Film review – Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016)

Deadpool may be many things. Some call it a superhero film. Some will call it an action film. Some will call it a romance. Some will call it a comedy. It may be all of these things, but one thing it doesn’t do is take itself seriously.

Deadpool has opened with the largest first weekend takings of an R-rated movie ever ($132.7m). Both the taking and the rating are well deserved. Where its superhero counterparts have sanitised the violence portrayed, Deadpool plays to it. There are beheadings. There are dead human carcasses splattered at high speed into road signs. There is terrible, offensive and graphic language. The violence is non-stop. There’s even more after the opening scene. Later, we visit a strip club. Indeed, there’s a sex montage that lasts about five minutes and is played for laughs. Nothing is off-limits.

It never loses its sense of humour, and at the centre of this achievement is Ryan Reynolds who proves that he’s the right guy for the job after all. We have seen Reynolds’s take on Deadpool once before, albeit in what is generally regarded to be a butchered take on the comic book character. His first appearance as the chatty bad ass was in 2008’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which he was inexplicably not able to talk once he became Weapon XI / Deadpool. It was seen at the time as a missed opportunity by fanboys of the comics, though in hindsight it is hard to pin the blame on Reynolds. What else could he do with a silent character, especially acting alongside will.i.am?

This time around he is actively encouraged to pastiche other superhero films. Several times the fourth wall is broken to humorous effect, usually to take a poke at the previous Marvel films, the messy timeline involved in the X-Men franchise, Hugh Jackman himself and, most frequently, that underwhelming Origins film.

It’s refreshing to see a superhero film not taking itself very seriously. It was also great to see a director – a first-time director at that – given the ammo to do exactly what he wants with a film and not be told to fit it into a larger universe. We can only wonder if Ant-Man could have been this good if Edgar Wright was allowed to finish it.

Tim Miller has directed one short film prior to Deadpool. It was an animated short film from 2004 called Gopher Broke. You can view it here:

Supporting Cast

One of my favourite X-Men characters as a child was Collossus (Stefan Kapicic). Here he is given yet another outing on the big screen in a CGI creation that is well realised visually if not in terms of characterisation. He is present as one of Deadpool’s sidekicks solely for comic relief rather than to provide any real threat, and as a result it’s difficult to see him having any room to manoeuvre in future X-Men films.

The other sidekick character making up the lead trio is Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). An emo-styled young mutant, she at least has some potentially useful strength. However, she is also on the receiving end of some great one-liners from Deadpool and doesn’t offer much to suggest she might ever become a fan favourite.

deadpoolcolossus

These two supporting X-Men were clearly only ever seen as a bit of background built around the requirement for a subplot in the final battle sequence. A joke is made at one point about the studio not being able to afford any more X-Men. There is doubtless some truth in this.

Elsewhere, the supporting cast also includes the annoyingly evil Ed Skrein, who does a good job of making the fairly generic character Ajax quite dislikable. Morena Baccarin is well cast as the romantic interest, though it’s a shame we saw yet another an initially headstrong female character dissolve into a damsel in distress. Hopefully she will be given more prominence if a sequel is made – if they stick to the comic books she will become the mutant Copycat.

Conclusion

It is a very good film, almost a great film. It’s brash, it’s offensive and it’s graphic. It’s almost like a superhero film from an alternate reality, where the primary goal isn’t to sell action figures and lunchboxes. Its failings are more than made up for by how refreshing it was to see a completely different take on the genre.

If nothing else, at least now we can say a film has done justice to the Deadpool franchise.

Deadpool is out now at cinemas globally.

Film review – Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

The problem that many British viewers of this film will have when viewing this film is a pining for what could have been. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish had for a long time both been attached to the film, the former as director and both as co-writers. Both are extremely well-known amongst the geeks of Britain and the fact they were teaming up was an absolute dream. Edgar Wright proved what he could do when given the freedom of the source material when he directed the excellent Scott Pilgrim vs The World in 2010. Whilst the Ant-Man series wasn’t as well known as the likes of X-Men and Spiderman, in the right hands it had the potential to be a great film.

Phenomenal powers, itty bitty living space.

Phenomenal powers, itty bitty living space.

However, it slowly became apparent that Marvel had a different idea of the direction it should take. In an interview with Mike Ryan of the Huffington Post, Edgar Wright said “It is pretty standalone in the way we’re linking it to the others. I like to make it standalone because I think the premise of it needs time. I want to put the crazy premise of it into a real world, which is why I think Iron Man really works because it’s a relatively simple universe; it’s relatable.” Clearly Marvel wanted the film to be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the compromises required to slot it in with Thor, Iron Man and the clan didn’t sit well with Wright and Cornish. With not long to go before release date – 420 days to be precise – the pair (along with director of photography Bill Pope) co-announced with Marvel Studios that they were leaving the project, citing “differences in their vision of the film”.

So what are we left with? Well, Peyton Reed has come on board as emergency director. His previous work has been pretty much exclusively romantic comedies (Down With Love, The Break-Up) and the impression is that he was brought in to do what the studio needed rather than drive his own vision of the narrative. Ironically that makes him a kind of yes man. [1]

What’s really frustrating is that the script has some very Wright/Cornish-esque humour in there. One of the large scale fights near the climax of the film happens around a Thomas the Tank Engine toy train track. Anyone familiar with Joe Cornish’s route to fame in the 90s will see the likelihood that this was one from him. Or maybe Peyton Reed is a big fan of Series 2, Episode 18 of the original Thomas the Tank Engine series “Thomas Comes To Breakfast”, which first aired in the UK in October 1986.

The one saving grace of the film is Paul Rudd doing and excellent job as Scott Lang, the thief-turned-hero who wants to make up for lost time with his daughter. His humour and sharp wit make the journey through the film entirely pleasurable. He is a great comedic actor and the film has benefited from his presence on the rewriting team.

However, for all the good that is done by some great work in the cast (Michael Peña is hilarious throughout), we keep getting reminders that this is two films woven into one. The worst moment of the film comes when there’s an oblique reference to The Avengers, which sticks out like a sore thumb. Just as we are forgetting about it, Falcon arrives on the scene. Yes that’s right, Anthony Mackie has his very own cameo role in everyone’s eleventh-favourite Avenger (12th if you include Ant-Man, 13th if you include Nick Fury… who knows where by the time Civil War is released). It’s so pointless and so clearly an afterthought that it not only doesn’t help fit it in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe but rather actually just causes a detrimental effect on the absorbing world that was almost being created in this film.

It’s a shame that we will never see that Wright/Cornish film that never was. It must be said that it was unlikely to ever see the light of day without some serious compromises, but as two huge fans of Marvel comic books that was never going to happen. Instead we’re left with a reasonable film with some rewarding moments, which never really gets going because it is so disjointed.

Ant-Man is out at cinemas globally now.

[1] Yes I went there.

Robert Downey Jr. v Krishnan Guru Murthy

I’ve just watched the infamous Robert Downey Jr. interview walkout. I recommend you watch it too, especially if you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you read the articles without watching the video, then you’re playing into the hands of the kind of journalism RDJ was walking out of.

The way Guru-Murthy conducts himself in the interview is very much the same as he did in the Quentin Tarantino interview a couple of years ago. He sets his stalls out to deliberately antagonise the star in an attempt to become the focus of the interview and further his credibility. It’s completely disrespectful and I truly hope it backfires.

In an eight-minute interview for a blockbuster superhero movie, it’s too much to try to get under the skin in a way that doesn’t seem superficial. I can totally understand RDJ’s reaction and I hope it doesn’t damage the credibility he has been restoring for the last fifteen years, following his release from prison on drug charges. I just don’t get why you’d do this to such a likeable guy.

By the way, I reviewed Avengers: Age of Ultron yesterday. It’s excellent.