Friday, March 4, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Deadpool

Deadpool was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and directed by Tim Miller (no relation to TJ Miller, who's allegedly an actor in the film). It's based on the Marvel comic character created by Rob Liefeld and Fabien Nicieza.

Reese and Wernick previously wrote Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Deadpool is Miller's directorial debut. Before this he was a special effects artist, and designed the title sequences for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (the American remake, I presume) and Thor: The Dark World.

The film had a long, and very tortuous journey to the big screen, going all the way back to 2000, when Artisan Entertainment announced they were producing a Deadpool movie. The property then went to New Line Cinema (makers of the Blade trilogy) in 2004. Oddly enough Ryan Reynolds was slated to star even back then. It was then shuffled to 20th Century Fox in 2005, where it languished for another five years. A script was written in 2010, and numerous directors were attached to the property, until 2011, when Tim Miller was finally hired. Why hire an effects artist with no prior experience at directing a film? Your guess is as good as mine.

In 2012, Fox ponied up the dough to shoot some test footage, starring Ryan Reynolds in costume. In 2014 this footage was "accidentally" leaked online, allegedly by Reynolds himself. Fan response to the footage was so positive that Fox finally greenlit the project in 2014. Reynolds cites the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the test footage as the sole reason the film was finally made.

Yep, that's right, this is a Fox film. Despite the fact that Deadpool is a Marvel Comics character, Marvel Studios had absolutely nothing to do with it. Learn the difference between Marvel and Marvel Studios films!

The Deadpool character made his first comic book appearance in The New Mutants #98 way back in 1991. At that time, he was simply a mercenary hired to kill the New Mutants. Later on he became a recurring character in the X-Force comic. As his popularity grew he began guest starring in dozens of other Marvel comics, until he received his own miniseries in 1993. In 1997, Deadpool was given his own comic, written by Joe Kelly. It was here that the current pop culture-referencing, fourth wall-breaking version of the character began to emerge.

This is actually the second time Ryan Reynolds has played the character. He first starred as Deadpool in 2009's woeful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Unfortunately that particular version of the character was a complete and utterly unrecognizable misfire. Instead of his traditional red and black suit, he appeared shirtless, sporting a series of bizarre tattoos. In addition, this version had a host of new powers, including Cyclops' optic blasts, swords that somehow extended from his arms, and inexplicably, teleportation (!). 


But the most perplexing change made to the character was the fact that his mouth was sewn shut! Who the hell thought that was a good idea? He's known as "The merc with a mouth" because of his non-stop quips, so of course it makes perfect sense to make him, er, mouthless. Apparently the cocaine still flows freely among Hollywood executives.

After just three weeks, the film has grossed a whopping $250 MILLION here in the States, and over $600 MILLION worldwide. I'm absolutely gobsmacked by those numbers, especially for a film about such an unknown character. Deadpool's not like Spider-Man or the Hulk. Despite the fact that he's been around in one form or another since 1991, he's virtually unknown to non comic book fans. I figured the general public would shrug when they heard the name and go see something else.

To be honest I was expecting the film to be a huge fizzle. Especially when the relentless marketing campaign began. Rarely have I seen a film hyped and advertised as much as this one was. Nine times out of ten, the harder a studio hawks a film, the more worried they are that it's gonna fail.

The fact that fans on the internet went nuts for the film worried me a bit as well. Many films that generate a huge online buzz end up being box office disasters. It happened with Snakes On A Plane, Watchmen and Scott Pilgrim Saves The World. A movie may excite the nerd community into a frenzy, but if it doesn't catch the fancy of the general public, it's gonna flop. 
I was expecting the same thing to happen with Deadpool. Happily I was wrong. I guess for once the massive marketing campaign and online buzz worked!

I think Deadpool's massive success is a case of a film being in the exactly the right place at the right time. Deadpool gleefully makes fun of standard superhero movie tropes, especially those from Marvel films. If this movie had been made prior to 2008, when Iron Man debuted, I don't think it would have been the hit that it is. You can't make a satire unless there's material to make fun of. That's why this is the perfect time and place for it.

Much is being made of the film's R-rating. While it's no doubt the most successful R-rated comic book movie, it's far from the first. The Crow, Watchmen, the Kick-Ass films, Kingsman: The Secret Service, every Punisher movie, 300, Dredd, Sin City, the Blade trilogy and Spawn were all rated R.

Once again, the Comic Book Inverse Accuracy Law, which I made up myself, is in full effect here. The law states:
The odds of a comic book movie or TV series staying true to the source material is inversely proportional to how much I care about the property in question.
In other words, when I truly care about a comic book, such as the Fantastic 4, then Hollywood will make a film in which the characters are virtually unrecognizable. They won't look, or more importantly act, anything like themselves.

On the other hand, when I couldn't possibly care less about a property, then we get a lavishly accurate rendition, faithful to the source material in every measurable sense.

That's exactly what's happened with Deadpool. I don't dislike the character, but he came along about the time I stopped buying comics, and I have no feelings about him one way or the other. So of course Fox makes the most accurate and precise comic to film adaptation in history. Whaddya gonna do?


SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We begin in the middle of the movie, as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds), is riding in a cab. He chats with Dopinder, the driver, asking him about a photo of a woman on the dash. Dopinder says she was his girlfriend, but he lost her to his more successful cousin. Deadpool tells him he needs to fight for what he wants in life. He tells Dopinder to stop in the middle of a bridge, then leaps out of the cab, stiffing him.

Deadpool then waits on the bridge until he sees a group of vans approaching. He jumps down and lands in one of the vans, causing a huge pileup. He tells the thugs he's looking for Francis, aka Ajax, the supervillain scientist who gave him his powers and disfigured him.

Meanwhile at Professor Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters, home of the X-Men, Colossus sees a news report on Deadpool and decides to stop him. He takes his protege Negasonic Teenage Warhead with him.

Back at the bridge, Deadpool suddenly realizes he left his bag of weapons at home, and only has twelve rounds in his gun. He makes them all count, killing every one of the thugs in a glorious orgy of R-rated violence.

Flashback to a year earlier, where Wade Wilson works as a small-time mercenary and "enforcer" in New York. He regularly visits Sister Margaret's School For Wayward Girls, an ironically named bar for mercs. The patrons regularly bet on who'll die in a "dead pool." Wade meets a prostitute named Vanessa, and the two quickly fall in love. Things go well for them until Wade learns he has inoperable cancer. Back at the bar, Wade is approached by a man in black who calls himself The Recruiter. He says he works for an organization that can cure him, as well as give him super powers. He gives Wade his card and leaves.

Flash forward to the present, when Ajax appears on the bridge, steals a motorcycle and rides toward Deadpool. Out of ammo, he throws his sword at the front wheel of the bike, causing Ajax to crash. He then impales him against the bridge with his other sword. Ajax is a mutant who can't feel pain, so he simply sits there and laughs. Deadpool constantly calls Ajax by his real name of "Francis," which irks the supervillain no end. He lifts up his mask and says he wants Ajax to cure him.

Just then Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead arrive. Colossus wants to take Deadpool back to the X-Mansion to get him to join the X-Men. Deadpool doesn't want to go and begins punching Colossus (a Russian mutant whose body is made of organic steel), but all he does is break his hands and foot. Colossus handcuffs Deadpool and drags him away. Deadpool cuts off his own hand to escape and hops into a passing garbage truck.

In another flashback, Wade feels he's out of alternatives, so he sneaks out of Vanessa's apartment and accepts the Recruiter's offer. He meets with Ajax and his superpowered assistant Angel Dust. Ajax injects Wade with an experimental serum and begins torturing him, claiming stress will activate his mutant genes. Wade finds out that Ajax's plan is to turn him into some sort of superpowered, mindless soldier. He also finds out that Ajax's real name is Francis and begins taunting him. Ajax angrily ramps up the torture. Wade's mutant cells activate, curing his cancer and making him virtually invulnerable. He's now able to heal from any injury, but the down side is his skin and face are horribly disfigured. Wade causes an explosion, which frees him from his capsule. He battles with Ajax, who handily beats him. Ajax tells him he's the only one who can fix his face, but won't do so as a punishment. He leaves Wade for dead as the facility collapses on top of him.

Wade survives of course, but fears Vanessa will be repulsed by his altered appearance, so he refuses to let her know he's still alive. He visits his pal Weasel at the bar, and says he wants to find Ajax and force him to fix his face. Weasel says Ajax thinks he's dead, so he should take advantage of that and wear a disguise. Wade takes his advice, makes a superhero costume and calls himself "Deadpool." He begins running rampant through the criminal underworld searching for Ajax. He finds The Recruiter and kills him after extracting Ajax's whereabouts from him.

Back in the present, Deadpool goes to his apartment, which he shares with an elderly black blind woman called Blind Al. He stays there until his hand grows back. Meanwhile Ajax goes to the bar to find Deadpool. He sees a photo of Wade and Vanessa there, realizes Deadpool's secret identity, and comes up with a plan to hurt him.

Weasel talks Deadpool into contacting Vanessa. He goes to the strip bar where she works, but can't bring himself to face her. Backstage Vanessa gets a message that an old boyfriend is waiting for her out back. Thinking it's Wade, she rushes into the alley, where Ajax captures her. Deadpool follows and sees her handbag on the ground and realizes she's been taken (where's Liam Neeson when you need him?).

Deadpool then gears up and goes to rescue Vanessa. He stops at the X-Mansion and picks up Colossus and Negasonic. He calls Dopinder, and the three of them cram into his cab. He drops them off at Ajax's hideout, which is in what appears to be a scuttled S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, but that can't be, because this isn't a Marvel Studios movie! Dopinder drives off, and Deadpool realizes he left his gun bag in his cab. D'oh!

The three mutants begin battling their way through Ajax's goons. Deadpool taunts Ajax by spelling out "Francis" with the bodies of his dead men. He climbs up to the deck of the not-Helicarrier and sees Ajax has Vanessa locked in a chamber just like the one that activated his powers. Deadpool and Ajax have an epic sword duel. Meanwhile Angel Dust pins Colossus and tries to pull his head off. Negasonic powers up and blasts her. The blast strikes the not-Helicarrier, which destabilizes it. It begins tilting as it collapses, and debris slides off the deck. Deadpool catches Vanessa's chamber and tosses it to safety.

Deadpool finds the injured Ajax and holds a gun to his head, demanding he fix his face. Ajax laughs and says he was lying about being able to cure him, and he's stuck as he is. Colossus tries to talk Deadpool out of killing Ajax, giving an impassioned speech on what it means to be a hero. In the middle of the speech Deadpool just shoots Ajax in the head and walks off.

Deadpool apologizes to Vanessa for abandoning her. She lifts up his mask and says his new face will take some getting used to, but she can handle it and kisses him.

Thoughts:
• As I said earlier, I have no feelings toward the Deadpool character one way or the other, so my expectations for this film were pretty low. Fortunately it was pretty darned good, and I liked it quite a bit. That said, even I have to admit the plot is pretty slim.

The screenwriters do their best to disguise this by presenting it in flashback form, to give it the illusion of complexity. If you rearranged all the scenes into chronological order, you'd have a pretty standard superhero origin story— the exact kind Deadpool is so anxious to skewer!

• Fox studio executives had absolutely no faith in this film (he, just like me!) and feared it would be a financial disaster. To hedge their bets, they ordered director Tim Miller to trim $7 million from the budget.

When I first read about this I was outraged, but after seeing the film I think Fox inadvertently did the film a favor. Unlike most superhero movies, the stakes in Deadpool are actually pretty small— it boils down to a guy trying to save his girlfriend. The world isn't in jeopardy, no cities are crushed and there's no bolt of blue energy stabbing up into the sky. This smaller scale actually benefits a hero like Deadpool.


I have a bad feeling that now that the film has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, the sequel is going to be a big budget, overblown mess.

• Does Deadpool's costume look familiar to you? Well, there's a reason for that. Artist Rob Liefeld has admitted that Deadpool was, ahem, inspired by a DC character called Deathstroke. 

Supposedly when he first showed the character to writer Fabian Nicieza, he said, "Hey, that looks like Deathstroke!" Deathstroke's real name was Slade Wilson, so in a burst of originality, Nicieza christened Deadpool as Wade Wilson. Why, that's a completely different name!

• Deadpool is the fifth comic book movie Ryan Reynolds has been in. He previously played Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity, an abortive version of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hal Jordan in Green Lantern, and Nick Walker in R.I.P.D.

• Are you scratching your head because you don't remember ever seeing Negasonic Teenage Warhead in any X-Men comics? Well, don't feel bad. The character appeared exacly one time, in New X-Men #115 in 2001. In fact it looks like she was a redshirt, created solely as cannon fodder, as she was killed off in the very same issue in which she first appeared. No doubt the Deadpool producers chose her because she's one of the most obscure (and no doubt most easily available) X-Men possible.

The movie version looks nothing like her comic counterpart, and her powers are quite different as well. In the comic she was a telepath with precognitive powers, not someone who could explode at will. Look at that image of her above. If that drawing wasn't based on the Reverend Mother from the 1984 Dune movie, then I'll eat my hat.

Personally I think Movie Negasonic is far more interesting than her the comic version. Her explosive movie powers certainly make more sense for someone with "Warhead" in their name.

By the way, Negasonic Teenage Warhead is named after a song by the band Monster Magnet.

• Supposedly Ryan Reynolds liked playing the character so much that he… "permanently borrowed" one of the Deadpool costumes and took it home.

• Who the hell is TJ Miller? I never even heard of him until a couple of months ago, and suddenly he's everywhere. He even hosted some recent Critic's Choice award show or something .

Thing is, he doesn't seem to have any discernible talent. I've never heard him say anything that's actually funny. Most of his lines in this film ("You look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado") thud to the floor like sacks of wet cement. It's like the guy who bags my groceries suddenly got an agent and began starring in TV and films.

• Does The Recruiter look familiar to you?

He should. He's played by actor Jed Rees, who was Teb the Thermian in one of my all time favorite movies, Galaxy Quest!

• Deadpool's primary superpower is his mutant healing ability, which allows him to recover from any wound. He even regrows his hand after he deliberately cuts it off to escape Colossus.

I wonder how far his healing ability goes? A hand is one thing. What would happen if you cut off his head? Would he grow that back? Would he be like a planarian, and his body would grow a new head, while his head grew a new body?

• I'm honestly amazed that Deadpool keeps his mask on throughout most of the film. In most superhero movies, the main character rips his mask off every chance he gets (as in the Spider-Man and Captain America movies). That's because the pinheads that run the studios want the audience to be able to see the faces of their high-priced talent as much as possible. The fact that Ryan Reynold's face is hidden behind a full head mask for most of the film is nothing short of a miracle.

Of course the fact that Reynolds looked like this for a good chunk of the film may be a factor in why he remained masked so much.

• I'm kind of surprised there was no payoff for the Dopinder subplot. As he drives Deadpool and the others to the not-Helicarrier, he admits he abducted his cousin and has him stashed in the trunk of the cab. Deadpool pretends to scold him (while secretly approving) and… that's the last we hear about the incident! Did he really go through with the abduction? Did he (gasp) actually kill his cousin, as Deadpool urged?

• Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead take a cab to confront Ajax. Due to his enormous bulk, Colossus has to squeeze himself uncomfortably into the back seat.

I get the joke, but part of me has to ask why Colossus didn't just, oh, I don't know, turn back to human form during the cab ride.


• My favorite bit in the film— Deadpool and the others arrive at Ajax's not-Helicarrier, and Angel Dust, who's standing on the deck far above, glares down at them. Deadpool says, "Ooh, watch, she's gonna do a superhero landing!" Sure enough, Angel Dust leaps several hundred feet and lands in the traditional super pose, with one knee and fist planted firmly on the ground. Haw!

If you've seen even one superhero movie in your life, you'll be very familiar with that pose.

• Because this is a film about a Marvel character, there are tons of references, Easter eggs and shout outs. Ryan Reynolds claims there are at least a hundred, but he may have been exaggerating. Here are a few I noticed:


— In the opening "bullet time" credits, we see a wallet containing a photo of Ryan Reynolds in his Green Lantern costume, from the movie of the same name. There's also a coffee cup labeled "Rob L," referring to Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld, and a copy of a 2010 People Magazine with Ryan Reynolds on the cover (proclaiming him the Sexiest Man Alive).

— Deadpool contains several references to Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the various X-Men films. In the comics, Deadpool received his invulnerability from a serum derived from Wolverine's blood. By the way, this is the first film set in the X-Men Universe in which Wolverine doesn't appear.

— Before he becomes Deadpool, Wade wears a t-shirt with Bea Arthur's face on it, as he deals with a sleazy pizza delivery guy. This is a reference to the comic, in which Deadpool has an abnormal attraction to Arthur and The Golden Girls. Also, the pizza boxes in this scene are labeled "Feige's Favorites," which is obviously a shoutout to Marvel President Kevin Feige.

— Deadpool consistently implies that The Recruiter is a pedofile, and at one point even calls him "Jared." That's a squicky nod to former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who got in some pedo-y hot water last year.

— As Wade is being wheeled into Ajax's lab on a stretcher, he says, "And don't make the super suit green. Or animated!" This is a reference to the 2011 Green Lantern movie, in which Reynolds starred. You know, that movie gets a lot of crap from fandom, but I didn't hate it as much as most of the humans on Earth.


— In the lab, Wade is wheeled past a mutant with boney growths protruding from her back. This is probably supposed to be Marrow, a character from the X-Men comics.

— Also in the lab, Ajax becomes exasperated by Wade's constant quips and threatens to sew his mouth shut. That's obviously a nod to the previously mentioned "mouthless" Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

— Wade's girlfriend Vanessa is in the comics, where she has superpowers and goes by the codename "Copycat." I wonder if they'll address this in the inevitable sequel?

— When Colossus handcuffs Deadpool, he says he's taking him to see Professor X. Deadpool says, "Which one, McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines are so confusing!" Obviously this is a reference to the fact that both James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart have played the Professor. Heck, in X-Men: Days Of Future Past they both played him at the same time!

— During the lengthy bridge sequence, there's an exit sign labeled "Nicieza Street," which is a shoutout to Deadpool writer Fabian Nicieza. There's a "Parker Avenue" sign as well, which is most likely a reference to Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man.

— There's a very twisted reference in the film that may sail over the heads of most audience members. On the bridge, Deadpan cuts off his own hand to escape from Colossus. As he does so, a geyser of blood splatters all over Colossus' face. Deadpool says, "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret." That's the title of the famous novel by Judy Blume, which is a coming of age story of a young girl who, among other things, gets her first period (!).

— The mouthless Deadpool is referenced again in Vanessa's apartment. Wade holds up an action figure of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine version of Deadpool and says, "My most prized possession!" He then tosses it aside and reveals he was actually talking about his Wham! record album.

— Weasel convinces Deadpool to tell Vanessa he's still alive. As he leaves to meet with her, Weasel says, "Go get her, Tiger!" That's a paraphrase of Mary Jane Watson's catchphrase from the Spider-Man comics and films.

— As I mentioned in the plot outline, the final battle takes place on what is obviously meant to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from The Avengers films (among others). That can't be! Helicarriers belong to Marvel Studios, and exist only in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Due to legal and contract reasons, Fox can't use them. Somehow Fox managed to slip one in under the radar though. If you look close it's not the exact same design as the ones in the Marvel Studios movies, but it's pretty darned close. It's definitely a crashed and decommissioned Helicarrier.


— During the final battle, Deadpool takes out most of Ajax's soldiers. He stops when he recognizes one of them, and shouts, "Bob!" In the comic, Deadpool often teams up with a character named "HYDRA Bob. He works for the evil organization, but isn't really into it, seeing it as just another job. Again, due to licensing, Fox can't legally use the name "HYDRA," so in this film the character's just called "Bob." Whatever they call him, he's definitely HYDRA Bob though.

— In the mid credits scene, Deadpool appears in a robe and tells the audience to leave.

This is a pretty good recreation of the end credits scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in which he also breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience the movie's over. Cool!

• Artist Rob Liefeld gets a "created by" credit at the end of the film, along with writer Fabian Nicieza. It's true they created the character, but their version was vastly different from the current version seen in the comics and this film. Their Deadpool started out as a mercenary hired to kill the New Mutants, and was a cipher with little or no personality.

Deadpool was given his own comic title in 1997, which was written by Joe Kelly. He's the one responsible for transforming the character into the 
wisecrack-spouting, fourth wall-breaking version that's so popular today. 

It kind of stinks that Kelly didn't get a credit as well. Yes, without Liefeld and Nicieza there'd be no Deadpool, but without Kelly we wouldn't be sitting here talking about this film.

Deadpool is an ultra violent and profane superhero movie that manages the difficult feat of skewering the genre while telling a decent story of its own. I give it a B+.

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