In a way, Deadpool is a character that defies the idea of film. His manic energy and love for subverting the medium tends to make traditional narratives fall a little flat. Glancing into the camera, hanging the lampshade on the concept of flashbacks and linear time, and making smooth meta-commentary concurrently in and out of character and context are earmarks of what makes Deadpool work.
And the biggest tragedy is that Deadpool is a technically sound, cohesive, and accomplished film.
Deadpool works. The jokes and quips come quickly, but never so closely together that they pile into each other or overcrowd the scene. The comedic timing is also textbook to the formula for a good joke, leaving the audience plenty of time to prepare for the next. The central cast all perform excellently, with Ryan Reynolds, T.J. Miller, and Morena Baccarin bringing a great, believable energy to their characters. The supporting cast, though not quite as spot-on as the central cast, all sell themselves without hesitation. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, so the gravity of the murder and kidnapping never manage to trample the fun humor. And, uncharacteristically, there is a very believable and wonderful romance plot that manages to humanize Wade Wilson beneath the mask.
On its own, without elaboration, the above is a good quick-and-dirty take on the movie, and can be left as-is without being dishonest about the experience. Nothing about Deadpool is bad enough to keep it from being anything other than a good movie. It’s not necessarily a great movie, since occasional action scenes and stunts are clearly CGI, and some of the actors fall a little flat in their roles, but none of these are bad enough to cause more than a second’s pause.
Were Deadpool to be judged on a checklist of a good movie’s features, there would be very few boxes unchecked by the credits. By all standards, it should be a great ride. However, in reflection to what makes Deadpool work, that kind of checklist doesn’t feel right.
In part because Deadpool himself is supposed to be aggravating, insane, and off-kilter. While other comic heroes have narration, points of view, and information that support the flow of the narrative, Deadpool should be the voice of an interrupting child. He should be constantly undermining cohesion. The camera, every other character, and every other moment should be as seriously told, plainly presented, and carefully crafted to make as much sense as it can, while being unsuccessful against the onslaught of dry humor and crude entertainment that Deadpool embodies. He shouldn’t explain to the audience that he isn’t a superhero, because he shouldn’t have to. It should be obvious in his every action, his every line of dialog, and in his very soul be the antithesis of what other heroes do.
Throughout Deadpool, Colossus continues to try to teach Wade the merits of heroism, the lesson of great responsibility to go with his great power, and the virtue of calming his irrational insanity. Colossus is exactly what the audience should expect from a hero, and what the rest of the universe should rally behind. Socially, Colossus should make sense. Functionally, Colossus becomes the punching bag for humorous inserts. The music will refuse to swell for his big speeches, the camera will only centrally feature him when its setting up an interrupt from the red suited madman, and the villains will simply deck him instead of engaging the way they’re supposed to in conversation.
Excepting the audience, everyone else should grow a little tired of Deadpool’s shtick. They should love the smartass right up until that smartass is aimed at them. It’s counter-intuitive, more than a little tiring, and certainly endeavors to sabotage anything of importance. The romance plot should work because Vanessa happens to be just the right kind of mad to foil Wade Wilson’s affable insanity. It should be the only thing that makes sense for Wilson, but with everyone playing along, what should be their unique, loving dynamic feels a little less stellar and glowing.
In addition to the entire cast playing along with Deadpool, the forces of the universe are also happy to play along. The camera goes where Deadpool tells it to, the soundtrack is cued and cut at his whimsy, giving him a weird editorial control of the tone. In combat, even when he’s losing, Deadpool dictates the pace, giving him plenty of time to set up jokes or frame them with the right one or two-line set ups.
With that in mind, and the understanding that any strife Deadpool finds himself in can be resolved with his immortality and seemingly perfect control of the goings-on, none of the tension can stick. The humor, where it should be groan inducing for any character foolish enough to be in the same room as him, is instead kindled with gleeful setups and banter to keep giving Deadpool easy one-liners. Even where things go wrong for Wade, they’re perfectly timed to set up a throwaway joke without ever giving need to improvise a bigger, more elaborate, more stupid conclusion. When Deadpool does something insane, typical of the character, the camera follows his setup so it’s only a surprise to its victims. The insanity dilutes in the process, giving Deadpool more credibility than he should ever have.
In light of that, Deadpool works too well to really be Deadpool. It should’ve been a little bit misshapen. The camera and soundtracks should’ve been working against him, and failing despite doing everything right. The villains should’ve made their best efforts to undermine everything he sets up, instead of grinning and letting the class clown win the banter. The other characters should find nothing endearing about Deadpool except that he always seems to be pointed in more or less the right direction. Deadpool should’ve begrudged its protagonist for doing everything wrong and still getting to where it should’ve gone. The scenes should’ve been staged like every other movie, while Deadpool was using the camera’s blindspots, the audio’s weaknesses, and the bad guys’ sensible behaviors to win the day in spite of the entire world operating in a different gear.
Instead, Deadpool followed the formula of what makes a good action-comedy. What shouldn’t work does, and what doesn’t work is more about little errors than Deadpool’s mischief. It uses the framing to bolster Deadpool’s jokes, it gives the character enough editorial control to signpost everything he wants to do while he’s doing it, and refused to apologize for doing everything a good movie is supposed to do for its protagonist. Deadpool is given everything he needs to make his jokes work for a mass market audience, and despite a bit of blood, butt, and boob, it has all the sensibilities of a wider PG-13 movie without the trappings.
Deadpool is very cohesive, technically sound, coherently shot action-comedy film that does everything right. Deadpool is a madcap, manic, unsound, unpredictable lunatic who does everything he wants regardless of what should be right, and although it works, it does so in spite of the world around him.
These two things never reconcile, and although there isn’t anything wrong with Deadpool, it loses something in being so pristine while getting there.