So many movies, even good ones, feel like they were designed in a committee. Even when there is real talent and imagination involved, you can usually feel the frowning producer or studio exec looking over the filmmakers’ shoulders, making sure they stick to the formula and don’t do anything risky. The effect is less like an entertainment production and more like an assembly line.
Deadpool is the polar opposite of all this. It doesn’t feel like it was designed according to a tried-and-true ‘make box office money’ formula, but was the production of a group of filmmakers who loved the character and were just so excited to bring him to the screen. In some ways it feels more like a very expensive fan-film than a major studio release.
When low-rent mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) discovers he has inoperable cancer just after proposing to his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), he is so desperate not to leave her that he accepts an offer to participate in a highly dangerous and unethical experiment to trigger his latent mutant genes. The experiment is a success in that it leaves him effectively immortal, but also looking like Freddy Krueger’s younger brother. Oh, and it turns out the program head, who calls himself Ajax (Ed Skrein), had no intentions of ever letting him return home, but meant to turn him into a slave that he could sell as a living weapon. Left for dead and too ashamed of his new appearance to return to Vanessa, Wade adopts the name ‘Deadpool’ and sets out to track down Ajax and force him to reverse the procedure.
So far, a fairly standard set up. What makes the film so unusual is the character of Deadpool himself and the tone he lends to the movie. You see, Deadpool is famous for his irreverent, fourth-wall-breaking humor, and the film captures that perfectly. One of the first things Deadpool does is to turn to the camera and make a quip about what he had to do to get his own movie. Throughout the film, whether as Wade Wilson or Deadpool, he is almost constantly making jokes or poking fun at the other characters, the superhero genre, and even at some of the filmmakers (at one point someone tries to convince Wade that looks aren’t important and he answers “You don’t think Ryan Reynolds built his career on his stellar acting technique, do you?”).
The effect is like a strange cross between a superhero movie and a rom-com, or as if someone made a film based on the quips of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. The very opening credits are a gag, saying such things as “Starring God’s Perfect Idiot,” “Directed by An Overpaid Tool,” and “Written by The Real Heroes Here.” On top of that are the action sequences, which are almost entirely comprised of hilariously bloody slapstick, highlights of which include a bad guy being splattered against a highway sign and not falling off until several scenes later, Deadpool decapitating one guy and kicking his head at another guy, and a scene involving a zamboni (“You’re gonna die! In about five minutes!”).
Yet, despite the wall-to-wall jokes and near-constant profanity, the film somehow manages to maintain a surprising amount of genuine heart. In particular, Wade himself remains remarkably sympathetic despite the film’s psychotically bloody humor. The very first thing we see him do is to scare a stalker into leaving a teenage girl alone. He subsequently orders his friend, Weasel (T.J. Miller) to return her money. Later, when he meets Vanessa (a hooker), he buys forty-eight minutes of her time…and uses it to play skeeball with her so that he can get to know her better.
The whole romance between Wade and Vanessa is largely played straight. There’s an over-the-top montage of them having sex to celebrate various holidays (in the midst of which we see them reading and sipping coffee together during Lent, implying they gave up sex for the season. Why is it that the funniest and most good-natured religious joke to come out of Hollywood in recent memory is in this movie?), but even beyond the bawdy humor it’s repeatedly emphasized how much they really love each other. The sequence of events when Wade discovers he has cancer and they try to deal with it as a couple is played with perfect sincerity. Likewise, though it occasions several jokes on Wade’s part, the whole sequence involving his torture and transformation is portrayed with deadly seriousness.
This creates an interesting dynamic: less like it’s a nihilistic world of psychopaths who kill for fun and profit and more that Deadpool is almost as much an aberration in his world as he would be in ours. He’s funny because we’re frequently reassured that the whole world isn’t like him, but that he’s just one immature, psychotic, immortal clown in an otherwise sincere and straight-forward world. This keeps the film entertaining and light-hearted, despite the constant vulgarity and black humor. It comes across less nihilistically flippant and more like that rough, foul-mouthed, but good-hearted relative who never grew up and who somehow manages to be charming instead of repulsive.
Adding to the film’s moral center are the two representatives of the X-Men: Colossus (played by CGI and voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played by Brianna Hildebrand). Colossus is a towering metal giant with a soft heart and idealistic mindset who is mentoring the sullen, taciturn Negasonic (Deadpool accurately comments that she has the coolest superhero name ever) and who wants to recruit Deadpool to the organization. His optimistic and heroic attitude is hilariously out of place in the film, and he features as the butt of several jokes, though he never comes across as completely ridiculous because of his heroism (I don’t think anyone could look completely ridiculous next to Deadpool), and he never loses it over the course of the film. Even Deadpool admits a grudging respect for him. Meanwhile Negasonic, a short, Goth teenager, gets a lot of laughs, both regarding her name and the contrast she presents to both Deadpool and Colossus. The two of them provide a link with the other X-Men films and create a distinct impression of genuine heroes who have unexpectedly found themselves in a spoof.
In a way, it also helps what moral integrity the film has that Wade repeatedly insists that he isn’t a hero. We’re not really supposed to admire Deadpool: only to laugh at and sympathize with him. This makes the sometimes-horrible things he does more palatable, since he himself doesn’t really endorse them. Even when he does something genuinely heroic he emphatically denies being any kind of role model.
That’s the point: Deadpool is violent, vulgar, bawdy, and irreverent, but it doesn’t pretend that it’s anything else. It doesn’t claim to make any statement about the way the world ‘really’ is; it’s just a goofy, bloody, self-referential comedy. I think that’s what surprised me most about the film: how basically good-natured it is despite the frequently extreme content. In many ways, the movie is a lot like Wade himself: it has a crude, immature, disgusting exterior, but a genuinely good heart.
Ryan Reynolds is the key factor here, of course, and a large part of the reason the film works as well as it does. This movie was a passion project of his for years and it’s the role he was born to play. In Reynolds we have the ideal choice for Deadpool, just as Hugh Jackman was the ideal choice for Wolverine (at one point Deadpool cheekily staples a photo of Jackman over his own face). Morena Bacarrin provides good support; she doesn’t have much of a role to play in the main story, though a series of flashbacks keep her present throughout the film and help us to maintain an awareness of what she means to Wade.
The villains of the film – Ed Skrein as Ajax/Francis and Gina Carano as Angel Dust – don’t have a lot to do. Of course, in a film with such a colorful protagonist, you can’t really expect the villains to stand out very much. They mostly play straight man to Deadpool, with Ajax in particular acting as the humorless jerk who finds Wade’s incessant banter increasingly infuriating (the dynamic is rather as though Ajax thinks he’s in a straight superhero movie and wants Deadpool to act like it).
They’re both sufficiently menacing, and Carano gets a few laughs (especially during her fight with Colossus), but no one’s going to be thinking of them on the way out the door, except as they featured in Deadpool’s jokes.
T.J. Miller as Weasel gets some good jokes (my favorite being when he inspires Wade’s nickname by realizing that his immortality means Weasel is never going to win the mercenary bar’s dead pool, since he bet on Wade to die next), as does Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, Deadpool’s old, blind, former-crack-addict roommate. Of course, few things she could say or do would be as funny as the simple fact of a costumed superhero rooming with an old blind woman. Likewise Karan Soni gets a lot of laughs as Dopinder the taxi driver, who carts Deadpool around to his battles and who features in one of the film’s darker jokes.
Probably the worst thing I can say about Deadpool is that I’m depressingly certain that we will get several dozen imitators over the next few years and that before long I’ll wish that no one ever made a movie like this again. But that’s in the future: for now, we can just enjoy the fresh, fun little film we have on hand. Here’s a film made by people with a real enthusiasm for the character, and that joy and that will to entertain shine through every moment on screen. It’s a movie that feels like everyone involved had a lot of fun making it and really wants everyone watching to have a lot of fun as well, and it’s hard to dislike a movie like that.
Final Rating: 4.5/5. Pretty much exactly what you’d want from a Deadpool movie.
P.S. Just in case anyone out there is unclear on who and what Deadpool is, I want to emphasize that this movie is a hard R rating. If you go in unprepared, you’re probably not going to have as good a time as you should. There’s a lot of bloody violence, all kinds of profanity and crude language, nudity, sex-scenes, you name it, it’s here. It’s all done with a light touch, but some viewers will find the constant vulgarity unbearable. If you’re someone who can’t stand that sort of thing, you will not like this movie.