Deadpool, the latest comic book movie, is different enough from others in the genre and plays like a biting comedy on the expectations of superhero movies. Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson, a mercenary whose carefree lifestyle is turned upside down when he falls in love and, soon thereafter, learns he has late stage cancer. The good news is that he learns of a treatment that could cure him. The bad news is that the procedure grossly alters his appearance and turns him into Deadpool, an accelerated version of his already “messed up” persona.
It could be stated that Reynolds isn’t stretching here and is doing the same snarky, smartest-guy-in-the-room bit he’s been playing since Van Wilder. While Reynolds isn’t a talent on the level of Eddie Murphy, this is every bit as potent a comeback vehicle for its star as The Nutty Professor was for Murphy 20 years ago. Following a long list of severe flops like Green Lantern, The Change-Up, R.I.P.D. and last year’s Self/Less and Woman in Gold, it seemed that Reynolds’ super star ascension had permanently stalled. Oddly enough, Deadpool addresses his flops and even teases his acting abilities. There’s so much at stake for the actor with this movie, and Reynolds is so good in this that his tour de force performance has an additional resonance
It helps a great deal that it sports a villain so nasty that we love to hate him. Ed Skrein recently starred in the failed franchise spin-off The Transporter: Refueled but he’s top notch here; his Ajax is a threatening, vicious bully and I couldn’t wait for our “hero” to knock his block off. Not helping is the villain’s sidekick, played with no panache whatsoever by Gina Carano. The supporting characters from the X-Men universe are also totally unappealing.
Morena Baccarin gives the role of Deadpool’s girlfriend some surprising emotion, but the part is, when you think about it, fairly degrading. It was bold and funny of the movie to address how the studio short-changes the budget with the lack of more recognizable characters but the joke is almost too on the nose. What can you say about an X-Men movie that even Patrick Stewart won’t appear in?
My feelings towards Deadpool are conflicted but mostly on the positive side. Here’s a comic book movie spoof that successfully addresses the problem with this genre: too many of these movies are interchangeable and made in an indifferent manner. It’s also self-satisfied and visually ugly, with a narrative that’s unnecessarily presented out of sequence.
The action sequences are wow-inducing, shot and edited with energy but minus shaky-cam or incomprehensible staging. Scenes of Deadpool living with his blind neighbor are so absurd that they get laughs for pushing the idea as far as it could go. On the other hand, if any character here is a negative stereotype, it’s the Indian cab driver who gets more screen time than needed.
While the love story didn’t move me, the scenes of Deadpool’s painful transformation most certainly did; this section is so compelling and blends humor and horrific imagery to such striking effect that it elevates the movie. It also made me genuinely care about the title character, whose untouchable demeanor and childish sense of humor are a means of protecting himself.
The juvenile one-liners are hit and miss, but the numerous in-jokes, meta and otherwise, never feel forced. The gags at the top and very end of the film, mocking the opening and post-credits sequences of comic book movies, are refreshing. Conversely, the scenes that pay lip service to the X-Men timeline and push the comic book angle forward are the least interesting. Unlike the obnoxious Kick-Ass and Kingsmen: The Secret Service, this never forgets it’s a comedy and doesn’t transform into a subpar version of the very thing its spoofing.
Deadpool, the movie and the character, is always at its best when it’s giving a hearty middle finger to everyone: the bad guys, the good guys, franchise expectations and even the studio that financed this fierce little movie.