A Comic Book Movie Made for Angry 14-Year-Old Xbox Live Gamers
Well, it’s finally here. After close to a decade of waiting, a movie starring comic book mercenary, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), has finally hit theaters. And it has hit with one hell of a gigantic impact. The picture has done extremely well at the box office, breaking all kinds of records for an R-rated film, and its Rotten Tomatoes score sits at a bewildering 84%. It is an unheralded success; a comic book movie that will certainly shock unsuspecting audiences.
Deadpool is not like many other comic book characters to have landed big screen adaptations— he is raunchy, ultra-violent and overall morally out of step with most heroes. Deadpool’s unrestrained behavior is a huge part of his appeal, in fact, which in no small measure explains the character’s huge popularity amongst a specific segment of comic book fandom.
However, the plot Deadpool gets wrapped up in is fairly conventional comic book fare (the writers would have you believe this is somehow intentional — another layer of self-aware humor). Wade Wilson (Deadpool’s secret identity) is a gun for hire looking out for no one but himself. Until he meets Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), an escort (eye-roll) at a mercenary bar Wade frequents. He falls in love and they’re really happy together, until Wade gets a tough diagnosis from his doctor: he doesn’t have long to live.
A mysterious stranger then approaches Wade in the local merc bar, offering to not only make him whole again, but to make him super. Wade initially balks at this idea, but he loves Vanessa and eventually relents, undergoing a radical procedure that gives him those promised super-abilities, but at the expense of severely disfiguring his body.
From here on, Deadpool spends a lot of time slaughtering bad guys, always hurling vulgar one-liners in their direction before doing so, in pursuit of the man who ruined him. The plot is flat and unimaginative because plot is completely secondary in this picture.
The character Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza created in the pages of 1990s X-Force and New Mutants is very different from the version popularized today in comics and the film. Because of this transition, the modern Deadpool fan is usually an angst-filled teenager who spends too much time screaming profanity at strangers on the internet. These fans are either literally angry fourteen-year-olds, or grown men who have been unable (or unwilling) to shed that angry teen within them (yes, they’re usually dudes).
Deadpool is, in many ways, the idealized version of every teenage troll who has ever claimed to have banged someone’s mother on Xbox Live. Wade Wilson has a jaded, cynical perspective on the world that jives really well with the frustrated, immaturity of that age. He doesn’t have to follow the rules, whether those rules exist within the context of the plot (he kills bad guys and super heroes don’t do that) or outside of the narrative (all the meta, fourth wall breaking Deadpool is beloved for) and he does it with a middle-finger fully extended to anyone who questions him. This is a total fantasy for angry fourteen year olds. They all want to go through life as confidently as Deadpool. He “gives zero fucks” as these meme-obsessed, miserable teenagers might say.
It’s really a generational thing. Deadpool is the Monster Energy drink version of Spider-Man, a character who made his name by speaking to the disaffected youth of the 60s and 70s in a similar, if vastly more sincere way. Spider-Man is the fantasy version of Peter Parker; a nerd who feels like he has no control over his life but is empowered by the Spidey suit. Deadpool offers the same kind of fantasy fulfillment, but for a generation that takes great pride in its derisive sense of humor— the kind of attitude that mistakes puerility for maturity.
I spent a lot of time here talking about the type of fan that will enjoy Deadpool, but for good reason: Those fans have left an indelible impact on the movie. It feels so much like Ryan Reynolds, who practically relied on nearly a decade’s worth of fan support to get the film into theaters and the team behind the film, made it exclusively for those noisy fans. That’s almost never a recipe for success when it comes to art, and this movie is no exception. This approach is made even worse here because I suspect many of these fans have hardly even opened a comic book starring Deadpool. They like the character for what he represents, and in a universe in which characters literally have had decades’ worth of mythos built up around them, that kind of shallow appreciation is flat out annoying. At times, Deadpool feels like nothing more than a vehicle to deliver to reddit basement dwellers the brand of Deadpool movie they craved.
The internet’s rabid campaign for Deadpool wound up imprinting the film in the most agitating ways possible. The movie’s hard-R rating simply does not feel necessary. I’m not against endless foul language in a movie (Martin Scorsese is a favorite director of mine) and I am certainly not against gratuitous violence, either (Quentin Tarantino is another favorite). However, those elements must serve a purpose. In Deadpool, all of that rated-R stuff just feels tacked on; a bone thrown at a prurient fan base.
Deadpool is an intentionally mean-spirited movie that does whatever it can to present itself as the vulgar, hyper-violent circle-jerk session fans of the character wanted it to be. The movie feels emotionally empty because it must be. The version of Deadpool that screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick put on the screen simply cannot be sincere; it would invalidate the character’s entire jaded worldview.
The movie isn’t all eye-roll inducing, I’ll say. The action, shot by first time feature director (but long time VFX director) Tim Miller, is well-paced and thrilling. Some of the meta-humor, despite my resistance to it, works well. Deadpool’s pal, Weasel (T.J. Miller) does his best to inject his own personality into the film, and he does so reasonably well, becoming one of the movie’s highlights. But this is Deadpool’s show and there isn’t room for much else, including the two X-Men, Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), reluctant sidekicks to Deadpool throughout his adventure.
Colossus and Negasonic are easily the most underutilized characters in the film. They are the most interesting, but they exist more as punch lines and effects shots than characters with any depth to them. I feel almost certain that the writers included Negasonic Teenage Warhead because she has a funny name. And don’t even get me started on how criminally misused Colossus is in this movie! Peter Rasputin has been serially wasted in the X-Men franchise, but with Deadpool, he’s given the most screen time to leave zero impact. In the comics, Colossus is selfless, heroic in the classical sense, and a hopeless romantic. Very little of that characterization makes it into the film. Here, Colossus is essentially just a big, dumb metal guy. That level of superficiality is symbolic of the rest of the movie, unfortunately.
I didn’t like Deadpool much. I just can’t get behind the try-hard, oh-so-edgy sense of humor the movie is dripping with, but general audiences are certainly disagreeing with me. If you feel the need to indulge the rebellious, surly 14-year-old in your heart, you won’t find anything at the box office better suited for the task.