Deadpool is the new hot thing, not just in the geek circles, but everywhere. Deadpool is the film you should have gone to see for your Valentine’s Day date. Deadpool is the film that is earning about thrice as much money as anyone expected. Deadpool is…no, okay, every time I write something general about it, what I actually want to say is “so many sex jokes.” So let’s start from there.
Sex jokes make up perhaps one third of this film. They are mostly funny sex jokes, too, which I think is a quality so unique that it deserves an Oscar nomination in and of itself. They sound a little forced at the beginning, before you get to know the character, but gradually you ease into it. Or maybe the jokes just get better.
Which brings me to the hero. Deadpool is charming enough and funny enough that he mostly manages to carry the film on his own, which is a very good thing, because he is also almost the only one who has something like psychology. That’s not necessarily a problem – this is an action comedy, not a drama. Most of the supporting characters are fun and you enjoy the time they spend onscreen, which is their whole point. They have their one quirky defining trait that makes for their special brand of comic relief, and aren’t meant to feel real in any way.
The two supporting characters with some psychology are Deadpool’s girlfriend, Vanessa, and his best friend, Weasel. In both of their cases, all of the inner life that we see is related to the hero (though Weasel was a little more interesting to me, mainly because of the pub he runs, which is a very interesting place and I’d like to know more about it). They’re good -Morena Baccarin and T.J.Miller both show some pretty great acting – but they’re there for him, and it’s perfectly obvious who is the protagonist, and, once again, that’s fine.
The place where this lack of any hints of psychology was most distracting was probably the bad guys, who really don’t have that much of a motivation for what they do. They’re sadists, I suppose? Since one of them is said not to feel anything, that seems strange. They earn money by Bad Means, but seem to live in some dirty and dumpy old place. What do they get out of it? I don’t know.
But maybe they just enjoy the spectacle, because the fights are good. They have good choreography interlaid with the aforementioned good jokes, and at times truly brilliant camera work. The opening credits are one of the best parts of the film. I was a little unsure about the flashback structure, but I do understand that this is the nth superhero origin story and that they needed some way to make it unique. It wasn’t too distracting.
Part of that, of course, is that it didn’t have much to distract from.
There aren’t really any themes this film could be said to more than lightly touch upon, except for ‘how many sex jokes can a character make,’ and as for plot, well. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it could only be called original by the most generous of critics. And it has many of the typical genre problems, like the bad guy ineptitude. At least here the villains were not supposed to be a world-threatening kind of deal, but their mistakes were so glaringly obvious in some moments that it broke the suspension of disbelief a little.
So, in summary, plot is not the strongest suit of this film, and neither are characters or themes. In many ways, it is truly a jokes sequence interlaid with some fights and held together by a cliché motive, but that sentence makes it sound like a much worse film than it actually is. The main problem is that this makes the three or so darker and more serious moments a little jarring, and because the focus is so entirely on the comedic aspect, the momentous decision Deadpool makes isn’t really felt and understood as deeply as it otherwise could have been, but at the same time those scenes are filmed as serious, so it seems like they want it to be.
And speaking of serious…I’ll get to the bits that I find rather more problematic than the weak plot now, but it’ll by necessity be rather spoilery. Proceed at your own risk.
Perhaps one of my main issues with the film is the role of Vanessa. There are great things about her – in particular, one great thing. She is a sex worker, and I’m pretty happy about the depiction of sex workers that gives us. She works in sex industry before she meets Deadpool, and is in a committed relationship with him, and continues working in the sex industry, and it’s not a big deal. It’s not exactly ideal that their first date is Deadpool hiring her and then using the time he paid for to just spend time with her playing pool because he wants to get to know her, and then ending up in a relationship, but still. I don’t recall this positive a depiction of a sex worker in a mainstream blockbuster, like, ever.
What’s less lovely, however, is the damsel in distress she becomes. It’s a little ironic because at one point, she actually says to the bad guy: “I’ve played a lot of roles, damsel in distress ain’t one of them.” Well, sorry to break it to you, lady, but that’s exactly what happened. One line like that can’t help your scripting, not even if you punch the villain in the face afterwards. Vanessa is the driving force behind Deadpool getting his superpowers (at least the bit where he leaves her for her own good is called out at the end and he apologizes, thank God for that), and then is held captive by the villain and tortured while Deadpool fights him. She is given a chance to stick a sword thorough the villain once as well, but since this doesn’t kill the guy and he just gets up and continues torturing her, it’s a little…meh. She’s not completely passive and it’s shown clearly that she can take care of herself in normal circumstances when she isn’t facing superheroes, but her basic role in the script is still that of the motivation for the hero and the damsel in need of rescuing. And if you want to argue that she is weak when surrounded by all those mutants, well, compare this to equally superpower-free Weasel’s storyline. He helped Deadpool get ready for the action and gave him advice and then got on with his life and no one kidnapped him and tortured him to serve as a motivation.
Now this would have been less that ideal in and of itself, but becomes much more devastating when we take into account that Vanessa actually has superpowers in her comics form, and very powerful ones. She’s known as Copycat. It’s a little telling when the female romantic lead is robbed of her powers so that she can become a convenient damsel in distress for the hero to save, don’t you think? Because it can’t even be argued that in a film so focused on the protagonist, another mutant would have been distracting. Beside the villains, there are two more mutants there, present to help Deadpool deal with the bad guys. That could have been Vanessa, and we could have had a romantic team up, but no. Instead, as a bonus, we get the closing inner-monologue voiceover telling us that the right girl will awaken the hero within you. Just…why?
There were other women who certainly didn’t fit the mould of a damsel in distress, of course. Given the cardboard aspects of all of the supporting characters, they were hardly relateable, and were, in fact, a bit of a Strong WomanTM, but I don’t want to put too much demand on an action comedy, so I think I’m mostly fine with those, though I would have really been happier if they both didn’t at least look so very stereotypically like a badass female, while Vanessa looked so very feminine (she has short hair in the first scene she appears in, but later it gets longer and wavy, to go better with her role I suppose). And I certainly appreciated the fact that, while they had one SuperFemale on the good side and one on the bad side, they didn’t have them fight each other.
Continuing in the vein of representation, there is an Indian-American taxi driver in the film, Dopinder, who…well. Who seems like a bit of a racist caricature, to be honest. I do realize this film is not in the business of dealing sensitively with absolutely anything – that’s sort of its point – so I’m not going to make noises about the crime he commits towards the end, but there’s a difference between not shying away from dark humour (see Blind Al, no pun intended) and violence on one hand, and supporting stereotypes on the other. And the fact is, Dopinder has a completely proprietary and objectifying approach to the woman he is attracted to (he primarily thinks of her as potentially ‘making a good wife for him’), and Deadpool encourages him to act towards her in a way he’d never actually act towards his own love interest. Maybe he thinks that’s just part of Indian culture, and that she’d appreciate it if Dopinder dragged her by the hair, too? Oh and then Deadpool just randomly doesn’t pay for his taxi ride, and I guess that’s fine as well. Dopinder certainly seems happy to drive him once more, and not getting paid again. Once again, why?
It’s a little baffling to see such missteps when it’s clear that a less stereotypical approach could have enriched the story and made the plot less ordinary. Deadpool is not a deep film, or a very interesting film, but it’s a fun film and it’s different enough from all the other superhero flicks that you won’t be bored by repetition. Without its representation problem, I’d have been happy to make this a glowing recommendation. As it is…well, I guess it depends on how much you like sex jokes.