At long last, Ryan Reynolds gets himself a comic-book movie that works! And, boy, does Deadpool work. Ostensibly an X-Men movie but really its own stand-alone thing, the R-rated Deadpool is gleefully violent and willfully perverse. It’s a pretty good superhero movie, all while it goes about relentlessly thumbing its nose at superhero movies. The jokes start in the opening credits (the funniest title sequence since 22 Jump Street‘s end credits) and don’t let up the whole way through. I’d say at least three-quarters of them stick, a bigger hit percentage than I would have expected. And the humor runs the gamut — from low-brow masturbation gags to supremely clever riffs on the state of franchise filmmaking. A nice balance is struck between the two extremes, and, as a result, Deadpool is a total blast.
As you may (unfortunately) remember, Reynolds has played Deadpool once before, in 2009’s god-awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that had so little appreciation for the character that it took away Deadpool’s best asset by sewing his mouth shut. That decision is openly mocked here (as is Ryan’s big-screen Green Lantern), but continuity-wise, Deadpool is a complete reboot. This version of Wade Wilson is a lowlife, smart-aleck ex-mercenary who goes around saving teen-aged girls from creepy stalkers and committing other minor acts of heroism. Karma rewards him by having him bump into his ideal girl, a spunky prostitute named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), and the two fall in love and eventually get engaged. But then a kick in the balls: Wade is diagnosed with late-stage, inoperable cancer.
Feeling desperate, he’s tricked into becoming a subject for a shady super-soldier-esque program (not related to Weapon X in the film) that activates dormant mutant genes in people through torture and then turns them into super-powered slaves. Wade escapes, but not before his primary torturer, a scientist/soldier/asshat named Ajax (Ed Skrein), has left him grossly deformed from head to toe. Though he did at least get super-human healing abilities out of the deal. So Wade makes himself a costume, takes on the name Deadpool and starts tearing through Ajax’s organization, hoping the man who turned him into a monster can reverse the process, allowing him to reconnect with Vanessa as the man she once knew.
That’s the plot, and while it’s not particularly original or inspiring on its own, it forms a solid enough spine for first-time feature director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to hang all their gags, one-liners and over-the-top action sequences on. The film obviously doesn’t have the budget of a Marvel Studios film or one of the big X-Men movies proper, but Miller puts the money he does have to good use. Deadpool includes two big action sequences — one at the beginning and one at the end — both of which are as fun as they are bloody. And there are still more smaller action scenes spread throughout the movie’s middle, including a nifty montage of Deadpool working his way up Ajax’s organizational ladder, leaving a string of bodies in his wake.
Past the action though, the real joy here is that you’re watching a superhero movie that continually offers sly commentary on itself, the X-universe and the genre at large. Characters from other X-Men movies are referenced. Actors from other X-Men movies are referenced. How fucked up and nonsensical the X-Men timeline is at this point is referenced. The fact that you might be disappointed there aren’t any flesh-and-blood, big-name cameos is alluded to during a little aside that’s probably funnier than any such cameo would have been. The fourth wall is broken repeatedly and to great effect. In terms of a superhero movie being this shamelessly self-referential, Kick-Ass is probably the closest comparison, but, between the two, Deadpool is the better movie.
Wisely, the story isn’t told chronologically. Instead they open on Deadpool fully-formed, with Reynolds rapidly firing off bullets and zingers the second the movie gets underway. Fans of the comic book can rest assured the character they love is affectionately realized here, and Reynolds proves what it seems like he’s known all along — that when written proper, it’s the part he was born to play. He’s a natural smartass in the best of ways. The rest of the cast, however, is pretty hit and miss. T.J. Miller effortlessly delivers a few good lines as Wade’s bartender buddy, Weasel, and Baccarin adds a fair amount of saucy charm to a standard girlfriend role. I also enjoyed Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, an X-Men comic character who shows up here with an all-CGI Colossus to lend Deadpool a hand.
But the villains, to put it mildly, are junk — easily the weakest part of the film. I’m not sure if we should blame the script or the actors, but Skrein (or, as I like to call him, OG Daario) just feels like a generic British sleazeball. And Gina Carano brings nothing to her role as a mutant enforcer named Angel Dust. Can we please stop it now with assuming all talented MMO fighters will make compelling screen presences? Because more often then not, they have the personality of a pile of bricks. If there’s a sequel, I propose we bounce Deadpool off a bad guy who at least attempts to be as much fun as he is.
And, man, I hope there’s a sequel. So long as the writing stays sharp and they don’t start relying too much on dick jokes, a Deadpool 2 could serve as perfect fodder for itself. This first movie is completely self-contained (kind of a novel rarity these days!), but I had such a pleasant time watching it, I’m ready for a series of these things. And if not for me, then for Ryan. Seriously, the other terrible comic-book movies he’s in were never his fault. The guy deserves this.