Within seconds, it will be clear whether or not ‘Deadpool’ is for you. The opening credits weave through a frozen moment of action claiming to be produced by “some asshats” and starring “some idiot” who is then mocked for being the sexiest man of the year in People magazine and for playing Green Lantern. Self-aware and juvenile in the ways that have defined the character since he was spat out of the overblown absurdity of 1990s superhero comics, ‘Deadpool’ is yet another entry in the genre that calls attention to its limitations without really transcending them.
The movie is a big, goofy, R-rated blockbuster in spandex that’s stupidly fun on its own terms without ever rising above B-movie entertainment. The flick is a good time for folks who enjoy superhero movies, but it certainly won’t win over anyone who isn’t already on board with the genre. In-jokes are for insiders, after all.
After seven years of hoping to make up for the last time he played the character in the misbegotten ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘, Ryan Reynolds finally gets to do a Deadpool movie the right way. Sure, it’s another origin story, but at least ‘Zombieland’ screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Tim Miller do everything they possibly can to make that feel fresh.
Messing with chronology is one of their big tricks. That frozen opening credits action scene technically takes place in the middle of the story. We gradually meet Reynolds’ Wade Wilson, a low-level sarcastic mercenary with military training. He has a wise-cracking best buddy (T.J. Miller) who owns a bar and an equally foul-mouthed soul mate (Morena Baccarin). Unfortunately, the guy gets cancer, which leads to him participating in a medical experiment executed by a psychotic scientist (Ed Skrein) that fries Wade’s skin like Freddy Kruger and gives him remarkable healing powers.
Losing his pretty face is enough cause for bloody revenge in Wade’s book, so he suits up as Deadpool and goes hunting. His first stab at vengeance is spread out over the first half of the movie. The origin tale pops up in flashbacks narrated with all sorts of in-jokery and tomfoolery before the movie catches up with itself and the narrative straightens out. Also, more X-Men get involved to make this a universe-building picture for Fox. So we get appearances from a heavily CGIed Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and the one-joke obscurity Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand).
You may have noticed that there are only two X-men and they aren’t exactly the A squad. That’s partially the result of the folks at Fox’s Marvel division only tentatively inviting the R-rated character into their shared universe and partially just setup for a few jokes about the film’s tenuous connection to the ‘X-Men’ franchise. The movie is defined by that sort of wink-wink nudge-nudge fourth wall breaking. (There’s even a bit where the character breaks the fourth wall within a larger fourth wall break, and you’d better believe Deadpool comments on it). It’s pretty fun stuff, but more clever than smart. This isn’t a deconstruction of superhero clichés; it’s a tongue-in-cheek celebration of them.
Thankfully, more jokes land than miss by far. The humor is mostly of the immature teenage variety that considers poo-poo, pee-pee, genitalia, swearing and violence the height of comedy. But hey, there’s quite an overlap between that crowd and the comic book crowd, so that’ll work out just fine. The filthy humor is also elevated to R-rated territory that’s at least honest and open in its filthiness. Director Tim Miller really leans into his R-rated freedoms, delivering not just dirty words, but also a few nipples and a whole bunch of blood and gore. The violence is typically of the slapstick variety, drawing influence from outrageous Asian action movies with a dash of gore horror. There’s something amusing about seeing that material pumped up to blockbuster scale. It gives Miller the opportunity to stage spectacle and silliness on a massive stage in a way that hasn’t been around for ages. That, along with the self-conscious superhero humor, prevents the old origin tropes from feeling like a slog.
Reynolds is clearly having a ball in the lead role and his joy is infectious. The guy may have made some bad movies in his time, but he’s an underrated actor (see ‘Mississippi Grind’) and a master of sarcasm. He was made to play Deadpool – born with the genetic requirements to be an action figure, yet also possessing enough self-aware humor to not let it go to his head. He nails all the big laughs and mild drama with ease. When the action scenes arrive, Reynolds handles them well and the character benefits from a mask that allows stuntmen to seamlessly slip in to push things farther when necessary.
The rest of the cast all have their moments. Baccarin does the damsel-in-distress routine with attitude. Miller improvises a few extra filthy lines. Skein growls out an acceptable villain. Hildebrand and Kapicic earn their ‘X-Men’ bona fides through ironically detached self-parody. The whole cast is in on the ‘Deadpool’ joke and play along. However, that joke and Reynolds dominate the simple origin movie so thoroughly that the supporting cast is never much more than support. That’s fine. The movie is called ‘Deadpool’ after all, not ‘Deadpool & Friends’. Save that for the sequel.
What we have here is ultimately yet another superhero movie, but at least a good one with a few new ideas to bring to the party. It flies by at a nice clip, stretches a modest budget enough to compete with the big boys, ladles on layers of humor (meta and otherwise), panders to the fans, and pushes the genre to the goofiest extremes an R rating allows. As popcorn fluff, it’s a total delight for those who enjoy superhero shenanigans. ‘Deadpool’ doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it delivers a fine wheel that knows it’s a wheel and makes fun of the cultural infatuation with wheels. That’ll do just fine.