Popchock on Film: “Hail, Caesar!” Teases, But “Deadpool” Delivers

Deadpool

For those of us unfamiliar with the title character, and those of us who are relative novices to Marvel folklore in general, Deadpool is a film that could be charitably described as different. But even for devotees and comic geeks wanting more than the same old origin movie, it is anything but “same old.”

Deadpool scores big time with its shameless fourth-wall demolition, literally, right from the opening credits. Be prepared for some of the most well-produced credits you’ll ever see in this genre. Ryan Reynolds, almost as quickly, scores big time with Morena Baccarin, who has previously scored points with me for her portrayal of Dr. Leslie Thompkins on Gotham. Just as she tries to bring out the best in Detective Jim Gordon on that program, her role in Deadpool makes us sympathize with a vigilante who insists upon being unsympathetic.

Reynolds’ character reminds me of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. He’s so stuck on himself it comes off funny, albeit borderline obnoxious, and his warped moral compass, at the end of the day, still points him in the right direction. Unlike conventional comic book movie protagonists, however, he doesn’t fight for truth, justice or the American way. Essentially, he fights for himself, but he fights for himself for a noble reason: returning to the love of his life, and with it, a return to relative normalcy. Furthermore, Deadpool doesn’t have the book smarts of a Tony Stark, but his street smarts and uncanny philosophies are quite amusing. You could even go outside the Marvel universe and say there’s a streak of Batman in him–a do-gooder too skeptical to be a team player, despite the pleas of those special guest X-Men present.

Other than Deadpool’s snarky disposition, the most pleasant surprise in this movie for me was director T.J. Miller putting himself in a supporting role as the wisecracking bartender who helps a physically and emotionally scarred Wade Wilson name his new alter ego. I remember him best as Jay Baruchel’s sophomoric friend in the Pittsburgh-based romcom She’s Out of My League, and his humor is a bit more wry here, but it works.

A sequel–a prerequisite for any big-budget superhero flick these days–might be risky due to the law of diminishing return. Reynolds, to some, may have been forgettable as Green Lantern, but he goes straight to the opposite end of the personality spectrum in Deadpool. He is as glib as he is intense, and a little bit of Deadpool goes a long way.

The violence is graphic and wholesale, and, above all, indiscriminate. Audiences outside the target ones will argue it’s oversold, and understandably so. The dialogue, especially between Deadpool and his counterparts, is as raw as raw can be. All things considered, I’m stunned the lines dropped by Miller in this interview didn’t make the cut:

Indeed, Deadpool will say things you thought you’d never hear, and it makes you see things you can’t un-see. Yet you won’t be able to take your eyes off it.

"Hail, Caesar!" posterHail, Caesar! is a movie that says one thing and, ultimately, does something wholly other. As Colin Trevorrow said while making Jurassic World, the first step toward commercial success is assembling a Murderer’s Row of actors; without the right cast, you fail before you start.

To wit, the first thing that attracts you to this movie is the names on the marquee. George Clooney has his perpetually universal appeal. Scarlett Johansson, the aesthetically-pleasing Avenger, makes an eye-catching faux Marilyn Monroe. Josh Brolin effectively slips into his main character, the head of a fictitious movie studio in the early 1950s. Jonah Hill, whom I loved as much in Superbad as I did in Moneyball, has proven he can play both straight and not-so-serious–which he does.

Once again, one of the movie’s most pleasant surprises is not necessarily on the marquee. Wayne Knight (“Hello, Newman”) portrays the background extra who plays an integral role in the plot, which centers on the kidnapping of Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, the A-list star of an epic movie with religious undertones in which the studio is heavily invested.

While the kidnapping is something you see coming, if you’re pre-judging this movie strictly on what you see in its ads, the political reason behind the kidnapping that is later revealed are something you don’t see coming at all. In hindsight, it’s a sign of the time in which the movie is set, but it’s also a loose end Hail, Caesar! does not effectively tie up.

Clooney’s captors try to push him off an ideological ledge; however, after defending their ideology to Josh Brolin, the latter’s count-your-blessings-and-shut-up defense seems to work a little too well. We don’t get to see the consequences, if any, of Clooney’s temptation. We are asked to take for granted he lives happily ever after, which, knowing that era of show biz, is too big an ask even if you’re asking your audience to suspend disbelief.

On the plus side, we now know Channing Tatum can tap-dance–am I right, ladies? His moves are quite impressive. The fleshing out of his character is not. There is a link between Tatum and the kidnappers, but the fate of his musically inclined Burt Gurney is as strange and nonsensical as it is ambiguous. By the end of the film, there is no sense of urgency by the bad guys toward Clooney’s escape, nor is there any urgency toward regaining the lost ransom money demanded for his safe return.

I appreciate how Hail, Caesar! satirizes the absurdity, or, at least, the perceived absurdity of the Hollywood lifestyle. There is phoniness, there is talk of arranged relationships, and there is a performer horribly miscast. The funniest part is when a pretentious director played by Ralph Fiennes tries to mold a cowboy picture star played by lesser-known Alden Ehrenreich into a more debonair leading man, sans Southern drawl. But perhaps the Coen Brothers had more star power than they knew what to do with, as the climax they build to just seems to fall flat.

Hail, Caesar! didn’t suck. It also didn’t make me feel guilty about seeing it for free.

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