by: Chris Thompson
Flagrantly snubbed by the Academy, a case is made for Tim Miller’s Deadpool as the Best Picture of 2016 by an devoted fan…
There has been an abundance of comic book films released in the last decade, and the cinematic offerings from studio powerhouses such as Marvel and DC Comics have run the gambit from remarkable to truly unwatchable. But amongst all of those films, few, if any, have done anything to truly shake up a genre that many feel has reached its saturation point. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, especially 2008’s The Dark Knight, won high praise as a rich and thrilling crime drama, with co-star Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker earning him a posthumous Academy Award, and the film went a long way to elevate the genre. 2009’s Watchmen, a neo-noir superhero film directed by Zack Snyder, smartly combined elements of sound, images, and characters in new ways to fashion a film that felt like you were actually watching a graphic novel unfold on screen, trailblazing a new direction for superhero films.
Enter Marvel’s Deadpool in 2016, starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by comic book film newcomer Tim Miller (creative director, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). It’s a superhero film that at its outset makes absolutely zero effort to take itself seriously, a concerning deficit that many films of this genre have succumbed to. Yet pulling back the lens and taking a grander view, Deadpool unfolds as an origin film, breathing life into the characters franchise and hitting the reset button on a previous attempt at bringing Deadpool’s character to the screen. If Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins heralded the rebirth of the Caped Crusader, than Tim Miller’s Deadpool should be seen as an adrenaline shot to what was considered a superhero movie stuck in development purgatory. Peeling back the layers of Deadpool, however, what we find within the film is an anti-superhero narrative that pays faithful homage to its original comic book character. The film offers a memorable tongue-in-cheek dramatic performance as its main character, Wade Wilson, struggles with his new super-identity, and above all else, pulls the audience fully into the film by playing up one of Deadpool’s most prized characteristics, his perpetual habit of turning to the reader and speaking directly to them. It’s a novel, often humorous, and all around enjoyable experience when Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool breaks down that enigmatic fourth wall and speaks directly to you, the viewer, and the film has fun pushing the boundaries of how a superhero story can unfold, all without compromising quality or quantity….or references to chimichangas.
Deadpool is a superhero film that exists separate from all other films that came before it. Its ability to poke fun at past mistakes in portraying Deadpool’s character in film, while making such bad mouthing seem like a viable part of the film’s story line, just adds to its charisma and draw. By addressing all the elephants in the room regarding the previous interpretation of Deadpool’s character, his widely-panned appearance in the first X-Men spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and by making Reynolds’s Deadpool character aware of such faulty interpretations, the film builds an ingenious bridge between the worlds of make-believe and reality. For one hundred and eight minutes, elements of the two contrasting worlds continually spill into each other, blurring the lines between the dual realities in often humorous, insightful, and wholly enjoyable ways. With Ryan Reynolds’s performance, and personality as an actor that syncs up perfectly with Deadpool’s own personality, one that finds The Merc with the Mouth fully aware that he is a comic book character, and knowing that you know he is a comic book character, the potential for things to get meta pretty quick is there. Choosing to make a film that not only breaks down the fourth wall, but also exploits its demise for both comedic and dramatic effect might normally spell disaster for most superhero films. But with a superb screenplay penned by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (introduced as the “Real Heroes” in the film’s opening credits), a solid supporting cast of characters anchored by Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (one of favorite superhero names), smart direction by Tim Miller, and multiple layers of references to other superhero films some subtle and some unfolding like a hammer shot to the face, Deadpool hits all the right notes when compiling a list of what a great superhero film should be.
On occasion, people talk about an actor being born for a role, as if their destiny is intimately linked to the character that they portray. In Deadpool, this idea could not be more apropos, with Reynolds’s role as Wade Wilson/Deadpool just making sense. There’s no fitting of a square peg into a round hole here, for Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool. The film won high-praise for Reynolds’s portrayal of a superhero with a complicated personality, but there are also subtler moments within the film when the actor himself becomes the butt of a joke or is on the receiving end of a slight. There’s a persistent blurring of the lines between when the film is referencing the actor portraying Deadpool or the character itself, adding another layer of refreshing comedic complexity that exists separate from Deadpool’s desire to repeatedly involve the audience in his story. In one particularly humorous exchange, Wade Wilson is about to undergo a top-secret treatment to cure his cancer, a treatment which sets in motion the disastrous events that birth his superpowers. Willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve a cure, Wilson is strapped to a hospital gurney and is being wheeled into a subterranean superhero research facility where all manner of atrocities and tortures are being inflicted on helpless individuals. Right before he is pushed through the facility’s doors, Wilson turns to one of his muscular handlers and exclaims:
“Please don’t make the super-suit green…or animated!”
The line is an obvious tongue-in-cheek reference to Ryan Reynolds’ previous superhero work as the Green Lantern in 2011’s widely-panned film Green Lantern. In the film, Reynolds’ character wears a green, glowing suit that relied heavily on CGI for its glowing energy effect that was considered to be obnoxious, over the top and not believable.
This sort of “levels within levels” channeling of Deadpool’s personality while Ryan Reynolds pokes fun at himself for his poor performance in a previous superhero film is the sort of smart, not-taking-itself-seriously comedy that perfectly encapsulates the world that Deadpool’s comic book character inhabits. There’s moments in the film when you begin to wonder if Ryan Reynolds, Wade Wilson, and Deadpool aren’t all the same person, and the world on screen and the one in which we inhabit are not the same reality. And it’s this sort of interaction with the film that sets Deadpool apart from its contemporaries, and charts a new direction for the superhero film genre in general. The film is a game-changer and a refreshing celebration of all that is great about comic books, and superhero in general. Forthcoming superhero films would be wise to take notice of the goodwill and accolades Deadpool has rightly earned, for the anti-hero Deadpool is here to stay, and I’m confident his influence on the world, both his and ours, will be felt for many years to come.