The opening scene of Deadpool pretty much tells you exactly what kind of film you're about to watch. While Juice Newton’s lite FM staple “Angel Of The Morning” gets the full Dolby treatment on the soundtrack, the camera slowly pans around a freeze frame of a chaotic melee taking place in an SUV that's in the process of flipping over. The credits list players like “A British Villain” and “A Gratuitous Cameo” while referring to the film’s director as “An Overpaid Tool.” Our hero, as it were, is introduced first with his super-package bearing down hard on a thug’s neck while a child-like crayon drawing floats by the camera saying “Hi! I’m Deadpool!”
Yes, this is definitely a different breed of superhero film. And it's about time.
If you've managed to escape the massive, master-class marketing campaign for the film, here's what we have. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces officer who’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He agrees to undergo an experimental treatment to cure it, which turns out to be a front from a secret project designed to turn its subjects into super-powered assassins (which is implied to be the Weapon X program). The treatment ends up giving him a healing factor that makes him essentially indestructible but leaves his body hideously scarred. When he escapes, he vows to take revenge on the project’s sadistic administrator, the super-strong mutant Ajax (Ed Skrein), and reunite with the love of his life, hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) also show up at some point, too, because Deadpool would like to remind you that he's part of a lucrative, well-oiled film franchise.
That last sentence might sound like a dig at the film, but it really isn't. Over the course of the film, Deadpool constantly points out that he's not only starring in his own movie, but that it's based on his own comic. And he usually does this by directly addressing the audience in a voice that's completely external. At one point, he even tells another character “I'm not talking to you! I'm talking to them!”, while pointing at the screen.
Or aiming, as the case may be.
This is all in keeping with the spirit of the comics, where one of Deadpool’s superpowers seems to be an unearthly degree of metatextual self-awareness. He has arguments with the narrator, points out comic book cliches, and knows the histories of his friends and enemies because he's read their comics (and even refers to those comics by issue number). Of course, Deadpool’s also completely out of his mind, something that the film also keeps intact. In fact, this could be the most faithful comic book adaptation we've seen in years.
Much of that has to do with Ryan Reynolds himself, who's been trying to get this film made ever since he saw a comic book 11 years ago where Deadpool referred to himself as looking like “Ryan Reynolds crossed with a Shar Pei.” Reynolds is to Deadpool what Hugh Jackman is to Wolverine or Patrick Stewart is to Professor X. He was simply born to play this role. His Deadpool is a motor-mouthed, sarcastic, cheerfully psychotic anti-hero of the most compelling order. He fully inhabits the character and completely understands why he's become so popular over the years. Deadpool is perhaps the most literal kind of vicarious superhero, the kind of character that those of us with less adventurous lifestyles can live our dangerous fantasies through. What separates him from other heroes, however, is how much he acknowledges the fact that he IS that kind of hero in that kind of story. He's like a sentient, guns-blazing running commentary on the state of modern superhero narratives. At one point in the film, there's a fourth wall break WITHIN a fourth wall break, something which even Deadpool admits kind of blows his mind.
Deadpool takes a look at the script of a possible PG-13 version.
That self-awareness helps to conceal what is, in essence, a fairly typical origin story. Writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Rheese tread this same kind of path on their film Zombieland, which called out the tropes of the modern zombie film while also reveling in them. They have a little bit tighter grasp of their through-line here, though, and they keep the film from straying too far from its center. They decide to tell Wade's backstory in flashback, which works as a narrative device (since Deadpool is talking directly to the audience about how he got where he is) but sometimes results in a bit of a pacing hiccup. The montage where Wade's body is subjected to a seemingly endless litany of extreme torture conditions to awaken his latent mutant genes runs a bit too long and nearly kills the momentum the film had built up since then. It's the only weak point in an otherwise well-structured script, however, and it's redeemed pretty quickly with an explosive, knock-down, drag-out fight that ends in a massive explosion…and through which Reynolds himself is completely nude through.
Yes, nude. One of the most refreshing things about Deapdool is the fact that Reynolds, director Tim Miller, and everyone involved in the production made this film with the goal of getting a hard-R rating. It's the first Marvel film that doesn't feature the Punisher to not be rated PG-13, and it's kind of glorious. The fights are bloody and messy, nearly every character drops an F-bomb at least once, and there's plenty of sex and nudity; Wade and Vanessa's relationship is built through a montage of holiday-themed sex scenes scored to Neil Sedaka's “Calender Girl.” The level of violence, language, and sexual content could be called gratutitious, and that's probably the entire point. Removing the fact that that kind of material is part-and-parcel of Deadpool's comic, it's also a bold proclamation that maybe superhero films have finally matured to the point where they don't need to be catered to families with children anymore. Much like how Western animation is slowly evolving to just another genre of film, it's time superhero films got down with the nitty-gritty. It humanizes the characters in a very visceral way; just like any other humans, they have needs and appetites that mere mortals can relate to, and they deal with the same pitfalls coming from those needs and wants, as well.
And also, a super-package.
That earthy, dirty vibe helps to sell a lot of the relationships between Deadpool and the supporting cast. The chemistry Reynolds has with Morena Baccarin is real and palabable, and it's honestly one of the most vivcaious roles she's played on screen in a long time. When they first meet, Wade and Vanessa flirt by trying to one-up each other on psychological baggage, and it's honestly kind of adorable. Deadpool's other major connection is with his roommate, the elderly Blind Al, who's language and gives-no-f**ks attitude rivals Deadpool's own. She's played by, of all people, stage legend Leslie Uggams, but she works it beautifully. TJ Miller shows up as Deadpool's buddy Weasel, and even though he's fantastic in the role and quite funny, he's not given enough to do and vanishes before the climax. Ed Skrein makes a fine villain, even if his motivations and goals are a little undefined and he sometimes gets upstaged by his no-nonsense henchman Angel Dust (Gina Carano, all glowers and haymakers). And the flm honestly could have used more of Colossus and Negasonic if only because this is the most possibly the accurate portrayal of Colossus ever on screen — he's like a painfully-earnest bruiser boy scout made of living metal — and beacuse Brianna Hildebrand's Negasonic Teenage Warhead is the snarky, moody, quietly kick-ass mutant that the X-Men have needed on the team since day one. She'd honestly make a fantastic sidekick for Deadpool, and here's hoping that she shows up for the sequel.
Best. Code name. Ever.
There are a few stress fractures in the film itself, mostly owing to the relatively small budget ($50 million, which is nothing for a superhero film these days). However, it's probably the most efficient use of $50 million you're going to find anywhere. Since the only flashy superpower is Negasonic's atomic blasts, the focus is almost entirely on the melee skills of the other characters, and Miller definitely knows how to stage a fight. Expertly choreographed and engineered, almost never hacksaw-edited, and perfectly emboding the agility and skill of Deadpool himself. And even though Colosuss is clearly CGI (and is even credited in the opening as such), he's integrated well and still looks more convincing than Emma Frost's diamond-form in X-Men: First Class. If anything, the film wears its relatively low-rent price tag on its sleeve and runs with it, giving the film a kind of mild grindhouse vibe that suits the character well.
So, TL;DR…Deadpool is awesome. Crazy and sexy and awesome. It's one of the best superhero films in years, and it's the first to inject a genuinely new life into what is quickly becoming a relatively repetative and stale genre. It's nice to see a superhero film where the fate of the world isn't at stake for once and where absolutely no punches are pulled. It's a filling, deliberately over-loaded, spicy chimichanga combo platter of a film, and there isn't a kiddie table in the room.
Plus, you get to see Ryan Reynold's butt. Several times. Repeatedly. Deliberately. What more could you possibly ask for?
FBOTU Score: 8 out of 10 / A-