While watching Deadpool last night, I kept thinking back to Guardians of the Galaxy from two years ago.
Guardians has what is, if you think about it, an absolutely bizarre opening sequence. The bulk of the movie presents itself as a lightweight chase-the-maguffin space opera lark, but the first five minutes are all about the day our hero Peter Quill’s mother finally died of cancer. In front of him. While he was a child. It feels like it’s from a completely different movie; the playful energy still to come is completely absent, and the movie gets started on a note of pure pain, misery, and regret. Even when the sci-fi elements kick in at the end of the sequence, it isn’t fun, it’s goddamn terrifying.
It’s an incredibly ballsy way to open the movie. If the story hadn’t worked, if it had just wound up being a jarring mishmash of disposable characters and tropes, armchair movie types like me would have jumped all over that opening as a part of the reason why. It sets the wrong tone! It’s completely schizophrenic!
But the movie did work. And the opening establishes a core of genuine, heartfelt depth and sadness that’s present in the background even when we’re reveling in the antics of an ammosexual raccoon and his best friend a tree. And when when implicit question of “Why the hell does Quill keep insisting everybody refer to him as ‘Starlord?'” finally gets addressed at the end, that opening ensures the answer lands with a whallop.
So when I say “Deadpool is good, but mostly afraid to take any chances,” that’s what I’m talking about.
Because honestly, the movie is pretty goddamn good. MovieBob, as usual, has a strong take on a lot of the details why. It leans into its R rating with absolute glee, wallowing in sex jokes and fuckwords, and showing off a splatstick sense of humor reminiscent of Sam Raimi at his Evil Deadiest. Young-teen me would have likely laughed hard enough to pass out; adult me just thought it was a damned good time, and was glad to see plenty of fun moments that didn’t show up in the trailers.
One of my big fears was that the movie would wind up being insufferably glib and weightless, and it took jusssssst enough risks to avoid that. There are moments — isolated, but most definitely present — of genuine emotional pain and vulnerability. There’s nothing to compare with young Peter Quill balking at his dying mother’s request for a hug; Deadpool’s not gonna go that far out on a limb. But a lot of the scenes with pre-superpowered goon-for-hire Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), particularly after he’s diagnosed with terminal late-stage cancer, leave the tongue-in-cheek fourth-wall-shattering shenanigans behind and feel like something real people might actually be enduring.
And I’m with MovieBob in that this may be the most fun Morena Baccarin has ever been on-screen before. In what could have been a completely thankless role (the cheeky-as-fuck opening credits list her as “The Hot Chick”), the screenwriters instead decide to make Vanessa Wade Wilson’s equal in off-kilter horndog energy. Baccarin throws herself into the role, and even if the script can’t quite sustain that liveliness wire-to-wire, there’s still a hell of a lot to enjoy. This is not one of those love stories where two people are into each other because they’re both blandly attractive and the script keeps reminding us they’re in lurrrrrrve. Wade and Vanessa just plain make sense.
But going too far down that path of genuine human emotion might have gotten in the way of the Merc-With-A-Mouth zaniness fanboys have been anticipating for years. More importantly, nobody behind the camera wanted to fuck this up. Again. (As alpha-fanboy Ryan Reynolds himself reminds us in the advertising, the last time this studio took a crack at this character, they botched it so badly they actually sewed his fucking mouth shut.) So mixed alongside the genuinely moving emotional core provided by Baccarin and Reynolds, we get a lot of … safe shit. Safe, unremarkable villains. Safe, unimaginative fight backdrops.
Safest of all, we have Colossus taking the role of Traditional Lantern-Jawed Hero. For my money, this was easily the weakest element, an unwelcome glimpse into the much crappier movie that could have been made but, thankfully, wasn’t. Colossus was there to act as a straight man. It’s an important role with a character as goofy as Deadpool bouncing about, but being a good straight man means having some dignity and a valid viewpoint, and these are not things the story is interesting in providing the big metal Russian. He’s just there to wind up with a variety of pies on his face, and their comic value is badly undercut by how he seems to be wearing a sign around his neck that says “THROW PIES HERE PLEASE” at all times. (More gratifying was Negasonic Teenage Warhead [Brianna Hildebrand], a D-list X-Man who comes out of freaking nowhere to provide Deadpool with a genuinely amusing foil. More of her in the already green-lit sequel, please.)
So on the balance, Deadpool’s not as good as it could have been, it’s not as subversive as it likes to pretend. Underneath it all, this is a bog-standard superhero origin story, just one with more decapitations, bewbs, and dirty jokes than audiences have been trained to expect in a Marvel movie over the last decade. But it has just enough heart to keep from floating away under its own weightlessness, and just enough genuine wit under its bratty attitude to be really funny.
I had a good time, and I wanna see where they go from here. Recommended for fans of the genre curious to see a rauchier, more irreverent take on the material. Just don’t bring the kids.
And stick around for the post-credits stinger. Of course.