Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Once Upon An Insufferable Adaptation

This post comes out of a series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to the audio version. For 5$, you get access to the mini-podcasts I'm doing with illustrious co-hosts answering questions by listeners of the podcast. At 10$, you get exclusive access to the Boiled Leather Audio Conversation bonus podcasts. Give the Patreon a look! 
Back when Deadpool came out, way back when in 2016, it resonated with a lot of people. It made fun of the ubiquitous superhero genre, it was edgy, it was gory, it had a lot of humor. Many people took its self-parody and crowbar-style subtlety in strides and made it into a surprise hit. It was inevitable that it would be followed up by a sequel. 
I was lukewarm in 2016 about the original Deadpool. Yes, it was entertaining, many of the jokes were good, I could see why it resonated with people, but it never clicked with me. I feel that my very conscious suppression of cynicism may play a role; Deadpool, like so much humor in this day and age, works best with a cynic's outlook on the world. It's the same reason I loathe House of Cards, and loathed it in its first season already, even before Kevin Spacey himself became just a tad unshady. 
But for you, dear Patreons, though none of you asked for it, I braved the sequel. Many people liked it, and sequels usually aren't good, so who knows? Maybe Deadpool 2 ("Once upon a Deadpool") could offer something that the first one hadn't. 
And you have to give it to the movie, it succeeded in that. Where the original movie broke the Fourth Wall with abandon (again, like House of Cards), a schtick that can become tiresome quickly, as the Hot Shots movies can attest to, Deadpool 2 doesn't even bother erecting it in the first place. 
The central premise of Deadpool 2 is that, basically, there's no story there. Therefore, Deadpool is trying to force himself into a traditional superhero narrative, which doesn't work at all of course, and deconstructs all those tropes along the way. And boy, is there a lot of deconstruction going on. From fridging the girlfriend to give the superhero his motivation to dunking on the X-Men and their datedness as a racial metaphor to looking at the trope of the manly man from the apocalypse being manly, all is there. 
And it's all explicitly spelled out. Over. And over. And over again.  And of course, none of this is inherently bad. The topics that Deadpool 2 tackles, from the tired tropes to the racism to the sexism to the belabored wokeness to the brand wars between Disney and Fox, it's all relevant to the Nerdstream discussion. The jokes are mostly sharp and well-written.
So, why do I call the movie insufferable? A lot is coming down to personal taste, admittedly. On the one hand, many reviewers remarked on the narrative incohesion of the thing, always sacrificing any semblance of structure and plot to the jokes. The problem with this is that whenever the movie actually tries to tell a story, which it occasionally does, I have zero interest in it. It's just plain boring in these moments. And don't get me started on characters like Weasel. 
But for me, a lot of the deconstruction fell flat. Again, not because it's bad, necessarily, but because I feel cheated a lot of the time. To bring up the Hot Shots comparison again, it's not like those were good movies. They just shat on them in a barrage of mediocre to passable jokes with just enough self-awareness. Deadpool is a lot better than that, but when it basically says that it just engages in lazy writing as a call-out to other lazy writing, it's still lazy writing. 
You see my problem? Calling out the tropes and the lazy writing in itself isn't that big of a deal; any dolt with a Patreon account can do it (see what I did there?). But in the end, the story and characters still ARE lazily written. The girlfriend stays dead and is used for cheap emotionality, and pointing out that that's happening doesn't make it better. Making a racist joke and then saying "whoops, that was a racist joke now, wasn't it?" is a tired cover-up for planting a racist joke. Just pointing something out isn't really enough to actually add anything meaningful to the conversation. 
In the end, Deadpool 2 couldn't exemplify this any better than by riffing on "The Princess Bride" all the time. That movie actually added on the tropes it deconstructed. You may now say: "Stefan, that's the whole point of the movie, you're just not getting it!" In this case, I might be inclined to agree, but I have a ticket for Star Wars Episode VIII to sell to you.


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