For a film about a wisecracking superhero with a superiority complex, Deadpool suffers from a surprising lack of confidence.
Sure, the titular hero is a boastful bastard. The “merc with a mouth” is a nerd counterculture icon, the voice of an audience aware of every trope. He doesn’t care what you think. But you can feel Deadpool trying to win over its own fans; so desperate to satisfy that it gets in its own way.
Deadpool is the classic “fan favorite” character. A mercenary mutant with a sense of humor, he’s the one member of the Marvel Comics world that knows how absurd it all is. His personality is something between a parody of the classic antihero formula and a hyper-realized example of one. He’s always willing to break the fourth wall and draw on the audience’s awareness for comedic effect. It takes a certain breed of actor to bring such a character to life, mixing sharp comedic timing with genuinely thrilling superhero antics. Ryan Reynolds fits the role like a glove, the same way Robert Downey Jr. personifies the role of Iron Man.
Superhero films are infamous for their “moments:” the memorable cameo from the character from another franchise, the stunning reveal of a hero in their full gear, kinetic action sequences that dance across the frame. Deadpool burns just about all of this in its bombastic opening 10 minutes before stretching out the sequence as a framing device for our hero’s origin story. It’s a move so bold it could be seen as a subversion of genre tropes.
But instead, it feels more like a film trying to hold an audience’s interest. Rather than absorb us with character development, Deadpool reassures us every 10 minutes that the next cool fight scene is just around the corner. It treats the backstory like a chore, frequently snapping back to what it assumes is “the good part.”
It’s a shame, because every part of Deadpool’s world is engaging. The script is loaded with fun gags, knowing references, and effective beats of romance, horror and action. The best parodies always prove to be solid examples of the formats they lampoon, and Deadpool is no exception.
Still, I found myself wanting more from Deadpool as a commentary on the film industry. While the script is quick to call out the obvious jokes about comic book movies (including potshots at Reynold’s previous failed superhero roles), it never colors too far outside the lines. Sure Deadpool will wisecrack about the convoluted nature of the X-Men film timeline, but don’t expect a word about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ideally, a Deadpool film should bring a self-consciousness not just to the character, but to the plot itself. When the film sinks into stereotypical montage sequences, it’s difficult to determine what flaws are ironic and which are genuine.
There’s little point in me trying to recommend Deadpool. If you’ve been charmed by the concept and barrage of advertisements, the full feature will not disappoint. Ultimately, I was won over by the film’s charms, even if I wished it would go a little bit further. But if you’re not already a fan, there’s little here to change your mind.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter, @ChrisBerg25