Wit But No Wisdom
by Andrew Collins
At one level, Deadpool is wonderful mockery of all things good and right in the superhero genre. In a tidal wave of violence, obscenity, profanity, vulgarity and general raunchiness (not to mention more than a little sadism), it pushes the envelope of the genre about as far as it can be pushed. All the superhero tropes that we both love to love and love to mock are delightfully addressed in the main character’s self-aware violations of the fourth wall: “A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That’s like sixteen walls!” This ongoing narrative keeps the story snarky and lighthearted.
It begins in medias res with a shot of Deadpool(Ryan Reynolds) and a handful of thugs in an SUV, frozen in a spectacle-rich moment of wedgies, cigarette lighter burns, and face-in-crotch. The story then bounces back to Deadpool’s origin as Wade Wilson, a former special forces solider ejected for killing people who now hawks a living by scaring off would-be stalkers, rapists, and the like. In this position Wade operates well below the law, in the seedy underbelly of the city, but his line of work plants just enough of a seed of twisted chivalry to make him a guy the audience might cheer for. He falls for a prostitute (Morena Baccarin) and true love between two badly broken souls appears to be in the making . . . until Wade gets cancer. He decides to seek experimental treatment to activate his dormant mutant genes (which has some regrettable aesthetic side effects), and Deadpool is born.
An abundance of phallus jokes do not a good parody make, and while Deadpool has them in spades, there’s a certain charm to the rest of its humor. Mined from a deep vein of pop criticism, the film wittily answers the critiques that would have been lobbed against it had it been a conventional superhero film. The opening credit sequence sets the tenor by roasting the Hollywood system: the movie stars “God’s perfect idiot” (Reynolds), “a hot chick” (Baccarin), and “a British villain” (Ed Skrein); was directed by “an overpaid tool;” and produced by “asshats.” This is not Ryan Reynolds’s first superhero rodeo, so in an attempt to forestall the inevitable bomb, before his superpowers transformation he begs the doctors not to give him a green CGI suit. There are only two other X-Men characters in the film, neither of which we’ve encountered before. Could it be that there are only two because the studio didn’t have the budget to bring in any others?
Even the gratuitous string of murders Deadpool commits on his rampage to find the villainous Brit who gave him his powers is purposefully flaunted. Killing the baddies is just a game for Deadpool to see how close he can bring his ratio of kills-to-bullets-fired to an even 1:1. Gun smoke gives him a sexual turn-on. He “kabobs” his enemies on his pair of katanas while gleefully describing the process to the audience. In a normal movie, this heedless slaughter of thugs would raise a tricky moral quandary for our hero and spawn a whole category of reviews dedicated to questioning how we can look at a character that makes sport of killing people and call him a hero.
But this isn’t a normal movie. Deadpool doesn’t dodge these questions; it shamelessly ignores them. The main character isn’t even engaged in any sort of vigilantism. He does his killing for the basest and shallowest of reasons – somebody made him ugly (he looks “like an avocado had sex with another older avocado,” his friend quips). And that’s just the point. As Deadpool himself tells the audience over and over again, he isn’t a hero. He hardly even fits into the antihero mold. Contrary to what many a despicable man has tried to tell himself, there’s nothing noble about falling in love with a prostitute, and that’s about the only shred of heroism Wade Wilson has going for him.
If I may break the fourth-wall equivalent as a writer for a moment, I invite you, dear readers who have seen the film, to take a step back from your initial reaction and look at Deadpool with your moral faculties alert. There is not a single good reason to be rooting for this guy.
And even as a parody, the film ultimately fails.
No character or plot element or bit of dialogue is sacred except one thing: love. When Wade finally faces up to his girl and shows her his hideously transformed appearance, she still loves and embraces him – avocado face and all – because “what really matters is who you are on the inside.”
Inside Wade is a gleefully murderous monster. If she was looking at his inner man, she should have run screaming from the room. Deadpool had just coldly and gleefully killed dozens of people because he was afraid of showing her his face, and that made him mad (sardonic wit or no). What sane woman wants that boyfriend? But the story doesn’t have the bullets or perhaps the insight to take parody to its bitter end. Love triumphs over (or should we say ‘ignores’) all, and so in the end Deadpool, for all of the absurdities it exposes in today’s blockbuster culture, leaves the biggest, and perhaps most vapid, cliché of them all pristinely unscathed.