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‘Deadpool’ thinks raunchy meta-humor can excuse a generic revenge tale

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(Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox/TNS)

(Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox/TNS)

Move over, Jonathan Swift. Move over, George Orwell. We’ve got a new satirical sheriff in town. And this time, the scope of our targets extend far beyond the callous disregard for the poor or the dangers of authoritarianism.

You see, our main man Deadpool has bigger fish to fry. Like how many jokes about his penis can he cram into a single scene? Can our society hope to endure such eviscerating satire?

There are some cherished pop cultural touchstones – “Firefly,” Vine stars, any and all anime – whose adoration makes me feel like a crotchety, out of touch alien. The beloved fourth wall-breaking comic book antihero Deadpool is one of these figures.

Long revered for his mutant ability to acknowledge his status as a comic book character, Deadpool’s brand of humor has never seemed that clever to me. Sure, Deadpool knows he’s a fictional character and … well? And? Is that all there is there is to this character? No other twists or subversions other than an acknowledgement of his own incorporeal existence?

Two decades after the original “Scream” bowed, do meta-jokes really feel so novel, especially when nothing clever or unique is done with them? Does discussion of pedophilic uncles and (gasp) breasts in a superhero movie really pass as incendiary and dangerous? Is this really what the people want? See what I mean when I say I feel like an alien?

In Deadpool’s first solo feature, Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson, a smarmy gun-for-hire with a heart of gold that falls in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a hooker who services the local tough guy bar. Alas, their happiness is cut short by Wade’s cancer diagnosis. In a desperate bid to cure himself (he does it for her, because he’s a tough guy, you see), Wade signs on for some unsanctioned medical experiments that he hopes will kick-start his dormant mutant genes.

These tests soon reveal themselves as part of an insidious torture program, and Wade is hideously deformed from the ordeal. Ashamed to return to Vanessa, he re-christens himself as Deadpool and swears to hunt down and exact bloody vengeance on Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), the lead scientist that disfigured him. A running gag centers on the fact that Freeman’s first name is Francis, which is a funny name. Expect more of this humor throughout the film.

That synopsis made this sound like a generic revenge plot, didn’t it? Nevertheless, I assure you that “Deadpool” throws all manner of subversion into the narrative. And by subversion, I mean that it boldly acknowledges the fact that it’s a movie. Apparently a main character that turns his head to address the audience is a revolutionary concept never done before.

The film’s opening credits poke fun at clichéd character archetypes like that of “The Hot Chick,” yet the script itself plays these traits completely straight. For a film that revels in the fact that it has free reign to poke fun at the circumstances of its own creation, it never manages to acknowledge the wholly uninspired revenge fantasy at the center of its story.

“Deadpool” utilizes a god-awful flashback structure as its framing device. We jump back and forth between Wilson in full costume and sequences that show how he donned the red suit in the first place. This concept should work in theory, except there’s no real sense of cause and effect between these scenes.

The character is just as aware of the fourth wall – and the quips that come with it – before and after he gains his powers, so the flashbacks feel redundant. There’s no growth or change, just tedious filler. Furthermore, the romance at the center of the film, between Reynolds and Baccarin (who possesses a smoldering star power that never really shines here), is a total fart in the wind. I don’t think even this movie’s diehard fans will single out these love scenes as favorites.

Reynolds gives it his all in the title role and I don’t begrudge him for the effort he put in to ensure this film’s success. Yet he never humanizes his character enough to make him worth rooting for. Wade Wilson asserts himself as the “loveable jerk” archetype, but Reynolds has difficult balancing the first half of that formula with the latter. The result is a smarmy weevil whose trials and tribulations I have zero incentive to see triumphed over.

“Deadpool” revels in its own naughtiness like a middle schooler who’s discovered the f-word for the first time. The hyper-stylized blood-and-guts action (which can’t even maintain consistency between cartoonish ultraviolence or modern blockbuster sensibilities) is all juvenile edginess without real bite.

Here is a film that promises an escape from the endless bombardment of familiar narrative devices inflicted on audiences, yet instead perpetuates them. All the while it undercuts itself with a snide wink every now and again, as if it finds disgust in its own making. Puerile, obnoxious and deeply hypocritical, “Deadpool” dives head first into the same genre traps that it proclaims to mock without the faintest hint of self-awareness.

Nate Taskin can be reached at [email protected]

About the Writer
Nate Taskin, Assistant Arts Editor

Nate Taskin was the head of the film/television department of the arts section for the 2017-18 academic year. They graduated as BDIC major with a concentration...

1 Comment

One Response to “‘Deadpool’ thinks raunchy meta-humor can excuse a generic revenge tale”

  1. Bob on February 22nd, 2016 10:22 pm

    You’re going to receive a lot of hate for this review, but you’re totally spot on with everything you’re saying.

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