Tuesday 22 May 2018

On demand: "Deadpool"

Ah, right. I'd left Deadpool for a rainy day/the inevitable sequel/until I absolutely had to see it, and it turns out - watched on Netflix, on an overcast Monday evening, with nothing much in the way of expectation - to be a perfectly functional receptacle for all Marvel's snarkier instincts: adolescent where the Avengers remain an essentially childish, action-figure concern, pushing a little further beyond the galaxy of the Guardians, with a hard-R rating (15 in the UK) that allows for try-hard swearing, brief nudity, many bloody demises, and a general air of what-the-hell irreverence. The movie equivalent of a sock deployed in the act of masturbation, every comic-book universe apparently needs one of these, to catch those sulky outliers and refuseniks who consider themselves too old or too worldly for squeaky-clean superhero juvenilia, but not old enough to plot their first high-school shooting: where Marvel has Deadpool, DC has its Suicide Squad, another 2016 release that profited from a ready audience of disaffected incels with lots of pent-up energy and plentiful leisure time.

Approached as a film rather than a PR phenomenon, Deadpool at least attempts something novel with that tattered concept of the origin story. From its jokily deconstructive opening credits ("Directed by Some Overpaid Jerk"), the whole film revolves around a single freeway battle that Ryan Reynolds' Pool, a.k.a. petty tough Wade Wilson, finds himself in; overpaid jerk Tim Miller uses the lulls in this action to brief us on how everybody got there. The upshot of this telescoping is that it takes barely an hour - rather than an entire movie, or three movies - to bring us up to speed. (The film runs to an appreciably brief 108 minutes: snark has a way of cutting to the nub of the matter.) Some fun ideas - a carefully choreographed three-in-one killshot, an extended sex scene tied to public holidays, one death by Zamboni - zing around inside this framing device, and it's undeniably liberating to encounter one of these films that isn't bound to do the 12A-rated right thing at every turn; there's none of that piousness that has always made, say, Captain America such a dullard to be around.

The one potential obstacle between you and an enjoyable night on the sofa is Deadpool himself, a character whose primary superpower is his ability to relentlessly generate glib wisecracks. The closer you are to fifteen - physically or emotionally - the funnier you will find these, and even then, you may find them hit and miss. A gag about 80s TV star Meredith Baxter Birney clearly isn't going to find traction with 21st century teenagers, and to this old man, it just wasn't funny - it's a reference, and that's about all it is. When Stan Lee shows up as a stripclub DJ to introduce a dancer called Chastity - "or, as I like to call her, Irony" - the assumption is that the core audience is so bovine that they need that irony flagged. I can't deny that I laughed - bartending sidekick Weasel (T.J. Miller) waves off the black-clad villains with "Have fun at your midnight screening of Blade II" (the precision tickled me) - but the general pose of subversive, nonconformist outsider art the film throws is just that: a pose, making Deadpool the Mountain Dew to the Avengers' Coke and the Guardians' Sprite. It's nice that a 21st century corporation should have arrived at such variety, and all these products evidently hit the spot every now and again, but it strikes me you can't legitimately chug one of these movies every two weeks (as they seem to be coming at us now) and then spend your time in the real world lamenting how we're all growing slower, fatter and dumber. Drink up, by all means, but let's drink responsibly.

Deadpool is now available to stream on Netflix; a sequel, Deadpool 2, is playing in cinemas nationwide.

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