It’s hard to believe that a character created by much-loathed 90s comic artist Rob Liefeld would lead to one of the better X-Men films yet. Harder still to believe is that Ryan Reynolds would get a chance to reprise this character after Deadpool was botched in 2009’s execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The story is becoming Hollywood lore – after test footage of a short Deadpool action sequence leaked two years ago, audience response was so enthusiastic that Fox relented and finally committed to releasing a Deadpool movie. The infamous (to his devoted fanbase) “Merc with a Mouth” would be played by Reynolds, an actor whose previous attempts at superheroes (in Blade: Trinity, the aforementioned Wolverine flick, and Green Lantern) all failed, which curiously didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for the genre one bit. But credit where credit is due – Reynolds is persistent and essentially manifested this movie out of sheer will, having never gave up hope on a property that spent over a decade in turnaround.
The waiting has paid off as Deadpool, a wise-cracking former mercenary turned mutant antihero, is a near-perfect fit to Reynolds’ likeably smug persona. The movie nearly lives or dies on Reynolds’ performance – one that walks a fine line between grating and hilarious – but thankfully hews more towards the latter. From the opening scene it’s clear that Deadpool is willing to take the piss out of po-faced superheros, with credits like “Directed by Some Douchebag” and “Written by The Real Heroes Here”.
Deadpool, both the movie and the character, seems to have no aspirations towards the usual hero’s journey as it instead ramps up the violence and jokes to 11, gleefully deconstructing superhero tropes. The initial action sequence proves that the titular chimichanga-loving mercenary has no qualms killing his foes, as he shoots and slices his way through hordes of hapless henchmen before flashing back to his origin story two years ago. This allows the movie to have Deadpool (and Reynolds) out of his mask pre-disfigurement, showing his beginnings while simultaneously mocking the structure so endemic to all first superhero movies.
Deadpool begins as Wade Wilson, a gun for hire and former special forces agent who seems to be outwardly callous and dickish, while his pro-bono work for a teenage stalking victim proves he has the requisite heart of gold. He meets cute with a local working girl named Vanessa (played by Morena Baccarin (and by “meet cute” I mean they exchange unspeakably filthy anecdotes)), quickly falling in love and becoming domesticated (which involves various acrobatic sex act acts throughout the year – International Women’s Day is a doozy). The catch? Wade’s diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and the prognosis is grim.
A clandestine encounter at a bar leads the soon-to-be Deadpool to a subterranean lab where nothing looks sterile, run by clearly evil British guy Ajax (Ed Skrein). Ajax promises to cure Wade’s cancer by unlocking his latent mutant abilities, but it really just amounts to endless and increasingly brutal torture. Eventually Wade, still cracking wise and making threats despite being chained down, gains Wolverine-like healing abilities while becoming permanently scarred head-to-toe in a huge explosion.
By taking on the mantle of Deadpool and wearing big red tights, he sets out to exact revenge on Ajax and regain the love of Vanessa by killing his way through a series of unlucky (and presumably deserving?) henchmen. For a movie that flagrantly flouts convention in many ways (being an R-rated comic book adaptation that’s endlessly jokey instead of serious and sincere), it winds up hitting a lot of the same beats as all hero origins must: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes deranged crispy mutant and wields katana swords with deadly accuracy in the pursuit of ultimate vengeance.
The plot is secondary (and knowingly recycled) but the saving grace is the mile-a-minute jokes bandied about by an able cast. Deadpool’s interactions with his bartender buddy Weasel (T.J. Miller, fast becoming the go-to comic relief in a variety of franchises) and elderly roommate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) rank as some of the funniest moments. With so many quips and pop-culture references (Wolverine and Reynolds’ own past in failed superhero franchises being frequent targets) there’s bound to be some that don’t hit. The good part is that the movie barrels right along anyway, throwing another five zingers out until one connects.
There’s even some 3rd-rate X-Men along for the ride in the form of metallic muscleman Colossus (Stefan Capacic) and a mutant I’d never heard of prior to this movie, the sullen Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). They mostly exist to tie Deadpool to a larger X-universe that he routinely mocks and cares little about (“What’s so great about living in the X-mansion – it’s routinely attacked and blown up every few years?”), acting as punching bags for the irreverent lead and giving him more characters to bounce off of in what often amounts to a Looney Tunes version of a superhero film.
And that may be Deadpool‘s biggest difference – a refreshing sense of fun that’s growing increasingly rare as bombastic comic book movies reach critical mass (Avengers: Age of Ultron and the upcoming Batman v. Superman, I’m looking at you). Sure, all the jokes don’t land and much of the action’s not on the scale of its more big-budget brethren, but Deadpool turns those weaknesses to strengths with a nimble script and less world-shattering stakes (and at under two hours it doesn’t have time to wear out its welcome). It’s the simple story of a (sadistic) guy who just wants to get back to his prostitute girlfriend, preferably killing his arch-nemesis along the way. And as all modern superhero movies are now just ads for the next one, let’s hope that the promised/threatened sequel can keep Deadpool’s unique charms intact without sanding off his rougher edges.
Directed by Tim Miller
Runtime: 108 minutes