REVIEW: ‘Deadpool’ skewers superhero movies, but can’t heal its story problems


If there’s one thing Deadpool excels at, whether as a comic or as a film, it’s being able to re-orient the audience, to get them to think about the way everything is put together. The title character is known for how he breaks the fourth wall with self-referential jokes, pushing the boundaries of taste with profanity, gore and sex. It’s cackling, risky stuff, and notable for how fresh it can feel when set against the relatively family-friendly material of Disney’s Marvel films or Warner Bros.’ DC series.

Oddly, though, in the run-up to the release of this first-ever Deadpool film, the adults-only nature of the content was all anyone could talk about. Film blogs wondered whether the film would be the “hard R” it deserved to be, or whether the studio would neuter the film in an effort to sell it more broadly. So we were thrilled as the impressive marketing campaign sprang to life, showing off red-band trailers and themed shorts that burst with F-bombs and exploding heads.

So the crucial question: is there more to the movie than just its edgy presentation? Or put a different way, are we only getting a kick out of it because it feels so counter-cultural in comparison to the rest of the genre?

The movie, directed by Tim Miller as his feature debut, does deserve some points for trying to avoid a linear origin story structure. It pieces together Deadpool’s backstory in lengthy flashbacks and with plenty of the antihero’s sarcastic narration. What emerges is the story of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) a mercenary who falls in love, gets diagnosed with cancer, and then undergoes an experimental procedure to cure it. The experiment gives him extreme healing abilities but destroys his appearance, and so Wilson takes on the name Deadpool so he can hunt down the man who transformed him and be cured.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reyonlds) and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) disagree over how to handle his cancer diagnosis.

If that synopsis makes the film seem…underwritten, I don’t blame you. The fact that Deadpool’s main motivation is his looks is good for a chuckle, but it’s not the kind of hook that a feature-length film needs. Later on, when Deadpool’s girlfriend (Morena Baccarin) is kidnapped, the movie tacks on a damsel-in-distress thread, but it feels borrowed from a worse film. This all adds up to a story that doesn’t amount to much more than a built-up version of all the fun trailers we’ve been enjoying.

I’m sure if Deadpool himself could read this review, he’d love to scribble over it with rude language to point out that this is all okay, because the film acknowledges its faults in Deadpool’s many quips to the audience. For example, he makes fun of the lack of X-Men in the film (since we only see Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead), chalking it up to the studio not having enough money. The problem is that self-deprecating humour only gets you so far, especially when your film forgets to develop any of the characters not named Deadpool.

So let’s talk about the lead role for a moment – it may be the movie’s greatest strength or its core weakness, maybe even both. As a producer, it’s obvious that Ryan Reynolds has poured himself into getting the movie made with this kind of rating. And as an actor, he lives and breathes the Deadpool character. As long as he’s cracking jokes in the suit, you can kind of forget about the rest of the film. But the rest of the film has to happen sometime, and the illusion dissolves all too quickly. There’s only so many times Deadpool can tease his blind roommate about her disability or her cocaine addiction before you wonder if you’re just watching an R-rated sitcom about a dopey assassin with a vague grudge.

Francis (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano) prepare to trigger Wilson's mutation.

Perhaps the thing we miss the most in Deadpool is a strong villain. Sadly, we get Francis (Ed Skrein), a super-strong mutant who’s impervious to pain and in the habit of selling off the mutants he creates to other bad guys. We learn next to nothing about Francis’ goals, and it leaves us with yet another half-hearted movie villain who’s supposed to be scary because he can’t be hurt. All it actually achieves is someone who can be banged around a bit more in the final showdown than the average grunt. It just feels like a missed opportunity – imagine if Deadpool has faced someone with a terrifying power, a force that could raise the stakes a bit.

Here comes the big caveat. In spite of all these flaws, Deadpool can still deliver some value. If you’re a fan of the original comics, go see it, and maybe you'll like it enough to catch the already-greenlit sequel as well. Even if you’re just in the mood for a superhero film that tries (with diminishing results) to poke fun at itself, find a cheap screening. Do not, however, go in thinking that we’re witnessing some kind of revolution in superhero movies or a maturation of the genre. The only way a movie can do that is to add something truly new to the equation. For the filmmakers to limit themselves to raunchy jokes and bloody violence is really just kid’s stuff.

Deadpool gets two stars out of four.

Two Stars

What did you think of Deadpool? Is there more to the movie than it appears? Or was it the victim of too much hype? Join the discussion in the comments, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!