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‘Deadpool’ dodges obstacles

| Tuesday, February 16, 2016

dead-pool-web-SUSAN ZHU | The Observer

There were a lot of places “Deadpool” could have gone wrong. A movie as self-aware as this one, whose titular character knows he’s a work of fiction, requires a delicate balancing act. Lean too far to one side and the movie lacks substance, lean too far to the other and it’s uncomfortably ignorant.

“Deadpool” could have surrendered to the phenomenon known as “we showed all the funniest parts in the trailer.” See enough comedies and you’ll undoubtedly encounter this effect, leaving you feeling cheated when you exit the theater. With trailers as hilarious as those for “Deadpool” this was a definite possibility.

There was also a chance that “Deadpool” would collapse under the weight of its own nerd-fueled popularity and succumb to excessive fan service. Given the character’s uniquely small but fervent fan-base, this was my biggest concern.

I am incredibly happy to say “Deadpool” easily cleared all of these hurdles.  On the surface, it’s a pretty typical love story.  Wade Wilson is your run-of-the-mill ex-Special-Ops-soldier turned town mercenary. He meets the stripper of his dreams, gets terminal cancer and is forced to go to extremes to be cured. Basically the plot of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

“Deadpool” delivers everything fans were expecting and then some. Intense violence? Check. Vulgar humor? Check. Holiday-themed sex montage? Check. Gratuitous Ikea references? Check.

In all seriousness, there hasn’t been a superhero movie this emotionally mature since the Dark Knight trilogy. Most comic book heroes are represented as having relatively unmoving personalities. It doesn’t matter what sorts of atrocities they see or violence they dish out, they will still be the heroes we know and love. Captain America will still have his indomitable morals, Tony Stark will still have a snappy comeback and Hawkeye will still do whatever the director needs him to do to advance the plot.

No other hero has displayed as much depth as Deadpool. It’s refreshing to have a movie emphasize the human part of superhuman. Wade keeps his sense of humor (though it swings closer to insanity post-transformation), but appears genuinely terrified when undergoing the torture needed to activate his latent mutant powers. Despite his apparent self-assuredness, he wrestles with whether or not to reveal his newly disfigured self to his fiancée.  For all the praise heaped on “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers,” the character development of each of those films feels decidedly unnatural compared to the evolution in “Deadpool.”

I’m guessing that most people aren’t going to see “Deadpool” for the unexpectedly substantial characters. They’re going to laugh. In that regard, “Deadpool” is exceptional. Ryan Reynolds plays the role he was born to play as “the merc with the mouth.” His R-rated immaturity will keep you laughing throughout the entire film. Morena Baccarin and (especially) T.J. Miller do a great job as his deadpan comedic foils. Relative unknowns Andre Tricoteux and Brianna Hildebrand are amusing, if underused, sidekicks.

Perhaps the one legitimate shortcoming in this film is the villains. Ed Skrein plays a generic scientist with super-strength named Ajax, and former-MMA fighter Gina Carano plays his similarly strong henchwoman Angel Dust. Skrein’s performance isn’t bad, but a villain who “can’t feel anything” isn’t the most satisfying target of Deadpool’s insults. At least he was allowed to talk — it seemed like the script actively avoided Carano.

But ultimately, this movie is the Deadpool show — a monument built to showcase all that this character has to offer. The story is engaging, the action sequences beautiful and the humor sidesplitting. I can sleep soundly knowing “Deadpool” is here to save us from getting our heads stuck too far up our cinematic universes.

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