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Film review: Deadpool **

By Preston Wilder

Villains make the best judges of character. ‘We are the same, you and I,’ they’ll point out to our hero – or, in the case of Deadpool, “You’re so relentlessly annoying”. This is true: he is annoying, and so is the film that bears his name – sometimes amusingly, more often just annoying. It’s annoying in the sense of being trapped in a lift with a bunch of 14-year-olds – the juvenile jokes, the constant yammering – but also annoying in the sense of being jaded and cynical, and peddling negativity as the sign of a clued-in audience. It’s a good film for the angry, disillusioned America of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but slightly exhausting for neutrals. It is, in a word, charmless.

OK, it’s also pretty funny – and in fact the cynicism is part of the point, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) being a superhero so alienated he won’t even call himself a ‘hero’, and steadfastly refuses to join the X-Men in fighting evil. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t just cut off his own hand to get out of a tight spot – it’s OK: he can self-heal, like Wolverine – but makes a flippant 127 Hours reference while doing so, and also makes sure that the severed hand has the middle finger extended. He’s snide, self-aware, making fun of everyone including the audience: there’s a lot of fourth-wall-breaking (i.e. addressing the camera), indeed the film even breaks the fourth wall about breaking the fourth wall. The violence is extreme, but treated as a joke. Having skewered a thug like a human kebab, Deadpool voices the viewer’s concerns: “You’re probably thinking, [falsetto voice] ‘My boyfriend said this was a superhero movie…’”

Is this a superhero movie? What does that even mean anymore? If it means a comic-book hero in spandex then yes, Deadpool used to be a comic-book character and does wear a skin-tight red suit (his first choice was white, but it kept getting covered in bloodstains). If it means a troubled protagonist employing his superpowers for the general good, then no; Deadpool’s mission is more akin to Sam Raimi’s excellent Darkman, a personal quest for revenge – or, in his case, finding the one man who can fix the disfigured face he hides behind the mask. If it just means whatever action fantasy turns up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then yes and no – because Deadpool is made by Marvel, and its hero will surely join the X-Men in some future instalment, but it also painstakingly spoofs Marvel movie conventions: the post-credits clip is a gag, the Stan Lee cameo takes place in a strip-joint.

Those of us who’ve never really warmed to Marvel’s house style should be grateful for something as irreverent as Deadpool; comic-book fans should like it too (it’s already opened big in the US), as a palate-cleanser between more po-faced offerings. Yet the film tries too hard, and its tone seems misjudged. We’ve been here before, with Kick-Ass – another comic-book comedy with gleeful ultra-violence – but Kick-Ass was a more intriguing mix, balancing its dark side with a rueful sweetness: it was really about geeky young boys wanting to be superheroes. Deadpool is aimed at the geek contingent too (Wade, the Peter Parker version of DP, is awestruck when his new girlfriend can tell the difference between a Star Wars joke and an Empire Strikes Back joke: “It’s like I made you in a computer!”) – but it’s a more one-note movie, a look-at-me movie and a cynical, belligerent movie.

Wade/Deadpool goes through a lot, from terminal cancer to ‘scientific’ torture that’s expressly designed to hurt as much as possible (so as to trigger his mutation). He’s unhappy, lashing out indiscriminately – and the movie lashes out too, doing drive-bys on David Beckham, Liam Neeson et al. It’s relentlessly angry and the anger has an edge of self-loathing, right from the opening credits that poke fun at opening credits. It’s a big-studio tentpole that works hard to position itself as a scrappy outsider, its Beavis & Butthead humour (masturbation gags, giggly innuendo about “swallowing” and “pulling out”) presented as self-aware, devastating satire. More than one joke hinges on its purported low budget – even though the budget was apparently $58 million, not exactly a shoestring.

There are small annoyances, above all the usual Marvel problem that a fight between two invincible mutants drags on forever (though the big action climax is excitingly done) – but the main reason why Deadpool is annoying has to do with its strained insistence on being snarky 24/7, as if any let-up might have viewers wondering what the point is. What exactly is the point, anyway? Why make a Marvel film that sneers at Marvel films (but not really), wallows in showy sex-and-violence and deals in scorched-earth, everything-is-stupid comedy? “Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?” asks DP rhetorically in one of his many asides. Good question, friend.

 

DIRECTED BY Tim Miller

STARRING Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein

US 2016                  108 mins

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