Forgive last year’s Fantastic Four, for it didn’t know what it did wrong.
In a time when superhero movies seem like a collection of calculated executive decisions rather than genuinely enticing affairs, 20th Century Fox is perhaps the only movie studio in Hollywood that knows how to take real risks with their comic book properties. Yeah, Marvel has Netflix on their side to produce some occasionally challenging discussions with some appropriately-adult content. And Warner Bros. may very well be putting their cart in front of their horses these days with their upcoming onslaught of their DC-universe, beginning in jest with next month’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But neither are really taking chances. Both rely on well-established names, with Marvel in particular such-a-name at this point that it doesn’t have to worry about such petty concerns. It’s, therefore, produced a malicious onslaught of mediocrity in the cinema these days, the likes of which causes something as trivially average as Ant-Man to pass as last year’s best movie featuring people-in-tights. That’s why we need to thank our movie gods — or simply our lucky cinematic stars — for Deadpool.
The infectiously juvenile, jubilantly crass, delightfully unapologetic and happily incessant studio feature from first-time feature director Tim Miller is exactly the kick-in-the-teeth the genre desperately needs at this point. The type of firing-on-all-cylinders mad-cap motion picture that only rarely loses steam, Deadpool serves as a celebration to the superhero films of the past decade and a lovingly winking parody of them that only occasionally wears its contemporary meta comedy too close to its sleeve. It brings back memories of when seeing these type of big-budgeted efforts was less an exercise and more an experience to behold. A time when blockbusters like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, the Hellboy films and even the first Iron Man film made going to see a new superhero movie, you know, fun.
And that’s what matters here: Deadpool is fun, fun, fun. Though it’s not without its sloppy pacing and occasionally awkward tonal shifts, it’s a gleeful, heart-firmly-beating-on-its-chest production that genuinely comes from a place of inspiration, insanity and massive creativity — something all too rare, and often all-too-fleeting, from these movies these days. It knows exactly what it wants to be, and it does everything in its power to make that vision come alive in stride. Even when it falls short on its ambitions at times, it’s always a ferociously, commendably true labor of love, and it deserves a lot of fucking respect for that these days. Because at the very least, it’s trying something different, and its off-color irrelevance comes in a nice shade of red, white and fuck you too.
Early on, Deadpool runs the danger of blowing its wad too quickly, and too soon. Particularly from frame one — after we’re introduced to some of the best use of opening credits I’ve witnessed in a good while — we’re placed right in the action, as we’re introduced fast and lean to our titular anti-hero (Ryan Reynolds) shooting the shit with your not-so-average taxi driver (Karan Soni), breaking the fourth wall whenever a clever aside comes to mind or plainly stating his course of action. In this case, it’s packing whatever hit he can carry and whatever swords he can swing to bring the merciless Ajax (Ed Skrein, a.k.a. Jason Statham’s replacement in last year’s The Transporter Refueled, proving himself far better as a supporting villain than a lead man) to his knees. For this is the man who led our lead down the path of rampage he walks before us with today, as he wasn’t always the foul-mouthed, fast-shooting man in red-and-black tights he is today. Well, he may have been a little bit. But back in the day, he went by the name Wade Wilson, and he was simply your average hunky mercenary with a troubled past and a heart of gold.
Wade was a sort of low-level Robin Hood-esque figure who helped the innocent track down those who did them wrong and took out the most truly detestable men who (mostly) deserved the pain coming their way. He spent his days kicking bad guys around, and his nights throwing back drinks at his local roughen-friendly bar. Run by his equally-sarcastic best friend Weasel (T.J. Miller, playing his dry comic relief role to a T), this night resort is the kind of territory where pummeled deaths are not only common but encouraged by the staff, as everyone places odds each night on who’ll not make it home the next morning on the overheard chalkboard known as the “Deadpool.” As you’d expect, this place doesn’t necessarily attract the friendliest of attractors, but it’s the place where our good-hearted killer happens to cross paths with the sweetheart of his dreams, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). A prostitute with an equally disturbed history, and more than a common understanding for pop culture infinities, it’s a romance for the ages. The two hit it off in no time, and in more ways than one. And with their hands soon in marriage, it looks like everything’s gonna turn out alright. Until, of course, it doesn’t.
It’s only a matter of time before disaster hits, and Wade soon finds his downfall as he’s diagnosed with late-stage cancer scattered all over his body. The man known best for taking other people’s lives soon will have to come to his own death, it appears. But just before his name’s ready to be checked off the board, he gets tipped about an experimental set of procedures that could cure him for good. He doesn’t buy much stock into it, but he doesn’t want to let his girl live a life of misery if he can help it. So sneaking out one night, he freely puts himself under the control of the sinister aforementioned Ajax — a scientist who feels no pain and who, alongside Angel Dust (Gina Carano), his assistant — puts his subjects through various strenuous operations to make sure he’s not only illness-free, but never has to worry about feeling sick for the rest of his life. And though Ajax’s successful, it’s not without some (intended) side-effects: for while Wade’s a superhuman now, he’s also one with horrendous scars all over his body. With his good-looking days behind him, he fights to return back to the man he once was in order to take back Vanessa’s heart. But in the meantime, he must lurk around the corners, hide behind various masks and costumes and pick off everyone who did him wrong until he has Ajax, and his cure, under his grasp.
Bouncing between the past and the present with as much consistency as Deadpool’s stream of thought (note: he likes to rattle on whenever he sees fits), it’s easy to see how some may find Miller’s film a little too messy for its own good. Deadpool fights hard to poke fun and sneer away the conventions of your typical origin story, and though it’s often finds itself restrained by a fairly by-the-way vigilante story, its snappy editing, lighthearted charm and clear affection for gore and looney mayhem always keeps the energy on high. Though it plays its hand early and never keeps its intentions a secret, this decidedly not-kid-friendly feature flies with a robust sense of self and a positively electrifying shock of inspiration at every turn. This is a real Deadpool movie through and through, and it never takes any short cuts in being exactly what it wants to be. This is gleefully sophomoric, logic-be-damned, cartoonish-as-all-hell R-rated nonsense at some of its most fulfilling and naughtily clever in years. And not since the first Kick-Ass nearly six years earlier has censor-less adrenaline felt so rewarding on the big screen.
Of course, Deadpool isn’t without its shortcomings. Its flavor for improbably callous behavior grows a bit cumbersome after a while, especially when played to the nines for so long, and it’s hard not to feel the growing weightlessness of the action by the end. Having a hero, and a villain, who are impervious to pain makes their trials and tribulations a little hard to be completed invested in. Plus, the film’s only X-Men, Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic, and never convincing brought to the screen through poorly-released CG) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), feel more wasted than not. And though Miller produces some of the clearest and most easy-to-follow action scenes I’ve seen in a pale moon, his history in video games can easily be detected throughout the bloody but often little-too-lightweight action scenes. Also, it won’t have hurt to give the villain just a wee bit more flavor. Though Skrein interjects some maniacal flair in the right moments, his character is just a little too sullen for such a frivolous production.
Though certainly a bumpy little adventure at times, Deadpool lives and dies on both its script and its lead star. Thankfully, each pack as much heat as they can muster. Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick’s screenplay — easily their best since 2009’s Zombieland — knows Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s creation inside-and-out, and glorifies giving the character as triumphant and sensational a big screen bow as they can produce. It’s easy to see why their script earned so much respect and chatter over the years, and Reynolds makes their work comes alive as memorably, and spectacularly, as he possibly can. The actor, also producing, gives every second on screen his all, fighting tooth, nail and severed appendage to have nearly every fan walk away as satisfied as possible. And his hard-work never becomes tiresome. In fact, quite often the opposite; he’s an absolute joy to watch in every second. He was born to play Deadpool.
His witty, winning-as-all-hell performance plays entirely to his strengths as a comedic performer, and proves him right where X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern served him so, so wrong. It’s a beautiful work of art in motion, and justifies every fight he’s given to make this performance come alive in the first place. And though the wait was long, it feels right: Deadpool comes just when we need this character in theaters. In a time when superhero movies thrive on being generic and cookie-cutter, Miller’s film becomes as unconventionally lewd as possible, never scared about whether or not its references are too dated, its language is too crass or its violence is a little too insensitive. And its end credits scene? Sheer perfection. Make sure you stick around to watch it. It’s the kind of risks I dream to see from studio blockbusters today, and it hopefully proves Fox with the continued inspiration to push themselves in dirty, gutsy directions.
Does it play its target audience like a fiddle? Yes. Does it lose steam after a while? Certainly. Do all the dick jokes land? Most definitely not. But it’s the heart, the sheer passion and the unabashedly driven sense of self driving Deadpool to its filthy, expletive-heavy finish line. Miller’s film thrives on being exactly what it wants to be, and though usually such entailment comes off abrasive and petty, here it plays to exactly what people want from this incessantly tired, tropes-heavy genre. There’s an organic freshness alive here; a spark, an energy and a sense of pride in this movie that feels revitalized. And whether or not it’ll age well a couple years from now, it speaks true to the present, and it comes like a vital shock-to-the-groin after an onslaught of superhero films that practically seem allergic to fun. Though it’s decidedly an anti-superhero movie, it truly saves the goddamn day in the end.