Opinion: Deadpool is a Marvel movie for people who don't like Marvel movies
And it's pretty great.
BY STEPHEN MARCHE | Feb 15, 2016 | Film & TV
Marvel movies bore me. They all have the same stories, the same character arcs, the same special effects, the same plot points. The larger franchises—The Avengers, Iron Man, Spiderman—have become as predictable as prepackaged single-wrap cheese slices. (To be fair, single-wrap cheese slices are dependable.) Guardians of the Galaxy was funny Marvel. Jessica Jones was feminist Marvel. In the end though, they were both Marvel. By the time Age of Ultron rolled around, I went to the movie with a nine-year-old so he could review the thing. After all, these movies weren't for me. But then I saw Deadpool.
Deadpool is a Marvel movie for people who, like me, hate Marvel movies. It's a meta-superhero movie in which the superhero is aware that he is in a superhero movie. The hate-written script is crafted with love. We don't even get through the credits before the self-referentiality begins—It is "some douchebag's film" starring "a CGI monster," a "British villain," directed by a "tool," featuring "a pointless cameo," and penned by "the real heroes here"—and doesn't relent. The protagonist regularly breaks the fourth wall. Once, in a flashback inside a fourth wall break, he breaks the fourth wall again, and then discusses it with the audience: "That's, like, the sixteenth wall." When he visits the X-men compound to discuss business with Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, he mentions that he only ever sees the two of them and nobody else. "It's like the studio couldn't afford a third X-man." Stan Lee even pops up as the greasy MC at a strip club.
Somewhere in the script there is a traditional superhero movie. A good guy loves a girl. Somebody evil does something terrible to him. He seeks revenge. The bad guy endangers the girl. The good guy saves the girl and defeats the bad guy. But this part of the plot takes up, oh, about 15 minutes of the film's two hours. The rest is all flashbacks and inside jokes and set pieces and snappy dialogue. The strategy is to have as little to do with the superhero plot dynamics as possible. And I could not be more grateful.
Ryan Reynolds plays the anti-superhero to the absolute maximum. Deadpool doesn't want to be a superhero despite his superpowers and generally benevolent outlook. But Reynolds plays this contradiction with a subtext of an actor who doesn't want to be in superhero movies. When he pulls off his mask to reveal his scarred face to the love-interest, he has a paper cutout of Hugh Jackman. She peels it off, and looks at him closely. "I think, after a lot of drinks, it could be a face I would sit on." No moment is allowed to sit comfortably in the established model; every second is exploited for parody.
Deadpool is easily the most graphically violent and sexually laden superhero movie in the whole Marvel canon. But that sex and violence are used for comic effect. The violence is like something out of Tarantino's fever dream. Early in the film a bad guy is thrown from a moving car and splats against a highway overpass sign like a sack of blood thrown against a wall—and everybody in the audience when I watched it laughed uproariously. The film has fully earned its R rating, but the violence also serves to remind you how stupid most of the fight scenes in other Marvel movies are.
The pretension and self-seriousness of the Marvel universe, where everybody is always redeeming the whole of the cosmos through the power of their sacrifice, is an overripe target. The writers have obviously ridden the genre's tropes to exhaustion. The film is genuinely hilarious, with whole stretches where the jokes come so quickly and cleverly that it's hard to catch your breath. Deadpool is the most pleasure I've ever had at a superhero movie because it's about how terrible superhero movies can be. Now I can only hope that it will become a franchise about how terrible franchises are.
First published in Esquire US.