Loving a new Ryan Reynolds movie, and having that movie be Deadpool, feels like the inverse of a paper cut. It's like snuggling a chocolate chip cookie–scented golden retriever in a pillow fort at Chrissy Teigen and John Legend's house.
The whole thing feels so damn nice and natural because it's been such a long time since Reynolds has done anything anyone cared about. Not to mention since 20th Century Fox, despite its unintentional but strong argument that the movie rights for all Marvel characters should go back to Marvel, managed to spin something so wickedly fresh and aggressively raunchy that it gives you faith in the studio's next couple of superhero films.
Deadpool is essentially the world's first superhero fan movie.
The film is an inside joke aimed to please devout comics nuts, the people who've followed the sardonic, self-aware mercenary with a penchant for cock jokes through the pages of various Marvel comic books. But you don't need to be an expert on the source material to keep up, because there's no pretense with Deadpool, no deeper concern than having ultraviolent fun.
In both the comics and the new movie, Deadpool's primary reason for existence is to point out how lame superheroes can be while turning villains into human shawarma. And director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick eschew the idea that there must be anything grander to a superhero story than that. In contrast to, say, Captain America: Winter Soldier — which was touted as a "political thriller" — they don't feel any pressure to insist that Deadpool is deep.
Miller, Reese, and Wernick instead offer a dare: to love a superhero movie that unabashedly embraces everything we really love about superhero movies — ridiculous violence, wry one-liners, and a hero we can honestly root for. Fans of Deadpool know the character as a rude, lewd figure who's fully aware of his place in the world of superheroes and who routinely skewers his status rather than exalting it, and the movie expertly captures that spirit.
But even though Deadpool seeks to make fun of its own genre — mainly by pointing out how silly superheroes can be — that doesn't mean it isn't a superhero movie, because it so very is. Maybe the best kind.
Make no mistake: Deadpool is a superhero movie — and a damn good one too
There are several moments in Deadpool when we're reminded that the title character isn't a superhero, and that the movie isn't a traditional superhero film. Deadpool curses. He kills people. He knows the difference between Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy's respective turns as Professor Charles Xavier in various X-Men films.
But at first glance, the movie's plot could very well pass for a methodical reconstruction of Captain America or Spider-Man rather than the deconstruction it seems to be. It hits all the beats of a superhero film.
Deadpool, a.k.a. Wade Wilson (Reynolds), is a highly skilled assassin who has no real direction in life; he doesn't care about anything other than his next kill. Everything changes when he finds true love — but then he's hit with the life-altering gut punch that goes by the name of cancer. And when his newfound mutant powers kick in and disfigure him into something resembling a golem made out of ringworm, he seeks vengeance on Ajax (Ed Skrein), the man he believes made him this way.
If this were any other film, any other predictable 107-minute journey in which a hero exacts revenge on the man who wronged him, this origin story wouldn't be worth watching. But this is Deadpool.
What breaks Deadpool free from the standard superhero-film template is a scrappy performance from Reynolds. Eight years ago, Reynolds (now 39) was on the path to be a leading man and an Avenger after transforming rom-coms like The Proposal and Definitely, Maybe into megahits, but his career hit a rough patch after the 2011 clunker Green Lantern.
There's something poetic about Reynolds's casting in Deadpool. It's impossible to watch the movie without knowing how bad his career floundered after Green Lantern, as there are a couple of outright references to it in the film. And it's fitting that a man who has every right to be bitter with the superhero industrial complex is playing a comic book character who was created to buck it.
Reynolds is back in superhero shape, and Deadpool — perhaps the first explicit superhero paean to the male figure — takes every chance to remind us of that fact. It's as if we're the senile old woman in The Notebook, and the only things that could bring us back to the present are Ryan Reynolds's thighs.
The man of many muscles commits to a goofy freedom in Deadpool, with no worries about throwing himself into the movie's rambunctious physical comedy, even though it involves a weird baby hand and emoting through a red mask with diamond white eyes to talk about Wolverine's smooth testicles.
Reese and Wernick give Reynolds plenty of filth to play with, and they honor Deadpool's salacious source material. But even with the raunch and gore, there really isn't anything about the character's origin story or his movie that sets Deadpool apart from the rest of the superhero filmdom. That isn't a bad thing. Thanks to an uncanny ability to hit all the usual superhero beats and a charismatic and hilarious performance by Reynolds, Deadpool more than satisfies.
Deadpool understands its antihero so well
When you look at the best superhero movies, the motor that drives them is a fundamental understanding of the central character. In the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan knew what motivated Batman's violence. In The Avengers, Joss Whedon figured out the familial dynamic of the titular team. And in Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman homed in on the fear of loneliness felt by Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians.
That same kind of understanding exists in Deadpool.
Deadpool (the character) was created in the '90s — an era when comic books were bent on pushing the limits of violence, sex, and cynicism. And perhaps his greatest power is knowing he's a comic book character. Deadpool regularly breaks the fourth wall, and that self-awareness allows him (and his creators) to worship and mock, love and hate the genre he's trapped in.
While Reese and Wernick pepper Deadpool's script with fan-focused inside jokes, there's never a moment where you feel punished if you didn't read the source comics. At the same time, the movie maintains a fidelity to fans looking for everything they've come to expect from the character. That's a testament to Miller, Reese, and Wernick's storytelling. They've made a real effort to grasp the character's quirks.
Miller's action sequences are as crackling as they are hilarious. His shots are composed clearly, and the action is unfussy — perhaps chaotic, even — but everything is easy enough to follow. And the violence and gore are mitigated by a prickly sense of humor; one sequence even has Deadpool shot in the butthole.
The film's jokes are pristine raunch, covering everything from oral sex with Freddy Krueger to the odor of Mama June — the kind of off-color jeers Dane Cook wishes he could write. It delves into the depths of pop culture, and its dialogue sounds like the slapdash, cognizant cadence known as Whedon-speak, but juiced up on testosterone.
When Deadpool's comedic gore collides with its salty humor at the proper angle, magic happens. It's magic that captures the spirit of the character, but it also pushes him and the genre into unknown and welcome territory.
Deadpool's irreverence makes up for the film's flaws
Deadpool's frenetic pace and chaos strives to be a comic book brought to life. And it mostly succeeds.
The film's biggest weakness, if it has one, is in its supporting characters — there's just not a lot for them to do. Deadpool's fellow superpowered beings — Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and Angel Dust (Gina Carano) — mostly just stay out of his way, though Colossus and Negasonic each have their moments. T.J. Miller is effective as Deadpool/Wade Wilson's BFF Weasel, but he feels like he was just ported over from HBO's Silicon Valley, where he plays a startup bro. Ajax, the movie's main villain, is sinister (and good-looking), but his mutant ability — not being able to feel pain — doesn't make him feel like much of a threat.
And it would have been nice for a superhero movie that vocally wants to subvert the genre to present Morena Baccarin's Vanessa, the love of Wade's life, as more than just your standard superhero girlfriend. Baccarin is winning in the few moments we see her, but it's a shame that she spends the majority of her scenes comforting or sexing Wade.
Meanwhile, Deadpool's look reveals its low budget. While the film's price tag hasn't been officially revealed, it was reportedly around $50 million (compared with, say, Ant-Man's $130 million). Without cash to burn, Deadpool doesn't have the gloss of your typical superhero jaunt — the fight scenes are smaller, the superpowers are less dazzling, and the sets are limited.
But Deadpool's irreverence and DGAF attitude is admirable. Deadpool isn't the Avengers. He's a one-man show. And that one man deserves at least one more show. Or at least one more cock joke.
Deadpool opens in theaters Friday, February 12.