It’s been a long, long journey for Deadpool to make it to the big screen. The character came out of the absurd excesses of 90s comics: hyper-violent, snarky, and sexualized; however, the book was also self-aware in an oh-so 90s way, with the character frequently breaking the fourth wall and the writers gleefully taking the piss out of superhero funny book clichés. Deadpool has been in movies before, but in a horrible botch job in that Wolverine origin movie that everyone rightfully dismisses. For years, sarcasm specialist Ryan Reynolds hoped to bring a proper Deadpool to theatres, complete with the hard-R rating and self-consciousness that the property demands. It didn’t look like it would happen, even though Deadpool cosplay started to take over comic cons everywhere as the cult grew for one of the few marquee Marvel properties not given the blockbuster treatment. Then Reynolds leaked an effects test that nailed the tone on the internet and within 24 hours his pet project got a greenlight. Now Deadpool is here and it’s everything longtime fans could want, as well as something that should be a pleasant surprise for folks who only get their superhero kicks at the cinema. It’s also a puerile, immature, silly, and dumb origin story. But hey! We’re talking about Deadpool here. That book has always been clever entertainment, not art.
Things kick off with a hilarious opening credits parody sequence to set the tone. Over an elaborate extended bullet time shot of a violent action scene, we’re treated to joke credits like “produced by asshats” and “directed by an overpaid tool” along with a few jabs at Ryan Reynolds. Yep, we’re firmly in self-mocking/self-aware land with this movie and the fourth wall is broken so many times afterwards, it’s barely even there. It’s an origin story, but one told non-chronologically. This origin tale is also a revenge tale, so that opening action scene from the credits is the first act of revenge and it’s spread out over the first half of the movie, as Reynolds’ sardonic Deadpool talks the audience through the origin with all sorts of additional silliness.
Before donning the tights, Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is just a highly trained mercenary (with a mouth) who does low-end jobs. He hangs out at a bar owned by his equally sarcastic friend (TJ Miller) and falls in love with an equally sarcastic woman (Morena Baccarin). Then he gets cancer and signs up for a potentially deadly medical experiment to cure it (so no direct Weapon X references, likely to keep a distance from Wolverine). Ed Skrein is on generic Euro-baddie duties as the guy executing said experiment. It’s torturous and leaves Wilson burned up like Freddy Kruger, only with remarkable healing powers. Pissed off about losing his pretty face, Wilson transforms into Deadpool and sets out to kill Skrein. That’s when the flashbacks catch up with the extended opening action scene and things get a bit more straightened out. Oh, and Deadpool also has a tentative relationship with two X-men, Colosus (Stefan Kapicic, plus loads of CGI) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand, plus loads of adolescent cynicism) to loosely connect this whole thing to Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe.
The key to Deadpool’s success is its sense of humour. Reynolds, Zombieland screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and director Tim Miller know how familiar audiences are with superhero movie tropes, so they spend the whole movie mocking them, exaggerating them, and dosing them in R-rated excess to make the old tricks feel new. It’s what Deadpool did back in the comic days and it works well on the big screen. There are constant asides to the audience and a mountain of rude n’ crude humour to make it all go down smoothly. Sure, the sense of humour is decidedly adolescent, but it’s Deadpool. That’s the target audience and they’ll get what they want. Beyond all of the filthy funnies, Tim Miller leans into that R-rated freedom with his action scenes. Limbs are severed, blood is sprayed, and entrails fly around the screen. It’s a mixture of hard R Asian action and horror movie splatstick comedy executed on a scale only a superhero blockbuster can receive. The result is a rip-roaring tasteless rollick that adds some nice new flavours to the comic book movie buffet and shows off what R-rated blockbusters could look like in the modern age. God-willing it won’t be the last.
The cast are all rather good, delighting in the film’s irreverent tone. The only exceptions are the villains played by Ed Skrein and a mostly silent Gina Carano. They are essentially generic 80s action movie villains with a few superpowers and feel rather boring. But hey, they get the job done. Despite all of the in-jokes, asides, and R-rated ridiculousness, this is kind of a generic movie. However despite how much fun Baccarin and Miller are on the sidelines or Kapicic and Hildebrand have mocking the X-men universe, the movie belongs to Ryan Reynolds and he doesn’t disappoint. The guy is an underrated actor, a world champion of sarcasm, and blessed with the genetics necessary to be an action figure. If anyone was born to play Deadpool, it’s him. He doesn’t let a one-liner fall flat, gleefully mocks himself, wears buckets of burned skin make-up, and (thanks to a mask) lets some ridiculously talented stunt guys take over to deliver some wild physical Deadpool action pulled straight from comic book panels. If the movie is little more than a giant pilot for a Deadpool franchise, then Reynolds proves that he’s more than capable of carrying it and that he knows the right types of writers and directors necessary to pull it off. Good work sir.
Is Deadpool the best comic book movie ever made? Not really. In fact, I’d imagine there will be at least one better superhero movie this year. However, it is one of the best R-rated Hollywood action movies to arrive in forever and that’s cause for celebration. They don’t make em’ like this anymore and they certainly never made superhero movies like this before. That’s something special. Sure, despite the self-conscious cleverness, it’s just a bunch of vulgar humour, ultra-violence, and parodied superhero clichés. But at least these are all new things to the superhero blockbuster genre and Deadpool makes a hell of a case for why this new franchise deserves a spot at the table. Given that the movie clearly didn’t have the same budget as a Disney Marvel blockbuster, it’s amazing what Tim Miller and his team were able to pull off in terms of pure spectacle. Deadpool is big dopey fun for big dopes like me. Its flaws are forgivable given its strengths and most of them should be set straight in the inevitable sequel. For once, it’s actually kind of exciting to think that sequel is coming. Deadpool’s in-joke premise will get tired eventually, but for now it gives Fox’s Marvel division a filthily distinct franchise in the superhero blockbuster landscape. Disney would never allow a Marvel property to be handled this way (just wait until you see Stan Lee’s cameo) and it’s nice to know that the merc with a mouth ended up at a company that will do the filthy fun character right.