Deadpool (2016) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Stefan Kapicic (voice), Brianna Hildebrand, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni
Cameo: Stan Lee, Rob Liefeld
Director: Tim Miller
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Review published February 12, 2016
Interesting how fresh it all feels when there isn't much about Deadpool that is truly unique. We've already had a vulgar R-rated superhero film in Kick-Ass. We've had the snarky, irreverent attitude in Guardians of the Galaxy. We've had the in-fight wisecrack-y banter in, well, pretty much any Spider-Man property in history. We've had the origin of tortured experimentation that led to incredible powers of regeneration in every appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. We've had the plot of revenge on a bad guy whose powers somewhat mirror the protagonist's, eventually leading to the hero (or, in this case, anti-hero) having to save his love interest from his evil clutches in hundreds, if not thousands, of storylines in the history of action movies. And, yes, we've seen Deadpool himself, and we've seen Ryan Reynolds (Self/less, Woman in Gold) portray him, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
However, fans of the comic-book version of Deadpool (created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza) are pretty much unanimous in their hatred of how their beloved character had been portrayed in X-Men Origins, to the point where their grumblings served as proof that there would be a groundswell of interest if 20th Century Fox decided to spin off of their wildly popular X-Men series of films with a version of Deadpool that gives the fans every single thing they complained about not getting the first time around. Meta-textual "Fan Service" films have become the newest, latest bonanzas at the box office, especially in the most recent year, as the two top money-earners of 2016 would become two of the top money-earners of all time in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, two major franchises resurrected on the formula of giving their respective legion of fans everything that their sequels or prequels failed to. And they do it with an especially keen sense of awareness within the course of their very films that what they're doing is not telling new, unique stories so much as giving their version of big-budget 'fan fiction'.
The origin of Deadpool is told in an extended flashback sequence in the middle of the film, pushing forward a relatively improbable story of a rebellious ex-special ops, mercenary type named Wade Wilson (Reynolds) who meets his "soulmate" in the equally deviant spitfire named Vanessa (Baccarin, Batman: Bad Blood). Just as strongly as their bond of love begins to take hold, it's all about to come to an end, when Wilson is diagnosed with late-stage cancer. With seemingly no real cure in sight, Wilson reluctantly agrees to be a guinea pig for a shadowy underground company that promises a cure for his condition, though he quickly realizes after it's too late that their operation isn't quite on the up and up. Alas, Wilson, known for having almost no filter on voicing his thoughts in the most insulting of ways, antagonizes the company's mad doctor, Ajax (Skrein, The Transporter Refueled), into paying special attention to him in a series of sadistic experiments that triggers his mutant superpowers of regeneration, but also leaves him horribly disfigured. The rest of the movie deals with the escaped Wilson, now operating as a costumed merc named Deadpool, trying to get his hands on the powerful Ajax to restore his looks back to normal on the hope that his beloved Vanessa can look upon his grotesque appearance with all of the attraction he yearns for.
The success of Deadpool will be the true test on whether major superhero properties are ready to finally make the leap into R-rated territory. They've existed, and have done modestly well in such films as Blade, Watchmen, and the aforementioned, Kick-Ass films, but none with the kind of runaway success that made them into blockbusters on the level of the PG-13 Marvel properties. However, pre-release tracking shows that this one is likely to have the cross-over appeal to overcome its hurdle of not being able to target its strong demographic of kids and teens, enough for a sequel to be green-lit before the public has even handed over their first dollar to this one. Even if box-office juggernaut China, the market that major releases have contorted themselves into pretzels to cater to in their films, refuses to allow it, if there's enough green generated by the man dressed in red (he does so to not continuously have to wash out blood stains), not only domestically, but also other uncivilized parts of the civilized world, this could become a new industry for off-shoot properties in the superhero arena.
Despite its high violence quotient and Wade Wilson's penchant for lots of nonstandard sexual behavior, Deadpool still manages to muster quite a bit of restraint, not willing to completely wallow in depravity just for depravity's sake. Yes, it enjoys its R rating with gusto, but it isn't trying to shock you beyond what's actually necessary for the humor value of its brazenness. In fact, what's most shocking to find beyond all of the wanton sex and violence is that there are occasional moments of genuine emotion and character texture underneath the story to keep the film from seeming like nothing but empty calories. Reynolds has played a quipster wisecracker most of his career, but he's done admirably in romantic comedies and some dramatic roles as well, and he gets to show some of that range in a few choice spots, allowing for moments of fresh air amid the stench of the wanton carnage. Fox was wise to retain him in the role, despite his failure in his first appearance, and his failed turn in the embarrassment that was Green Lantern.
Any downsides are mostly nitpicks that may not bother most viewers. The CGI is spotty, with many aspects obviously artificial, such as the computer-generated semi-sidekick character of Colossus looking especially cartoonish. Though most of the humor hits, sometimes the jokes play out past their humor value, such as a recurring joke about the names of the various styles of IKEA furniture that isn't likely to elicit more than a chortle on the first mention, and none in its callbacks. The 'bad taste' quotient may also make some viewers squirm, as Deadpool's mirth while maiming bad guys can be seen as too gleefully flippant to the point of mildly offending some viewers who think it's irresponsible for its cavalier attitude toward violence and murder. Deadpool is a murderous sociopath, but we're supposed to also like the anti-hero and find his antics audaciously funny, so some might think it plays too cute to be clever.
I should also probably warn parents that Deadpool not only has graphic violence, but also sex and nudity. Some of my (mildly vexed) amusement at watching Deadpool came from seeing a father cover his pre-teen son's eyes when bare breasts would appear, though there was no problem in exposing the lad to all of the copious headshots, gruesome impalings and bloody dismemberments found within the gratuitously bloody action sequences. Oh, parents...
Deadpool isn't revolutionary as a film for anything other than its mischievous, devil-may-care audacity, but that one quality is enough to make it one of the most fun Marvel properties to date. Its chutzpah and knowing self-references wouldn't be enough to make for solid entertainment in a crowded field of such fare, but as directed with striking swagger by splash-making first-timer Tim Miller (the visual effects animator who gained modest fame for creating the title sequences of the English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Thor: The Dark World), with some truly clever writing from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (along with choice ad-libbing of Reynolds and comic sidekick T.J. Miller), who peppered the in-jokes in the equally self-aware romp Zombieland, it's just about everything fans could have wanted from a "Deadpool" property and more. That a film tries so hard to be seen as witty and cool, and actually succeeds most of the time, is at least worthy of some admiration; it's made by people who know their audience through and through. It might seem dated in ten years, but the aim of Deadpool is dead-on in the here and now.
-- There's an extra scene at the end that nods to another well-known film that also famously breaks the fourth wall.
©2016 Vince Leo