Nick Duffy reviews X-Men spinoff Deadpool – the first major superhero film with an out lead character.
Deadpool, as every trailer, poster and ad has screamed at you for the past few months, is not your typical superhero movie.
The adaptation of the fan-favourite comic series – notorious for its humour, goriness and meta fourth-wall breaking – promises to be the antidote to everything wrong with superhero films.
In one fell swoop, the Tim Miller effort aims to take the billion-dollar superhero factory that has built itself around bland, sexless PG blockbusters (with bland, photogenic heroes) and stab it, shoot it a few times, and sit on its face.
In the place of yet another generic hero (we’re looking at you, Ant Man) stands Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) – a violent mercenary-turned-antihero who takes nothing too seriously, always has a comeback, and dedicates himself to subverting pretty much everything.
Credit has to go to Ryan Reynolds for fully embodying the ‘Merc with the Mouth on the the big screen for two hours of off-the-walls fun – and doing so in a way that never truly alienates him from the audience, leaning just the right side of inane and childish.
His performance is truly commendable, managing to bring so much to the role despite spending most of the film in a full-face mask. We can’t imagine any other actor pulling it off so anywhere near as well.
Reynolds also brings a sexuality to the role – and it’s hard to overstate how much this helps Deadpool feel fresh, in what is ultimately yet another bloody superhero movie.
It’s an unspoken rule that LGBT characters are taboo in major superhero blockbusters; when you’re trying to angle your designed-by-committee behemoth at a ‘global’ market, such battles fall by the wayside.
We’re 100% certain that Miller isn’t the first director to try and put an LGBT character in a comic book film – but he deserves all the credit for finally breaking down the barrier.
Two years after a talking tree and an overgrown raccoon got their own team-up, we can’t help but feel Deadpool‘s pansexual (Miller is very insistent about the phraseology) lead hero has dropped in not a moment too soon.
From a corporate point of view, this may be more of a happenstance than a plan – Deadpool was already cursed to be shut out from much of the Chinese and Asian market through its gratuitous, censor-aggrieving violence and crudeness, and so Mr Pool’s pansexuality was unlikely to tip any scales or balance sheets.
Mercifully, this means there’s no attempt to slide the issue under the censors: Deadpool banters and flirts with women and men in the same heartbeat, from hinting at liaisons with a popular X-Man to offering blowjobs (the drink apparently) to strangers.
However, it’s such a shame that for all the film’s personality and flair, it has to be built around the world’s most generic origin story.
Spoiler alert: Hero gets girlfriend, hero gets cancer, hero gets powers, bad man kidnaps hero’s girlfriend, hero seeks revenge.
That’s pretty much the entire plot arc of the film, and it fits in a tweet.
For all of Deadpool‘s commendable narrative-jumping, fourth-wall breaking, risk-taking quirks, the lack of ambition in the by-the-numbers plot arc really leaves us cold.
And while Wade Wilson’s relationship with sex worker-turned-girlfriend Vanessa (What is it about Firefly’s Morena Baccarin that makes every casting director think ‘prostitute’?) is genuinely heartwarming, it’s a bit sad that a film built on so much subversion resorts to typical heteronormative damsel-in-distress tropes for its second act.
The villains, Ed Skrein’s Ajax and Gina Carano’s Angel Dust, are also a bit bare-bones, failing to conjure any sense of menace or larger threat.
While a conscious choice was clearly made to pare back the threat and give the ‘Merc with a Mouth more room to shine, we can’t help but wish there was someone more colourful for him to play off against than Ajax and an endless army of generic mooks.
A brief skirmish with X-Men ally Colossus (Deadpool informs us the budget wouldn’t stretch to an A-list X-Men cameo) provides a hint of what could have been – and the pair provide a few of the film’s stand-out moments.
But for its flaws, Deadpool remains a truly thrilling, fantastically enjoyable off-the-walls film – and one that tears up so much of the superhero rulebook and urinates on it.
It might not seem too important in a world of Danish Girls and Stonewalls, but a LOT of people watch superhero movies – enough to make a billion-dollar industry – and if a pansexual badass like Deadpool can be out and proud, we feel like that’s some form of progress.
PINK STAR RATING: 4/5 ****