Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, which simply disguised the annoyingly specific beats of a superhero movie in Chris Prattian charm, Deadpool takes the genre, chops it into pieces, and lets it regrow into something familiar but altogether new.
In this way, Deadpool is more in line with James Gunn’s other great superhero flick Super.
In fact Deadpool kind of feels like the lovechild of Gunn’s two films, capturing the “can you believe they got away with that!” naughtiness and surprisingly emotional character beats of Super and combining them with the unabashed joy and glossy veneer of Guardians.
The result might just be one of the best films of 2016, which only just started but is already shaping up to dethrone 2015’s amazing output.
A lot has been made of Deadpool‘s humor and hyper-meta asides — both of which are fantastic and work like gangbusters — but a lot of other elements come together to really push it over the edge into greatness.
The most noticeable of these, to me, was the tonal dexterity on display in the acting, directing, and editing.
It feels like almost half of the movie takes place in flashback, popping in and out of a single fight sequence to lay out Deadpool’s origin story. It’s a narrative device that could easily deflate the momentum of the film, but instead it creates even more tension and excitement. Every time we learn more about Deadpool’s love story the more we find ourselves caring even more about an already charming character.
This is also due to the amazing character work from Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and T.J. Miller. All three actors have had good careers, but also share this in common: they’re criminally underrated.
Despite Reynold’s charm and good looks (or maybe because of it), his recent film history has been lackluster. Often relegated to thinly characterized wisecracker roles — while never getting the respect he deserves for subtle performances in movies like Buried — Reynolds takes that typecasting with Deadpool and runs with it.
He’s able to entertain the audience at breakneck one-liner speed and then stop on a dime to deliver a true, resonant emotional close-up. Much like Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach in Watchmen or Colin Farrell as Jerry in the Fright Night remake, or Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, this is an alignment of great acting chops with utterly perfect genre casting.
Likewise, Baccarin’s beauty and regal air often see her playing the Socially Elite Woman (Firefly), the Unknowable Frightening Beauty (V remake), or the “way-too-pretty-to-be-married-to-that-guy” wife (Homeland). Other than Firefly, where the great writing gave her character so much depth and complication, these kinds of roles often don’t showcase her talent. But with Deadpool, Baccarin is cast as a street-level “seen it all” personality and she nails it. It’s a shame she doesn’t have more screen time and gets as damseled as she does in the final reels of the film, because she’s a complicated enough character to support her own film.
And then there’s Miller, who’s been turning in unappreciated character work since his debut in Cloverfield, where he not only gave a great performance but also did it mostly off camera since he was also serving as a camera operator.
Cloverfield is worth revisiting for Miller’s performance alone (although it’s a great flick in its own right). His turn as the slightly dimwitted Hud gels the entire movie together. His single-minded loyalty to his best friend not only justifies why he keeps the camera running (a huge logic hurdle for Found Footage movies) but brings levity to an otherwise dour film. And even so early in his movie career, his great improvising skills don’t overshadow the subtle character work he brings to his character.
Much like the work on display in Silicon Valley — where Miller delivers the best lines of bombastic dialog while still holding true to a surprisingly emotional psychology for his character Erlich — in Deadpool the character of Weasel is a scene stealer but always in service of the story, never just the joke.
As a first feature directing gig, Tim Miller shows an amazing display of tonal control, deft character work, and comedic timing. He has stunned Hollywood and also the fans, judging by the ticket sales. In just eleven days Deadpool has a higher domestic gross than the entire theatrical fun of the last X-Men movie. And it did all that on a quarter of the budget.
That might be because, despite all of its awesome explosions, crashes, and VFX, Deadpool dares to tell a smaller personal story more reminiscent of early ’90s blockbusters than the current universe-encompassing scope of more modern fare.
Whatever the reasons, these ticket sales are well deserved. Deadpool is wildly entertaining, deeply emotional, intellectually stimulating, naughty as hell, clever as shit, and subversive but still subservient to story. It’s a half-billion-dollar-grossing motherfucker of a movie that is going to be a classic.