Take Bugs Bunny, give him katanas, bloodlust, Ryan Reynolds’ abs and ADHD snark and you have Deadpool, the titular antihero of the year’s first superhero movie, which makes use of the character’s fourth-wall breaking and humor to gleefully take apart superhero film tropes, most hilariously encapsulated by an opening credits sequence rivaling Watchmen for creativity (ex: the director is credited as Overpaid Tool). The film’s irreverence masks the underlying emotion coursing through the film: joy. Everybody is having a blast in this movie and that, above all, is why it works.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary (although the film tells us he A-Team-style only helps who can’t help themselves, as if we need more than Reynolds’ face to find Wade likable) who hangs out a merc bar run by his best friend Weasel (T.J. Miller). There, he meets and falls in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a hooker who’s “crazy matches his crazy,” as he puts it.
However, a terminal cancer diagnosis sends Wade into the arms of a mutant “workshop” (presumably an off-shoot of the Weapon X program that gives Wolverine his claws*) which promises a cure. Led by the sadistic sociopath Ajax (Ed Skrein), the “treatment” turns out to be little-more than torture which gives Wade superhuman healing for the price of disfiguring his face. After he escapes, he refuses to return to Vanessa until he can find Ajax and get him to fix the damage.
Meta-superhero takedowns are a subgenre unto itself at this point, home to to the aformentioned Watchmen, Kick-Ass and Super but Deadpool differentiates itself by never once taking itself seriously, despite a love story wedged into the film to give it something resembling a heart when all it needed was a dick, if we’re still down for the body part metaphor. The romance forms much of the plot, which essentially comes down to an extended flashback and some action scenes. Really, that’s it. But, for the most part, it doesn’t matter because the film never lets you think about it too much.
The problem that meta-textual stories (i.e. stories where the character breaks the fourth-wall to inform the audience this is a “different kind of superhero movie”) face is having-its-cake-and-eating-it-too syndrome, wherein the film does the exact things it intends to skewer/deconstruct and somehow because the characters’ are self-referential, it’s suddenly fine (looking at you, Jurassic World)? Deadpool solves this issue like its hero would – by making fun of it and then miming masturbation. Surprisingly, it works.
Reynolds’ makes this movie. It quite literally wouldn’t exist without him. First attached in 2006, his passion for the character survived his infamous sodomy at the hands of X-Men Origins: Wolverine as well as Reynolds’ other superhero misfire Green Lantern. Given his experience, he thankfully refused to compromise here and, in exchange for a significantly-lowered budget, an R-rating was allowed and cinema is finally gifted with a scene of Ryan Reynolds getting pegged by a hooker.
The rest of the cast fill their roles and little else, which given the zippy inanity that is Deadpool’s world is probably tonally preferable. Baccarin bring energy to hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype and Wade’s love interest. Skrein is suitably evil as the stereotypical British Villain (as he is credited) who insists he be called his nickname Ajax instead of Francis, something Deadpool takes great glee in ignoring, and MMA fighter-turned-actress Carano is wisely given little dialogue as henchwomen Angel Dust. The film also adds some B-Team X-Men, metal man Colossus (a fully-CGI creation voiced by Stefan Kapcic) and indifferent teenage girl Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), to the mix to give some tenuous connection to the X-Men franchise (there’s also a cameo appearances by the Professor Xavier’s School for Mutants and the X-Jet).
First-time feature director Tim Miller is a Deadpool lifer like Reynolds, having been attached for the last six years of development. He keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and the jokes flying so fast that the duds are forgotten in favor of the gags that work. Much of that can also be attributed to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, as well as Reynolds’ own comedic skills and Miller’s improvisation as comic relief/sidekick Weasel. Broadway actress Leslie Uggams adds a few laughs later in the film as Deadpool’s blind housemate appropriately named Blind Al, whom he calls “his Robin, if Robin were an old, blind black woman.”
Given the decade of difficulty in getting this film made, the passionately fun filmmaking and expert marketing have turned it into an event. It wisely occupies the same February weekend that gave the similarly R-rated takedown film (in this case, spy-fi) Kingsman: The Secret Service a surprise $400 million worldwide gross. Indeed, a sequel is already greenlit, with Reese and Wernick returning to script. It’s a good thing too, because the key to this movie working is the obvious love and commitment each party brings to the process, with Reynolds leading the way.
As will all comic-book movies, stick around after the credits for a little something. And as with this comic book movie, expect it to have its cake and eat it too. Thank god it’s made of Reynolds’ secret sauce.**
*For those wondering, Deadpool does indeed take place in the X-Men film timeline.
**It is what you think it is.