Did “Deadpool” Push the Envelope?

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Well, it’s here. After years of anticipation and obstacles to the production of this film, “Deadpool” has arrived on the silver screen. After over a week, this film has already broken a number of box office records, particularly those for rated “R” films. Critics hail it as original, and fans praise it for being true to the character.

So why did I just like it and not love it?

Before I go any further, I should say that I was quite skeptical going into this movie, even with the early positive Twitter reactions and the high Rotten Tomatoes score. Over and over, I saw the phrases “broke the fourth wall,” “extreme violence,” “self-referential,” “profanities,” and the like. Cynical me recognized these as basic buzz words, the basic reactions that the studio and filmmakers would want people to spread. These were the essentials of a Deadpool movie, but my doubt was – did the film take these far enough to create a truly unique film?

The other claim I must make is that I am actually not that familiar with the comic book source material. My main exposure to Deadpool is through animated films and shows, video games like “Marvel vs. Capcom 3,” and GIFs such as this:

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At the risk of sounding like I’m talking out of my ass, I would like to try to focus less on the source material, and more on how a movie can take advantage of the tools that the Deadpool universe provides (fourth wall breaking, profanity, etc.).

Visual Humor

In my opinion, for any film to be successful (and especially page-to-screen adaptations), it has to take advantage of the medium, combining blocking, cinematography, sound, and other visual elements to deliver a story that no other medium can. While I did like Zach Snyder’s “Watchmen” adaptation, I felt that Snyder confined himself too much to the images on the page, and failed to let his own vision breathe, resulting in a very still frame-by-frame remake, with added slow motion and fight choreography.

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I thought a lot about this when thinking about the comedic aspect of “Deadpool.” As opposed to still comic panels with speech bubbles, you have moving film shots edited together to create a visual rhythm. In that respect, I think “Deadpool” did a fine job taking advantage of its medium. The opening title sequence, a slow motion up-and-close look of a crashing van, was a perfect way to visually demonstrate the attitude that this film would take. Uncomfortable close ups of our anti-hero coupled with the fine details of the grief these henchman are receiving from him. Subtle jabs with things like the Green Lantern card, and not-so-subtle self-aware jokes at the filmmakers and actors involved in the film. There’s a lot of great visual humor in this film; a bored Deadpool playing with a car window, the well-edited montage of Wade Wilson and Vanessa of their sexual escapades throughout various holidays, or near the end of the film, when a celebrating Deadpool in the distance is tackled by Ajax, coming from out of the frame.

Could the film have taken its visual comedy further? Yes. No one quite does it like Edgar Wright anymore:

Does every comedy film need to be like and Edgar Wright film? No, not at all. But would such a style and philosophy work in a film like “Deadpool?” I think so. This is something I hope that the filmmakers of the sequel will push further. Play with the frame, play with sound, and play with editing more.

Superhero Film Tropes

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I believe that Fox, director Tim Miller, the screenwriters, and the rest of the creative team saw this film as an opportunity to subvert basic superhero film tropes. Ever since Christopher Nolan took the superhero film into more gritty territory, one could argue that superhero films these days are a bit too serious – you could visualize this though the posters that come out these days:

On the other hand:

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The “Deadpool” marketing team wants you to know that this is a superhero film – just not that kind of superhero film.

Enter the character of Colossus. Representing the X-Men, a classic superhero team that the audience is surely familiar with, Colossus represents the basic ideals of the classic superhero, in an almost cheesy manner. He tells young Negasonic Teenage Warhead to eat breakfast, he chastises Deadpool for his use of profanity, and he gives a heavy-handed monologue to Deadpool right before he executes Ajax. The last example is probably the best one; the moral lesson that these films usually try to relay is rudely interrupted by a moment of comedic violence.

This I believe was the strongest aspect of the film. The idea of the superhero was not just a gag, but rather an essential part of Wade Wilson’s character arc. Throughout the film, Wilson feels pressured into becoming what is basically a superhero in a time of crisis, not only for himself, but for his love. In the end, he finds that he doesn’t necessarily have to, and rather becomes something entirely different to save the day – Wilson turns into the quintessential anti-hero.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

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This is the aspect of the film that I had the most issue with coming out the film. Going back to the idea of taking advantage of the medium of film, what I wanted coming into the film is a Deadpool fully aware that he was in a movie. 

In some respects, we did receive this. There are some wonderful and funny references in this film (“Stewart or McAvoy?”, name drops of Ryan Reynolds, the hilarious gag of Hugh Jackman’s face stapled onto Wilson’s). But rarely in the film did I feel that Deadpool was interacting with the audience, with a few exceptions being “fourth wall within a fourth wall” joke, “cue the music,” and the very funny “Ferris Bueller” post-credits scene. Again, I’m not too well-versed with the source material, but I feel that this is still a staple of the character. I want Deadpool to take advantage of the features of movies – in the fighting video game “Marvel vs. Capcom 3,” Deadpool can pick up his own health bar and beat his opponent with it. Why not have Deadpool interact with the camera more? Maybe he wipes something off the lens, or crashes into a light, or something else of that nature. You run the risk of breaking the pre-established X-Men film universe, but it doesn’t seem like something the filmmakers are too concerned with when they’re already making references to Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds.

What are some examples in other films of creative fourth wall breaking? For one, there is the revolutionary “Blazing Saddles” (1974) by Mel Brooks, where the climax takes the action of the film outside the soundstage in which the film is being shot, and into the movie studio:

Or perhaps another Mel Brooks classic, “Spaceballs” (1987), where the film’s villains use their own film (still in the middle of shooting) to find the protagonists. It is not only funny and creative, but also serves to forward the plot:

There are plenty of other examples of meta-fiction; for example, Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation” comes from the screenwriter’s struggle to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief,” resulting in a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman (portrayed by Nicolas Cage) struggling to adapt “The Orchid Thief.” Even lower brow fare like Kevin Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (2001) enter this territory, with a plot involving the titular characters attempting to stop the production of a movie that is essentially about themselves.

Or why not go completely bonkers with a premise like “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare?” This film has original “Nightmare on Elm Street” writer and director, the late Wes Craven, return to his series after the studios and other filmmakers churned out sequels that made the character of Freddy Krueger into a more cartoonish and comedic character. Consequently, “New Nightmare” depicts Freddy Krueger coming into our real world and haunting the people involved in making these films.

These are all examples that truly play with the medium of film, that to their fullest extent interact with the audience and shatter the fourth wall – this was something that I wanted more out of “Deadpool.”

Again, a Deadpool film does not need to be just like these films to be successful. As far as I know, they may not even represent the Deadpool character in the comics. But when this film is already wading in this sort of territory in the medium of film, I would hope for more. It is fair that this film, being marketed to a wide audience, is a little more standard than I would hope. But now that “Deadpool” has struck gold and secured its audience, I would hope for a sequel that has no restraints and totally goes off the rails.

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