Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Deadpool Review

Most of the reviews of this movie seem to completely miss the point of it, so as an antidote to those I am writing a review of this movie that is a) pretty good, b) incredibly successful, but c) not amazing. It’s no Mad Max. But still, it’s pretty good and deserves its success and deserves some defense.

Don’t read beyond if a) you haven’t seen Deadpool and b) you don’t want to be spoiled for it.

(Hint: It’s Deadpool. There is no reason to avoid spoilers.)

I am specifically reacting to reviews like this http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/ffc/2016/02/deadpool.html by Walter Chaw, who I usually respect. They note the clever, self-aware humor and then rail against how wrong it is for a movie to coast on nothing but self-aware humor and stylized ultraviolence. Which philosophically I would totally agree with, and would represent the sort of nihilism we see underlying Iron Man and Avengers where nothing really matters except seeming savvy. But that simply isn’t what happens in this film, and this casual summary constitutes a refusal to read the actual text.

Ryan Reynolds does the wiseacres of Deadpool very well, and they’re great. But he *also* depicts the fear and pain underlying that. It’s not subtle exactly… it’s just not omnipresent. We can recognize in him the friend we all have who makes cynical jokes about everything while feeling very isolated and depressed inside. (It is basically, what RDJ in IM2 and IM3 wants to be.)

Particularly, his experience doing “romance genre” films helps him do a very convincing love story with Morena Baccaren, that portrays “why these two people like each other” better than the vast majority of movie romances, and especially better than any other MCU romance (with perhaps the exception of Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna.)

I’m not going to say that Reynolds or Baccaren are giving the best performances ever, but there’s no reason to ignore the emotional  substance of what is going on.

So let’s talk about what’s going on in this movie. It’s not enough to say the movie is comedic, or does the comedy well, but we must ask “what role does the comedy serve?”

It’s obvious that Wade Wilson’s humor is a defense mechanism to hide himself. His entire costume is a more concrete instantiation of this metaphor, which is an outfit that is iconic for its over-the-top faux-hero qualities, and which hides his entire identity more than most comic book figures.

The other important symbol is his cancer, which is a representation of how awful a person he is. To wit, here is the plot of the movie.

  • Wade Wilson knows he is a terrible person. He masks this with detached humor.
  • Wade meets a pretty girl (Vanessa (a different Vanessa)) and strikes up an ironic relationship with her that seems more about going all the way with the joke more than anything else.
  • Wade eventually has a completely sincere moment with her and proposes marriage, revealing his true self and vulnerability for the first time.
  • At that very moment, Wade discovers he has cancer.
  • Wade doesn’t fear dying, or leaving Vanessa alone; he fears her seeing the effects of the cancer on him.
  • Wade runs away to protect her (from seeing the cancer (from seeing what a terrible person he is.))
  • Wade tries to get a treatment to get rid of the cancer.
  • Instead, the treatment keeps him alive by making the cancer take over his entire body (the comic book rationale of how his powers work is that he is 100% cancer cells), turning his entire appearance gruesome (which means his terribleness is visible to everyone.)
  • Wade, escaped from the lab, wants to see Vanessa again but is terrified what she will see him as. Most members of the public flinch from him and for the first time this makes him socially anxious.
  • Wade makes a costume to hide his appearance.
  • Wade obsessively hunts the person who can cure his terrible appearance.
  • This person holds Vanessa hostage, so he must get to them, so that he can have Vanessa back AND recover his deceptive demeanor of a normal, pure person.
  • Said person reveals that cure to be a fantasy, and Wade has to live with who he truly is.
  • Wade rescues Vanessa, takes off his mask, and she says she loves him anyway. (This scene makes the humor/mask metaphor particularly blatant.)

It’s a pretty decent story about confronting the messy humanity inside all of us, and how we worry that our loved ones won’t accept our real, terrible selves. It’s particularly blatant about how our generation uses humor to pretend-to-confront the terribleness, while actually hiding from engaging with our more sensitive truths.

Are there better movies? Definitely.   Is there a lot of violence and sexual humor that people might not want to see regardless of their message? Yeah. Is this meaningless, cynical trash reflective nothing but nerd-humor and topicalism? Not at all.

(Overall this means the movie has a humanist perspective, where the Mask is a faux-identity that prevents the hero from dealing with his “real problems”, until he takes off his mask and confronts his terrible humanity, and so is finally worthy of love for his genuine (but messy) self. SMG would disapprove, but in the immortal words: at least it’s an ethos.)

And the other aspects of the film, which I haven’t mentioned here, are pretty good too! In addition to an effective 20 minutes of romance film in here, there’s an effective 20 minutes of horror film. The two X-men are a great representation of Deadpool’s nihilistic and sincere sides, allowing him to converse with them about “what it means to be a superhero.” And instead of avoiding the “heroic distance” between the character’s murderous actions and anti-social temperament by never relating them to real life, the movie constantly confronts us with these realities on the banal, domestic level. Sometimes those aspects make people very uncomfortable – but well, you should be uncomfortable with murder and stalking, it’s a lot better than keeping them at an ironic remove.

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