CineScene

‘Deadpool,’ ‘Solo’ Go Head to Head

By BILL GEIGER | Jun 06, 2018

It doesn’t happen often, but we have two mega-film franchises battling head to head in this week’s CineScene column. That’s right, “Deadpool 2” is in the right corner, while “Solo: A Star War’s Story” is in the left. The bell is about to ring for Round 1, so settle in and get comfortable.

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe, “Book Club” is plugging along, not smashing box office records like “… Infinity Wars” did, but holding its own, thank you. Due in large part to the epithet it has acquired as a blue-haired chick flick, small theaters are still filling up wherever it is playing. And it’s playful enough as a film to give these theater-goers their money’s worth with change.

But on to the main attraction, “Deadpool 2” vs. “Solo ...” It should be mentioned, as something of a disclaimer, that the following thoughts arise from contemplating the whole of the “Star Wars” canon along with the Marvel Universe, as it’s been called. The latter has a kind of a canon, too, a Marvel-verse, as it were, although we haven’t explored too much of it yet cinematically, as there’s a lot more out there. So much of what I’m about to say has been cogitated, ruminated and pondered, often with a can of a cold, malt beverage in hand. I share the short form below.

Throwing the first punch, a right cross to the jaw, is the strange superhero known as Deadpool. Much of his backstory came from the original film (2016), which was such a hit the Marvel studio decided on the two-year model, as in make a new one every two years and the audience will scream for more. Deadpool is Wade Wilson, a special ops soldier who is also a mutant, although his mutant self might have come about when Wilson, back from a mission, discovered that he had cancer all over his body and opted for an experimental treatment that would accelerate his healing process. It made him look like a mutant, but it almost made him invincible.

If you took the Marvel-verse, perhaps minus the X-Man mutants, the most straight, square, all-American character is Captain America. Hands down. No more questions. With that said, consider Deadpool about 180 degrees in the other direction. While he may not have the shield that Captain America likes to use to protect himself or to throw as a weapon, Deadpool does have his pair of Ninja swords. And while Captain America has his own “Steve Rogers” kind of wardrobe, Deadpool does have a spandex superhero outfit. But as we know, clothes do not make the man, so let’s look for some other Deadpool traits.

So far Marvel’s main wisecracking hero is Iron Man, but he is small potatoes compared to Deadpool. The dude can seriously crack wise. In fact, Deadpool is so prolific with profanity that it has been said he has diarrhea of the mouth.

While it can get a little strained, a lot of it has to do with funky modern cultural references, and that’s pretty cool. He loves cracking wise about past films his alter ego, or maybe his alter, alter ego, Ryan Reynolds made, including the stinking, but lovable, at least in my critical appraisal, “The Green Lantern,” and some scenes shared with that hairy mutant Wolverine in “Logan.” It is fact and truth that Deadpool/Wade Wilson does not take himself too seriously.

But just what is he about in “Deadpool 2?” He fancies himself as the protector of the oppressed, and the film’s beginning features just that. He fights off various attacks on his person by a street gang and then as they get better armed, he runs off, jumps through the closed back window of his favorite taxi driver Dropinder (Karan Soni), and he goes back to his favorite squeeze Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).

A squeeze like Vanessa would ordinarily be enough for any guy, but plots must move forward, lest they die, and “Deadpool 2’s” plot must now take a nasty turn toward tragedy, and on down that slippery slope of revenge. Deadpool is devastated, and takes refuge with the other mutants at the X-mansion before he gets mixed up in other adventures.

But the one that occupies three-quarters of the film is the on-and-off battle with Cable (Josh Brolin), a cybernetic soldier from the future who comes back to kill Firefist, one of the X-mutants gone bad, who in the future kills Cable’s family. Deadpool wants to get to Firefist before Cable does, so that animates this part of the film. It’s all very Freudian and revenge-laden, but fast-paced, action-packed and full of fun.

The thing that keeps Deadpool from being knocked out by “Solo …” in our little “score at the shore” boxing match is in this last part – it’s fun. In my humble opinion, it would be difficult not to like “Deadpool 2,” for the writing is crisp, David Leitch’s direction flawless, and both Deadpool and Cable two way-cool dudes. Put it all together and you have a novel approach to the superhero subgenre, namely a superhero film that is actually funny.

Not a bad combination.

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Speaking of combinations, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” just threw one at Deadpool, who deftly backed up, then swerved to his left to avoid the blow. The same thing that powered the punches of Deadpool has stymied those of Solo. And that would be innovation.

I find it somewhat amusing that the makers of “Solo …” have found it imperative to tack on the subtitle “A Star Wars Story,” as if anyone born in the last two generations would think “Solo” could refer to anything else. I mean, while it might not be the first thing a person might think of, it probably would be the second or third. Han Solo. The name has become affixed in modern consciousness as the renegade, the rogue, the unintended consequence when a plan screws up the works. But that name …

“I am become a name/for always roaming with a hungry heart …” Tennyson wrote of Ulysses. Likewise, and it would appear for much the same reasons, has Han Solo. But we think of that dashing rogue as played by Harrison Ford, a man who inhabited the myth as much as played the character. It wasn’t like he didn’t play other roles – remember Indiana Jones – but he was Han Solo.

So the first strike against “Solo …” the movie is that it’s an origins story. We learn some of the backstory to Han (played here by Alden Ehrenreich) and his eventual rise to rogue-dom, and I think I just made that word up. Anyway, the film begins with the inevitable narrative slant, “It was a lawless time,” we’re told, so lawless action must follow. And it does. Han is shown fighting the First Galactic Empire at every turn, trying to come up with scores of a hyperfuel known as coaxium.

Young Han has a young lover, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), and they try to escape the planet they’re stuck on using a stolen vial of coaxium, but Qi’ra does not make it off, so Han vows to come back after he’s made it as a space pilot. From hot wiring land speeders to flying the big ships, Han has the chops to be a pilot; he just has to meet up with the right ne’er do wells to get him a ship.

He finds them three years later as an Imperial infantryman, devising the idea to hook up with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), undoubtedly Han’s inspiration as a rogue, who agrees to take him on with some misgivings, along with the Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotano) whom Han has met under pretty interesting circumstances. No spoilers here, though.

Eventually he goes on his first mission, screws it up, meets the notorious gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) for whom new partner Tobias B. was working, and must talk his way out of it for both himself and Tobias. This might be the beginning of the famous Solo charm, or not, but he must also meet the roguish ne’er do well Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) from whom Han must win at a game of cards, the prize being the famed Millennium Falcon.

Lando cheats, of course, so Han loses, but manages to convince him to use the Falcon to go to the planet Kessel where coaxium is mined. That idea was how Han managed to save himself and Tobias from Vos. Like one, big, happy family, all of them, including Qi’ra, who is now in the employ of Dryden Vos and is sent along with Tobias and Han to ensure the proper delivery of the coaxium, head for Kessel to steal the fuel.

Hyperspace, drones, droids, Imperial cruisers, TIE fighters – how many times have we seen all of this? After much bluster, they get the fuel, Lando’s prize droid is destroyed, but most importantly, since coaxium is so unstable, the Falcon only has a limited amount of time to get back to deliver the fuel to Dryden Vos. Lando gives the heads-up that no one has ever made the “Kessel Run” in under 12 parsecs, and since the fuel is already degrading, Han fires up the old Falcon and makes it back in under 12 parsecs. It was like 11.999999 parsecs. The coaxium was smoking all over the place, but they made it. And from me, no more spoilers about the rest of the film.

This is one instance where I have to say that you don’t want to mess with something good. I might have liked a comedy about Han’s past. Maybe one where the nuns in Han’s grade school smacked him upside the head a few times when he tried working that famous schmooze on them. Or one where Han’s father would wear two different types of plaid when they’d go out together, mortifying Han if anyone noticed them. I don’t think we need to bring back the same tired tropes from the “Star Wars” movies.

I know that there were problems with the film when production began, and how the cinematic view of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller began to diverge from the view of LucasFilm and Disney execs, and how new director Ron Howard was brought aboard, and further how that might destabilize the production of a film, but I don’t think you see a lot of that in “Solo …”

What you do see is some bad chemistry (there’s practically no chemistry between Ehrenreich and Clarke), and some tired storytelling. Strikes two and three. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a mythic story was born. This time it was more like stillborn.

And Solo goes down for the count.

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The other film in our triad was “Book Club,” and I have to say, although I was one of the few males in attendance by himself on the day I screened it, I thought it’s reach went beyond that of the blue-haired crowd which seems to have adopted it as kind of a personal anthem.

I guess it couldn’t have been a more different film from the two already discussed, and I suppose the film would appeal to people of a certain age, what with the emphasis on sexual activity and the need for connection and such, but “Book Club” could have just as easily been about 40-somethings or 50-somethings, instead of 60- or 70-somethings.

Essentially a story about a club consisting of four women who meet once a month to discuss a common book all of them have read, the jokester of the group, Vivian (Jane Fonda) suggests “Fifty Shades of Grey,” that Pulitzer Prize-winning tome which does for ropes and restraints what Puzo’s “The Godfather” did for life in Little Italy, in the hopes the book will do something to resurrect their flagging libidos. Well, Vivian’s libido is not flagging, she would be quick to point out, but she wants to give her club mates some wiggle room, so to speak.

The other book club members are the village prude Sharon (Candice Bergen), eternal hippie Diane (Diane Keaton) and the only hitched member of the group, Carol (Mary Steenburgen). Diane has the most serious situation brewing in her life that calls out for help. Her adult children want her to move out to California with them so she won’t be alone in New York and because she’s getting along in years and should not be living at home alone.

This is a non-starter for Diane, for although her husband of many years died within the last year, their marriage had not been the best, and Diane felt herself surely capable of living her own life. In fact, she did meet a man, a pilot (Andy Garcia), who is very interested in her. Meanwhile, on a dare from the other club members, Sharon puts herself on an internet dating site, and meets a man there, George (Richard Dreyfuss), whom she dates and has kind of a nice time.

Carol, meanwhile, is a bit younger than her friends, and still thinks of herself as a sexy thing. Her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is not really interested in sex, or at least he hasn’t been for a while, and thus Carol is perplexed about what to do about it. Not to worry. Vivian gives her a few Viagra pills to put in Bruce’s beer, so all will be well. And speaking about Vivian, the woman who has men aplenty at her beck and call meets an old flame, Arthur (Don Johnson), who becomes very interested in her. The question is, will she be interested in him?

Book club navigates these choppy waters with grace and humor. I haven’t seen some of these folks on the big screen for some time, and it was a grand reunion. Garcia and Johnson are still smooth as ever, and Nelson and Dreyfuss, always the more comic ones, are able to make their time on screen mean much more than a simple cameo.

The women are all dynamic as well. Keaton is ditzy as ever, but with a humble streak throughout. Fonda hams her way through her character’s arc but has one of the more dramatic turns. It has been a while since “Murphy Brown” and Bergen did not miss a beat. She’s still one of the best. And Steenburgen, whom I’ve seen more recently (she had an interesting villain role in last year’s “Justified”), is always fun to watch. Probably it’s that little girl’s voice she has which she can use to great effect.

Overall, a fun flick. It’s a date flick (don’t see it alone like I did), OK, and maybe even one for the AARP generation. So put down that Consumer Cellular flip phone and head to the Cineplex. And be sure to take your main squeeze.

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On a final note, and since I neglected to include this in the last column, I didn’t want the passing of famed journalist Tom Wolfe to the great pressroom of the sky to go unmentioned. Wolfe died on May 14. I consider the film made from his novel The Right Stuff, directed by Philip Kaufman, to be among my all-time favorite movies. Kaufman may have been the auteur, but you could hear echoes of the white-suited wizard all over the screenplay, with much of the amusing style and good-humored banter all resonances of Wolfe himself.

I must confess that for some reason, and I really haven’t fathomed why, while my sophomore English class was reading A Separate Peace, my buddies and I were reading Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I think we thought of ourselves as “merry pranksters” or something. We had caught the counter-culture vibe, I suppose. This was, after all, 1969.  At least we were reading something.

 

 

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