bit more. Deadpool allows for some really creative stuff and his most interesting action sequence was at the very beginning of the film. I'd say this is probably just because of the director's relative inexperience. I don't want to rag on him too much, though. He did just fine.

But let's step away from the technical and get a little more nerdy.

I am glad they were pretty faithful to the character's origins, particularly after the travesty that was "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". It was a very pleasant surprise that they stuck so close to at least the main story beats of the character and that they didn't change too much for the sake of making the character more "palatable".


I still prefer his comic book version, and the reason is probably the closest thing I have to a philosophical problem with the film's interpretation of the character.

I like my Deadpool to be miserable.

I won't spoil too much of the movie (not that there's a lot to spoil), but suffice it to say that this is not a sad movie.

You might be scratching your head at that. "Of course it's not a sad movie! Deadpool is a funny character!" you might say. And you're right, but as Carol Burnett said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." In addition, I also find that (at least in Deadpool's case) tragedy is often comedy plus time.

I've written extensively about this already, but Deadpool's character struggle is never really about the struggle between good and evil, but more a struggle between apathy and sympathy. He often knows what the right thing to do is, he just struggles with whether or not he should even bother doing it. His evil isn't a desire to cause harm to innocents, but the kind of evil caused when good people choose to do nothing.

In the comics, his origin pushes him to a point where he little choice but to disconnect himself from reality in order to function. In the Workshop, he's brought to the brink of death so many times that he actually starts to see Death herself. At a certain point, Death becomes one of the few things that brings him comfort. They literally fall in love, and towards the end, he decides to pull a stunt that will both stick it to the people who tortured him while also going out with a bang. He makes a conscious decision to end his own life, but at the last minute, his compassion gets the better of him, activates his healing factor for the first time, and permanently robs him of his ability to die just as he was about to welcome Death with open arms. In the end, he can't even die when he wants to.

His life is such a cruel joke that the only way he can cope is to act like his hallucinations of speech bubbles and comic frames and such are real. He has to believe that there's someone with a typewriter putting him through all of this for someone's sick idea of entertainment, because otherwise, reality is just too much for him to bear. Humor for him (and for most of us) is a defense mechanism.

And since he's so disconnected from his world (out of necessity) it makes it difficult for him to care. He's tried to be a hero on several occasions, but the problem is always that he just doesn't care enough to hold himself to the same code of ethics as the other heroes. He doesn't see the problem with killing a bunch of henchmen because if this is a comic book world, they probably don't have names or faces anyway. And it's hard for him to put in the effort to make a difference when he knows that something will probably come along and ruin it a while later. Even when he gets small victories, in the end, he's never allowed to win and be happy. Comedy plus time equals tragedy.

But the thing that keeps Deadpool (in the comics) tethered is that he can't completely convince himself that he's really just in a comic book. Sure, he SEES all of the comic book trappings and observes how contrived everything always seems to be, but he also knows he's crazy and hallucinates quite a bit, so a part of him isn't entirely sure. There's a part of him that still stays invested, still believes that there's a point to all this, and in the end, that's always what keeps him from going completely dark side. It's the same reason we keep watching "Game of Thrones". We have to hold onto the hope that eventually the bad guys will get what's coming to them and the good guys will be vindicated for doing the right thing. But at the same time, we know that there's a good chance the writer will just slap us in the face and make us sad again.

Alright, so now that I've gone into what I find deep and interesting about Deadpool in the comics, let's talk about his character in the movie.

Everything I've just described has basically nothing to do with the Deadpool in the movie.

While Deadpool in the movie does go to the Workshop and does have to deal with a lot of crap, his torture isn't quite as bad as in the comics. In the movie, they're torturing him to try and activate his latent mutant powers. In the comics, they tried to give him powers, but they assumed they failed, so they just started using him as a live specimen and trying to keep him alive as long as possible so they can perform as many experiments on him as possible. His scars weren't caused by just one incident like in the movie, they were the product of months (possibly years) of experiments, all undergone while cancer ravaged his body and riddled him with tumors. He is a character defined by being perpetually on the brink. He sits on the wall between life and death, he sits on the wall between good and evil, he sits on the wall between comedy and tragedy, and similarly, he sits on the fourth wall between reality and fiction.

In the movie, Deadpool's fourth-wall breaking has no clear reason for existing other than "he's Deadpool". Sure, he feels disconnected in the same way as his comic book counterpart, but we never really see what brings him there. We never see him reach the point where he gives up, and to me, that's an important part of Deadpool's character. Almost every other comic book superhero reaches a point where they either choose to give up or stand up and fight, and Deadpool in the comics uniquely tried and failed to do both. He couldn't save his friend and he couldn't get the release of death that he craved. He didn't want to exist, but he was left with no other option. When you have to live a life you don't want, and you have incredible (almost unimaginable) power, what do you do with it? To me, that's the central question of Deadpool as a character.

In the movie, Deadpool does have the moment where he tries to be a hero and fails, which I'm glad they included, but he never gives up. Vanessa always drives him through the plot. She's his tether.

In the comics, Deadpool and Vanessa did have a similar relationship, and it is important. I also vastly prefer Vanessa in the movie, for the record. However, once Deadpool in the comics leaves Vanessa to go to the Workshop, he has no intention of returning to her. He wants her to move on without him. She stops being his motivation at that point in the comics, though that's probably out of necessity since Vanessa has her own thing going on in the comics and if she continued to pine for him, it would be weird that she never mentioned him before they retroactively decided that they were a thing.

My point is that Deadpool in the movie is perhaps too conventional. I never felt like there was something deeper going on behind his hijinks. At his best, Deadpool can be like the Shakespearean "fool" character, who serves both as comic relief, but also as scathing satire of the world he inhabits. He never really reaches that level in the movie, and I think that's my biggest problem with it.

All that said...

I think that this Deadpool still works on his own merits. Yes, he's substantially different in many subtle ways from the comic book version, but I recognize that I'm probably in the minority when it comes to wanting to see a more depressed and scarred Deadpool. I'm a privileged middle-class white American, so I can identify with someone struggling with existential nihilism and having a hard time giving a shit. The movie Deadpool appeals more to people who recognize that we're all in a shitty place, but that doesn't mean we have to let it get us down. Perhaps we need more comic book movies about that and fewer movies in general about depressed white guys who are sad about having incredible power and not knowing what to do with it.

This is a more optimistic Deadpool, and while it's not the Deadpool I fell in love with, I still think it works and he's probably a better fit for a movie than my Deadpool would be.

Still, the fact that I have to cut this deep in order to find a serious criticism is something I never thought I'd ever get to do. I was afraid the movie would turn out like the terrible video game that came out a few years ago. I was afraid it would completely misunderstand the character and be oppressively unfunny for the entire duration.

After "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", I never thought we'd get a Deadpool movie good enough to warrant deep criticism. I'm a big fan of Deadpool, and even I thought that an R-rated faithful adaptation of Deadpool would tank at the box office. I never thought Fox would let it happen, and if they did, I assumed it would then serve as a financial justification for why they would never let something like it happen again.

I'm so happy I was wrong.

Not only did they actually make almost exactly the sort of Deadpool movie I hoped they would make, it kicked ass in the box office, proving once again that conventional wisdom is changing.

Oh, and my last big concern going into the movie was that it wouldn't be very funny. While the trailer made me laugh a few times, the "red shirt, brown pants" gag fell really flat.

Much to my delight, this movie is hilarious.

Honestly, the "red shirt, brown pants" gag was the only joke that made me cringe in the entire movie. Just about everything else lands perfectly. Even seeing it with a small audience didn't diminish the laughs I had all the way through.

Part of what makes the comedy work is the chemistry between the actors. The cast here is phenomenal, and even the weakest performance (Ajax) wasn't really all that bad.

The decision to make Colossus purely CG was weird, but I understand why they did it (they don't want to worry about having to recast him in a future X-Men movie).

While the movie's pacing is a bit clunky, I don't really care that it is. The stuff with Blind Al is fantastic and really brought me back to the Joe Kelly comics that I loved.

I'm so glad this movie actually happened and I can't wait for the sequel. I hope we get more stuff with Blind Al and Weasel, I hope Bob makes a return appearance, I hope they give Vanessa her mutant powers, and I really can't wait to see how they deal with Cable.

Maximum effort!