THE ANTIDOTE TO A string of truly awful superhero films is the hilarious, ridiculous Deadpool, and if you, like me, have been left frustrated by X Men: Apocalypse, Batman v Superman and other recent efforts, I suggest you uncork the bottle and take a good swig.
The film opens on a busy motorway flyover after a credit sequence which uses its titles (“Produced by Asshats… Written by the Real Heroes Here”) to lampoon superhero-film stereotypes while, at the same time, conceding the film will include these stereotypes anyway. Deadpool‘s eponymous fast-talking antihero, played with glee by Ryan Reynolds, gets out of a taxi and begins to get to work with violent abandon on a group of armed goons.
How Deadpool–Wade Wilson–came to be in this situation is told through a series of flashbacks. Wilson was a Special Forces operative-turned-mercenary (“I’m a bad guy who is paid to fuck up worse guys,” he says) who met the equally self-destructive Vanessa (Morena Baccarin)—their opening dialogue is one of the best exchanges of the film—in the sort of bad-guy dive bar Marv liked to skulk around in in Sin City, and they begin a love affair. Everything is going swimmingly until Wade contracts inoperable late-stage cancer, but he is offered survival–and superhuman abilities–at the hands of Ajax (Ed Skrein). His superhero makeover comes at the expense of his all-American good looks, and, fearing that his beloved will reject him, he sets out to find Ajax (who also goes, comically, by “Francis”) and put things right.
Reynolds is well-fitted for the role of the motormouth Wade/Deadpool, who is just the right balance of likeable and annoying, and dispenses bloody violence with the same speed and facility that he dispenses off-colour one-liners. When he isn’t quipping in-story or breaking bones he’s breaking the fourth wall—or rather, smashing it to bits with a wrecking ball—to make in-jokes about the bloated Marvel universe or production costs.
Deadpool is refreshingly irreverent towards its heritage, but equally self-referential. In the spirit of its bad-boy antihero, it extends a middle finger to the films which made it possible, yet satirises itself as much as it does the other films of its genre. It is to the credit of writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick that Deadpool never strays into the territory of parody or cynicism, and the plot is interesting enough, if not particularly inventive or complex. Though it is a smirking deconstruction of all the excesses and tropes of the genre, it is also in its own right an ultra-violent, sweary romp, buoyed by ironic upbeat pop music and excellent visual effects (director Tim Miller is a visual effects artist with a background in video games.)
The film is most effective when the plot zips along at the speed of Wade’s dialogue. The scenes involving Ajax and his sidekick, Angel Dust––played by MMA royalty Gina Carano––are alternately hammy and boring, and the less said about CGI X-Man Colossus, who is so jarringly fake it is hard to tell whether the creators intended him to appear that way on purpose, the better.
The final act descends into the usual scenery-smashing mayhem required by the genre, which shows that even Deadpool can’t out-manoeuvre certain comic-book tropes. Therein lies the irony of Deadpool: it is still very much a superhero flick, if an unconventional one. And its success is unlikely to change the genre significantly. The studios will always put commercial success before artistic success, and superhero films are still written to appeal to a young audience. In other words, studios won’t do away with PG-13 films simply because the R-rated Deadpool was a success.
Deadpool achieves indisputably what it sets out to achieve. It’s riotously funny and it’s well-put-together. On the one level, it’s a superhero film for people who don’t really like superhero films, but on the other, it’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to dedicated fans of the genre.