Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
Comic-book movies have come a long way in the past decade, in that they’re taken more seriously and can have a nice balance of action and comedy (meaning they don’t have to take themselves seriously all the time). The heroes are more relatable, the stories are more intense, technology helps the action sequences look better, a good amount of comedy is supplied without getting too distracting, and we find ourselves long past the era in which the concept of a superhero movie was laughed upon. Of course, some of these superhero movies work more than others—for every “Captain America,” there’s a “Green Lantern”; for every “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there’s a “Fant4stic”; for every “The Dark Knight,” there’s a “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”; and so on. But the point remains—superhero movies in general are getting more respect (and it’s going to take something bigger than “Fant4stic” to kill audiences’ excitement for them). It’s an especially good time for Marvel, with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe delivering such awesome entertainments as “Iron Man,” “The Avengers,” and the “Captain America” movies, among others.
But as fun as they are, I think we can all agree we know what most of them are doing. Many of these movies try so hard to be taken seriously that we can’t help but talk back/make wisecracks to the movies. That’s especially true of origin stories—the stories that show how Super-Somebody became Super-Somebody. They usually involve these tropes we’ve all seen before: the death of a loved one; the villain rising to power not long after the hero gains abilities; loved ones are kidnapped by the villain; the hero learns very quickly; anything is possible as long as there’s some scientific babble to back it up; there’s a big fight between the hero and villain; the hero always survives, no matter what; and of course, the reluctant hero doesn’t want to be a superhero but ends up becoming one anyway. It’s interesting to see where a hero gets his or her start, but these origin stories are mostly predictable.
That’s why when something as flat-out entertaining as “Deadpool” comes around, it’s all the more welcome. Why exactly, you may ask? Because this is a superhero origin-story movie in which all the tropes are present and the story is as standard as can be, and not only does it know it but it revels in knowing it. It has fun with it—the hero is a smarmy jerk who breaks the fourth wall, makes one goofy wisecrack after another, is actually an anti-hero, swears up a storm, and pretty much says and does many things you wouldn’t hear or see in any other superhero film. It’s almost like he’s (gasp!) one of the audience members (except I think he says most things we wouldn’t think to say; he has that much to say)!
“Deadpool” is based on the Marvel comic-book character, although it’s hard to imagine this playing any part in Disney’s MCU (this film is presented by 20th Century Fox; they redeem themselves after the Marvel mess that was “Fant4stic” last summer). But maybe that’s for the best, because “Deadpool” is what it is and its audience is appreciative for it. The film is immature, crude, and in bad taste…and I enjoyed it from start to finish. (What can I say? I need as much a good chance of pace as superhero-movie audiences.)
The hero is a rebel—a simple-minded, angry, wisecracking anti-hero who has one thing on his mind: vengeance. We see his origin story (yes, we get the darned “origin story” here) through flashbacks and see how Deadpool became Deadpool. Before becoming invincible due to mutation and spawning a red spandex outfit and mask to become Deadpool, Wade Wilson (played by Ryan Reynolds) was a mercenary in New York City. He fell in love with an escort, Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), and they were going to be married. But when Wade developed cancer, he didn’t want to put Vanessa through the stress and left her. He sold his body to a shady scientific experiment, run by a British scientist named Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), or Ajax as he prefers to be called despite Wade always mockingly calling him by his legal name, and his superhuman sidekick Angel Dust (Gina Carano). He realizes too late that he’s not being transformed by these bizarre mutation tests to be a superhero, but a super-powered slave. His cancer is healed, but side effects, in addition to strength and invincibility, include his face and body becoming horribly disfigured. He managed to escape, destroying most of the factory in the process, but sees himself as a freak whom he’s certain Vanessa wouldn’t take back. That brings us to now, where Deadpool is hunting Francis (er, “Ajax”) down to get a cure for his disfigurements (and kill him after he’s cured), mowing down his sidemen one by one. Watching from afar are two X-Men (yes, there are two X-Men in this movie)—Russian metallic giant Colossus (a CGI creation voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and an attitudinal energy-boosting teenage girl aptly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). They try to bring Deadpool to join them, but Deadpool doesn’t care about being a hero and just wants his girl (and his face) back…as well as Francis impaled by a sword or two. And he doesn’t care who he has to kill in order to get his life back to normal.
“Deadpool” is respectful of its source material. Deadpool is known for being very profane and committing graphic acts of violence—a PG-13 rating simply wouldn’t do for a faithful Deadpool movie (something every fanboy made clear when actor Ryan Reynolds pranked them on Twitter, fooling them into thinking it would be PG-13 instead of R). Sorry, parents who have no idea who Deadpool is and just wanted to take their kids to see a superhero movie on Valentine’s Day weekend. “Deadpool” is rated R for good reasons.
The offbeat style of “Deadpool,” which includes pop cultural references, fourth-wall breaking, one-liners, etc., is especially welcome now, because in our day and age, we have seen so many superhero films (and enjoyed so many as well). Reynolds, director Tim Miller (making his feature debut), and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick thrive in self-awareness and have fun with the superhero conventions. While I always have my guard up when it comes to this humor (read my “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” review), it works here. Obviously, there are some jokes that don’t work, which usually happens when there’s one after another; but a great amount of the humor really worked for me, because a lot of it felt fresh and new. I didn’t feel tired of the peculiarity. I enjoyed it throughout.
(Oh, I should also mention the most original use of opening credits I’ve ever seen…but I won’t. See for yourself. The less you know beforehand, the better.)
Speaking of things I usually tend to try and resist, Ryan Reynolds is nothing short of terrific as the title role. While I like Reynolds in more subdued roles, like in “Buried” and “Adventureland,” he usually doesn’t do much for me, especially when he’s trying to be funny—he seems rather bland while desperately trying to make me think he’s funnier than he actually is. I can’t put my finger on it, especially when Reynolds is really trying to be funny here, but somehow he succeeds as Deadpool. Maybe I’m used to his style of acting, maybe he’s heightened up the amount of comic timing in his performance, but I think Reynolds is perfect in this movie. He’s not only able to make us understand what he’s going through but he is also flat-out hilarious throughout. Even despite his unorthodox, homicidal methods, he makes us surprisingly care for Deadpool, making for a very effective anti-hero.
“Deadpool” is a different kind of movie, to say the least. It pays homage to familiar tropes in the superhero-film genre, but it also chews them up, spits them out, and eats them back up again (sorry for the disgusting mental image). Is it closer to satire or parody? That’s a difficult question to answer, but either way, “Deadpool” is a definite comedic treasure for the comic-book audience and one of the best surprises of the year so far.