So I Just Saw Deadpool

My diet of superhero movies has really dropped off in the last year; I skipped Captain America: Civil War (but I am excited to watch it on Netflix in December); Dr. Strange has no appeal for me (the whole whitewashing thing is kind of a turn off); Batman v Superman is still a no-go (I said what I said); even X-Men: Apocalypse didn’t get me to go to the theater this summer (to be fair it’s not supposed to be as good as Days of Future Past).  Deadpool, the R-rated, super violent, superhero comedy, didn’t register as something that I’d bother with (though I did get an earful from my students about it at my last job because they love dumb, violent movies), but then Rachael and I borrowed a login for HBO from a friend, and I was looking through the movie catalogue, and I thought, “what the heck, I’m on vacation.”

Deadpool Poster

To be fair, this movie does feel super faithful to the character. (Image credit: IMDb)

So here’s the short version of my opinion of Deadpool: it revels in violence, has some genuinely funny bits, is casually homophobic, maintains a pleasantly small scale story, and tries to sell a paradoxically cynical and idealistic moral about heroism.  I enjoyed it as a movie that’s not as self-serious as other superhero stories, but the core conceit of Deadpool as a character is that he’s both extremely goofy and extremely violent.  He makes jokes about graphically dismembering nameless goons.  His relationships are all predicated on a dynamic where he insults, threatens, and generally mistreats other people, and in this particular incarnation of the character there’s not really a strong backstory to explain Wade’s dysfunction (he’s terrible to Weasel before he goes through the mutation program, and the details of Wade’s history are left extremely vague).  He’s a jerk before he gets tortured for months, and he’s a jerk afterwards.  This Wade is only sympathetic when he’s juxtaposed with worse people (that’s kind of the movie’s schtick; Wade is a scummy mercenary, but when you compare him to Francis he seems okay), and it’s a sort of relativism that doesn’t quite work for me.

Probably the most off-putting thing about the movie is the way it uses Colossus as a laughing stock.  I quite like Colossus as a character; he’s unshakably earnest about everything, and his sense of idealism, while often unrealistic, instills a sense of hope that I don’t often see in other superhero characters (sometimes you just want your heroes to be heroes).  Deadpool takes that template and applies it to Colossus in a context where he’s totally unable to defend rhetorically defend himself.  He advocates for mercy against enemies, being respectful to others who want to hurt you, and just being a generally stand up person.  Of course, there are dimensions to Colossus’s characterization that might be easily overlooked like the fact that he’s literally impervious to harm, so it’s easy for him to be magnanimous (contrast that with Wade, who can recover from any hurt but feels it all fully, and Francis, who is desensitized to pain so he’s able to inflict it more efficiently on others).  Colossus advocates from a position of strength, and while I legitimately want to buy into that philosophy, he’s also clueless about how trauma informs a person’s decision making (only in this movie though; Piotr Rasputin has been through a lot of personal trauma in the comics, and I adore his character for it); he’s a steel straw man who’s set up so Wade can easily knock him down with studied cynicism.

Other aspects of the movie are just weird.  Much of the material for the story are pulled from Joe Kelly’s run on the original Deadpool ongoing series from the mid-’90s.  That series introduced Weasel, Blind Al, and the backstory with Francis; these side characters are mostly left aside in more recent Deadpool stories (Weasel was the first in a series of sidekick-like friends who would occasionally backstab Wade for personal gain) because they’re very much of the ’90s, and most superhero fans would rather forget that time in comics history.  Blind Al doesn’t translate well here; she was always a problematic character (her relationship to Wade in the comics was much more prisoner than disgruntled roommate), and it just doesn’t read as funny to see Wade picking on a blind person (on reflection the comics had some major problems too, but at least there Kelly would take time to present Wade’s treatment of Al as dark and seriously messed up).  Francis is a really minor character from the Marvel universe who seems, like everything else, to have been adapted for the movie because he calls back to Deadpool’s ’90s history.  It’s all a bunch of very odd choices for a character whose highest prominence in comics comes a decade later when most of that weird history had been jettisoned.

Overall, Deadpool isn’t a bad movie.  Some of it is genuinely entertaining.  For me though, it feels like too much.  The glorified violence, the sneering cynicism, the jokes that pick on people who simply shouldn’t be targets; it’s not appealing.

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