The fact Deadpool is in theaters should have fans and detractors of the superhero “genre” excited because it signals a burst of creativity within an otherwise stagnant artistic avenue. But don’t think it won’t still be a superhero movie. A lot of talk in the critical sphere revolves around how Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds’ passion project “looks to subvert convention” yet “ends up just another comic book origin story.” Guess what? Deadpool is a comic book character. Just because he’s self-aware enough to mock his world’s tropes doesn’t mean he’s not also beholden to them. He’s appealing because he embraces them in order to deliver on the dark promise uncontrollable powers hold. Without moral quandary, he seeks to dismember and does exactly that. This isn’t for kids.
His quips and in-jokes mirror what fanboys have been thinking for decades when reading or watching superhero fights end without bloodshed as liberties are taken in the plot without recourse. Instead of laughing at the absurdity of the situation we can now laugh with Deadpool as he revels in cliché and does his damnedest to make good on the mistakes of comics past. This is why the film needed an R-rating: without the gratuitous violence, language, and sex to show the reality of a world with mutant powers gone wrong, Deadpool would be just another comic book film. With them it’s a thrill ride of action, horror, and comedy—a story of extreme tragedy with stakes. Wade Wilson (Reynolds) isn’t about showing kids restraint. His retribution is Biblical.
And isn’t that how it should be? Studio bosses shouldn’t be handcuffing their screenwriters—Rhett Reese andPaul Wernick being the two involved here—into toning down their climactic battles because of the ratings board. This is why Blade worked so well and why Netflix’s recent slate of Marvel supers have truly succeeded above and beyond what their studio counterparts have done. I’m not saying every genre entry needs this edge; I’m just glad we finally have another one that does. The fact that the character at the center is a Chatty Kathy doll with an unending string who breaks the fourth wall (Or does he? Colossus makes a point to tell him he can hear everything inside the movie too.) only makes it more entertaining.
The construction of this entry also brings something new to the table by introducing its titular antihero in his trademarked suit. We don’t meet some lanky kid in high school constantly being beat up before fate bestows powers and “great responsibilities.” No, we meet Deadpool engaged in a massive blow-out on the highway with blood everywhere and body parts strewn about as the credits mock everyone involved whether highly-paid celebrity or contrived stereotype. It’s not about seeing the innocent heart of gold that remains when God-like abilities manifest. Instead it’s seeing brutal vindictiveness and unchecked sarcasm mowing people down today and then flashbacking to the Wade Wilson of yore to discover he was always an asshole. The only difference now is that his mercenary can’t die.
It’s intriguing to then note how similar the trajectory of the character is with Wolverine—a detail not lost on the filmmakers who make countless references to Hugh Jackman‘s testicles throughout. Wilson is a terminally ill cancer patient who agrees to undergo experimental surgery at the behest of a creepy Jed Rees. In the comics this procedure occurs at the same facility where Wolverine acquired his adamantium skeleton while here it’s more of a shoddy satellite operation run by an ex-patient who probably knew William Stryker years ago at the end of a needle. Ajax (Ed Skrein) is in this for the money, not the science. So when Wilson gives him guff during the torture, his jailer ups the ante for super-villainy to be born.
That leaves us with a surly dickhead Xavier’s School of Gifted Children would love to recruit (Sound familiar?) on a personal quest to destroy the man who made him look like an avocado offspring of avocado hate sex. Does such a barebones plot leave something to be desired? Of course. Does the shoehorning of Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) seem horribly indicative of the studio’s lack of financial support for an R-rated film (something Reynolds’ mocks halfway through as a reality)? Yes. Those two are written to give Deadpool sidekicks with strength (apologies to T.J. Miller‘s barkeep Weasel) and nothing more. Here’s the rub: I can forgive it all because of how much fun everything proves. As long as Reynolds riffs, I’m fully invested.
The film’s less about whether Wilson can save the girl (Morena Baccarin‘s intriguingly introduced Vanessa who unfortunately does fall into unforgiveable damsel in distress convention later) or reverse his looks as Ajax promises is possible and more about how far Deadpool can go on the human indecency scale. That means adding a slew of periphery characters with which to skewer verbally and physically as the adventure goes along. Some work wonderfully: Leslie Uggams‘ Blind Al is a delight because she is sassy enough to give Wilson back everything he throws her way. And others fail: Gina Carano‘s Angel Dust is so very stock, stoic heavy that she’s literally included to silently take sexist jokes, give Colossus a run for his money in battle, and supply a well-timed match.
There’s no emotional arc; no redemption thawing the deadened soul within Wilson’s shriveled chest. Deadpool ain’t changing and that’s what makes him crucial as a contrast to the other goodie-two-shoes surrounding him in comic lore. Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza created him as a means to supply fans everything Marvel proper couldn’t in its more-or-less wholesome family fun. Deadpool is the wild older brother you love because he refuses to answer to anyone or anything for his actions. He isn’t so lost that he kills with impunity (a hilarious scene with a pizza boy proves as much early on), but he isn’t losing sleep either. Wilson knows his world’s shortcomings and knows we do too. Rather than subvert, he actually exploits them for selfish gain and gleeful delight.
Rating: R | Runtime: 108 minutes | Release Date: February 12th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Tim Miller
Writer(s): Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick / Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza (character)