Saturday, March 5, 2016

13 Hours & Deadpool

Last night I splurged on myself and went to a movie. I arrived at the theater undecided about whether I wanted to see Deadpool, Zootopia or London Has Fallen. I wasn't interested in Risen and I wasn't even aware of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. So I asked the lady at the box office what I should see, and without a second's hesitation, she told me to see Deadpool. I did, and a good time was had by all - all three people in the movie theater, that is. I guess it wasn't a great Friday night at that particular cinema.

Deadpool is a very naughty, raunchy, violent, morally objectionable film. I can't believe there were actually moms who wanted the studio to re-cut it as a PG or PG-13 picture so their precious little cookie-crunchers could see it. I don't see what footage they could have used. They would have had to rewrite and re-shoot the entire film, and that would have resulted in a completely different movie. And it would have been a shame, because I liked this one. The only thing I felt awkward about was being the only person giving up belly-laughs. The other two people in the audience probably liked it, but they didn't join in the crowd feeling I was going for. I guess you need a crowd for that kind of thing.

Deadpool, a.k.a. Wade Wilson, is a physically and mentally messed up dude. Not a superhero. He puts on a costume to cover up his deformities and goes after the guy who made him that way, murdering dozens of minions and henchmen along the way. He has a superpower of the type that exists in the X-Men universe - brought to you by a mutant serum. He can, if you don't mind the spoiler, heal from any injury, including having limbs cut off and being stabbed in the brain. He has a couple of low-level X-Men (Colossus and Negatronic Teenage Warhead), neither of whom played much of a role in the comics or other Marvel movies, trying to keep him from getting in too much trouble and, in a feeble way, recruiting him as one of their own. He has a main squeeze, played by Morena Baccarin of Firefly, and a low-life buddy who runs a bar where mercenaries hang out between jobs, and a feisty blind old lady for a roommate, and a villainous nemesis named Ajax whose tag-line is "What's my name?" because Deadpool (whose tag-line is "Maximum effort!") keeps calling him Francis. Other than another villain, a super-powered chick named Angel Dust, the main cast is filled out by a comic-relief taxi driver character and a villainous recruiter whom I recognized as one of the goofy aliens in Galaxy Quest.

So, the plot, partly laid out in a series of flashbacks, is about how Wilson finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to accept an offer to cure his cancer, in return for being tortured into insanity and (according to the fine print) fitted with a slave collar. He blows the place up before the collar goes on, leaving him free to spend the rest of the movie looking for an opportunity to put a bullet through the forehead of Ajax, who did the nastiest torturing. Ajax, meanwhile, scoops up Vanessa, the love interest, and uses her as bait to draw Deadpool into their final confrontation on what appears to be the beached wreck of an aircraft carrier. How they got that thing on dry land, I can't even guess.

Aside from the plot, the movie is livened by a ton of fourth-wall breaking, wise-cracking, dirty language, sex, nudity, and graphic violence. There are also a lot of Marvel movie in-jokes, such as Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds) remarking that getting his looks back is totally important, because where would Ryan Reynolds' career be without his looks? Of course I've killed that joke now, but you can still enjoy the other ones, which I will leave be. Enjoying this movie is a wonderful exercise in suspending your sense of disgust at the moral bankruptcy of its main character and the colossal waste of human life that marks his progress through the world.

It is an antiheroic movie that appeals to antiheroic times. But it also leaves open a narrow, uninviting door to the possibility that some day, Wade Wilson might avail himself of (to borrow a bit of Colossus preachiness) four or five moments of opportunity to choose do to the right thing, and thereby become a hero. Probably won't happen, but who knows? The gulf from a smart-mouthed, hot-headed antihero to an extremely flawed, smart-mouthed, hot-headed hero is not so very great. And watching Deadpool teeter on the edge of it might be entertaining for a while.

My previous trip to the movies, maybe a month ago, was on a similar night when I had several choices, including (if memory serves) The Revenant and... nope. Memory doesn't serve. I think I chose 13 Hours for two reasons: I am sick of looking at Leonardo di Caprio's face; and it was starting as I walked into the theater.

All I want to say about it, at this late date, is that I was impressed by how well the movie succeeded in making me feel like I had been through the ordeal with the six men who defended the CIA compound in Benghazi the night U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens died. The rhythm of the film conveyed the feeling of growing exhaustion and despair as the night stretched on, and each interval of tense waiting was followed by an attack more insane than the last. The casualties were lopsidedly high on the side of the attacking Islamic militants and low on the American side, but another thing the movie let one feel was the frustrating uncertainty, dawning into horrifying certainty, that no help was coming from the U.S. armed forces, though they were certainly close enough to have intervened.

The film very subtly but effectively points out that all this happened hours after the White House was briefed about it, while broadcast media reports (originating from the White House) attributed the attack to a protest about an internet video - a protest that no one who lived through the ordeal had any recollection of seeing - and a report that belied the very strong signs that the attack had been planned a good while in advance. There was also that in the characterization of the CIA station chief's relationship to his security team which suggested the agency gave the shaft to the true heroes of the night. So it had a nice little political sting in it. But mostly what it excelled at was, as I said, conveying the feeling of being surrounded by armed lunatics and having to fight them off, all night long, waiting for any kind of help to arrive with shrinking hope that it ever would, and marveling that anyone could have survived it.

The cast was impressive. Comedian John Krasinski, late of The Office and It's Complicated, got a rare opportunity to show his chops as a dramatic lead actor and didn't disappoint, though the final cut of the movie may have allowed him to over-indulge just a wee bit. Playing the best-developed character of the four Americans who perished that night is James Badge Dale, a guy I've never noticed before, by name. I guess he's specializing in war movies, westerns, and action flicks, most of which I haven't seen; but I thought he gave a beautiful touch to the tragic character of Tyrone Woods. Playing one of the other heroes, but one who arrived at the compound with reinforcements just in time to be killed in the same mortar attack that ended Woods' night-long resistance, was sometime Bond villain Toby Stephens as Glen Doherty. Pablo Schreiber, Liev's half-brother and an up-and-coming young talent, played the most flamboyant of the team that defended the American compound that night. And in the role of the green (in multiple senses) security guy with the pretty eyes and the unfortunate mustache, whose loss of nerve contributed at least indirectly to the ambassador's death - or so this movie suggests - was David Giuntoli, whom I spent the entire movie thinking I had seen before, and only placed as the lead actor in TV's Grimm when I saw his name in the credits. Also in the cast were familiar TV character actor David Constabile as the station chief, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince alum Freddy Stroma as an abrasive young CIA spook with an inexplicable British accent.

But once again, to return to a theme I have touched on before, John Krasinski: this movie was his star-making moment, if only he takes proper advantage of it. We have seen him be a strong man for once, and not just a passive-aggressive nebbish. He could do without the beard he wore in this movie, though it might not hurt to keep the muscles. I'm not suggesting that he take the lead in a re-boot of Die Hard. I just think it behooves Hollywood to keep its eyes open for an actor who can really sell the role of an unapologetically manly guy, who is both sensitive enough to make us sympathize with the hell he is going through and strong enough to fight back and survive. That's a character people will pay to see, even if they're not sure such men really exist. And this is the kind of role that, in a movie whose politics aren't so out-of-step with those of Hollywood, might have earned him an Oscar nomination.

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