Film Review: On Deadpool (2016) and Meta-Humor

Mitch Karmis, Staff Writer

Let us talk about meta for a minute, or more specifically, meta-humor. I know what the headline says, but if you have seen this film already, you probably know where I am going with this.

At its core, meta-humor is self-referential. To make a meta-joke on something is to go above simply poking fun at a particular subject or way of thinking; rather, it is making commentary on the structure of humor, or how a joke is being told. In layman’s terms, meta-humor consists of jokes about jokes.

The millennial and post-millennial demographic is surrounded by meta-humor, with every form of entertainment seeming to have its own spin on the concept. Bo Burnham uses meta-humor in his stand-up to make fun of typical comedy routines; video games like “Hotline Miami” and “Undertale” are modern stand-out titles in their medium for their use of meta concepts; even younger audiences have bee

Screenshots courtesy of
Screenshots courtesy of

n this form of comedy with cartoons like “Adventure Time” and films like “The Lego Movie” constantly breaking the fourth wall and using self-referential humor.

It is essential that we recognize this concept when approaching a film like “Deadpool” which, all things considered, is a meta-comedy about the superhero action film genre that has pervaded the last few years of cinema with ever-increasing staying power of Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment at the box office.

Despite being a fan of both Marvel comics and films, I was never fully acquainted with the Deadpool character up until seeing this film. I feel that I must clarify this first, as I went into this film with a completely objective point of view, not as a fan of the comics or the character.

On the surface, “Deadpool” has all the makings of both a solid action film and a good comedy. The fight scenes in this film took me right back to the first Avengers film in terms of speed and size, and it’s clear that a lot of effort went into solidifying the film’s tone from the opening credits onward, both on the acting and directing side of things.

In addition, I found myself pleased by the performances in this cast. I have been told that Ryan Reynolds, who plays the title role and also helped produce the film, was very committed to getting the character and his place in the Marvel universe right, and it shows.

What really brings this movie down in my opinion, however, is the structure and the choices made with the film’s humor. Yes, “Deadpool” succeeds at being “meta,” but it is hard for me to say that it is a good comedy, let alone a smart one.

The strength of jokes comes from its set-up and payoff, or rather, how a situation is created that allows humor to be created. For what it is worth the film presents some strong examples of this, with some jokes being set up way early in the movie before being delightfully payed-off at its conclusion. These scenarios are strengthened by the film’s cast.

Past this, however, it feels like the film is trying to get us to laugh often at random throwaway lines, creative swearing and crotch shots, and outside of fans of the comic I really did not hear many people laughing at these moments past the first couple of times they were presented. Herein lays the problem with meta-humor: Just because a familiar film trope or pop culture cliché is pointed out does not automatically give it a free pass as being funny. Unless meaningful conclusions are drawn and satirized, such as with the ridiculous nature of Deadpool and his love interest’s over-the-top relationship, self-reference is just that: a reference, and nothing more.

Perhaps this is not so much a fault of the film as the time of its release. Again, this film’s intended audience has seen meta concepts and fourth wall breaking at their peak popularity over the past few years, and all things considered, I can absolutely see people enjoying this film for that reason.

For me, however, “Deadpool” is a little too late to the game for my tastes. I am glad that I saw it, and with its colorful cast, strong action sequences and a surprising amount of heart, it still comes recommended. However, as with the character’s many, many jokes about his private parts, I can only see this form of comedy becoming increasingly tired as time goes on.