We got our first taste of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in 2009, with his appearance as the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But this iteration was considered something of a slap in the face to the character and its fans. The wise-cracking mercenary-turned-(not-quite-a)-superhero had his mouth sewn shut in that film and whilst some may have considered that a travesty at the time, if 2016’s Deadpool is anything to go by, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Deadpool is a grating and utterly exhausting film that has perhaps even more one-liners per minute than Airplane, but unlike that film almost none of them land. There were laughs in my screening – I smiled a couple of times and chuckled once but never flat out laughed – but there was also a lot of dead air. The result of thick-and-fast one liners should be that even when one joke doesn’t entirely land most people are still laughing from the previous one, so it doesn’t matter. This doesn’t happen in Deadpool, and many jokes just hang in the air and then fall to the floor with a thud. The writers, Zombieland’s Rhett Reese and Paul Wenick, certainly weren’t lazy when it came to volume with the script, but quantity over quality seems to be the order of the day. How else could a line like, “Let’s dance, and by dance I mean kill each other,” get through.
The fourth-wall-breaking that is very much part of Deadpool’s schtick here yields a few amusing moments, including the aforementioned chuckle when Colossus – who appears here alongside Negasonic Teenage Warhead – threaten’s to take Deadpool to Professor Xavier and Deadpool quips, “McAvoy or Stewart?” The writers are keen throughout to use Deadpool’s fourth-wall-breaking powers to comment on the superhero genre, including a few references to The Green Lantern and the Fox X-Men movies, but nothing said, beyond the Xavier joke, is actually particularly funny or carries with it any real sense of satire or edge. Apparently The Green Lantern was not successful or good and Ryan Reynolds knows this. That in itself is hardly hilarious.
Perhaps the rather neutered commentary on the superhero genre – why no jab at the lack of female characters within the MCU, for instance? – is in part because those involved don’t want to bite the hand that feeds too much but also because Deadpool, for all its fourth-wall breaking and crude humour, is actually a pretty rote superhero origin story with all the failings of the weakest example to date. It also only really departs in directions that are tiresome clichés from other genres. The “hooker with a heart of gold”/“kidnapped woman”, for instance, who provides Deadpool with his motivation and the film’s primary and incredibly thinly-drawn female character.
Before Wade Wilson (Reynolds) becomes Deadpool – we see his origin through a flashback narrated by Deadpool – he falls in love with this character, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), and following a montage of somewhat amusing holiday-themed sex sessions he proposes to her. Then in a section that brings any momentum the film has to a crashing halt, finds out he has cancer. Cue dull British villain, Francis/Ajax (Ed Skrein), experimenting on him, giving him his powers but also causing his physical appearance to mutate and then efforts by Deadpool to track him down for a cure and also get back “his girl”.
It’s all incredibly familiar material and not told with any spark on ingenuity, beyond a somewhat novel framing device, but the writers make sure to point out the shortcomings, as if that somehow excuses it. Francis’s character, for instance, is billed in the opening credits as “British Villain” and Vanessa’s one-dimensional, pubescent fantasy character is commented on by Wade in a way that suggests everyone involved knows how poorly written she is: “It’s like I made you in a computer.” Note the not entirely up-to-date reference point in that line, something that happens a lot and makes one wonder who on earth this film is actually for.
Beneath all the one-liners and action – which is occasionally reasonably well framed and not too badly edited, but mostly instantly forgettable – Reese, Wenick and director Tim Miller also seem to want you to care about the plight of Wade and Vanessa, but attempts to make you invest fall flatter than most of the jokes. And how could you possibly care when there’s no evidence that Wade really gives a damn about Vanessa, even if he constantly points out that he does. At one point, he makes crude hand gestures when she is genuine peril, revealing that the real love of Deadpool’s life is Deadpool.
At times Deadpool really is akin to hanging out with a really smug bro who is convinced of his own hilariousness. Except he’s not at all funny. And despite his claims that he’s a nice guy when it comes to his girlfriend, he’s quite clearly just a dick.
Deadpool could have been a smart satire on the superhero genre, filled with smart fourth-wall breaking gags and knowing observations. It could have been witty, crude and obscene in a way that actually felt subversive or at all dangerous. And it could have been a thrilling live-action Looney Tunes action picture, with bundles of energy and inventiveness. In fact these all seem to be things that all those involved were going for, yet the result is actually rather dull, puerile, safe and lacking in originality. It’s all much more Sandleresque than it is Tashlinesque.