Director: Tim Miller
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand
Runtime: 108 Minutes
In an age where figures as little known as the Guardians of the Galaxy gang are getting their own blockbuster franchises, Deadpool has sat on the sidelines kicking his heels for the right moment and production crew to come alone and do him justice on the big screen for quite some time now. Originally a mere emulation of some of comic’s grittier figures being represented against Marvel’s colourful backdrop, he quickly evolved into a firm fan favourite as the wisecracking ‘Merc with a Mouth’ who served as the voice of the average reader – a character so self-aware in his lunacy that he routinely broke the fourth wall to joke about the absurdity of the medium, its characters and their place within popular culture.
As such, Deadpool is a film that is most suited to the Hollywood climate of the current moment. In the glut of portentous, semi-fun renditions of comic book heroes and their cinematic universes, Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) as a character is fully aware of his history and purpose, including the turbulent time that it has taken him to get to get his own star vehicle (the tragedies of both X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where the character was first woefully introduced, and fellow Reynolds-vehicle Green Lantern are clearly referenced as dark patches). Jokes at the expense of the genre, its world and characters (even its cast) are ridiculed by the titular Merc with flailing dissection as he trundles his way through his own origin story. An act of redemption on behalf of both its writers, director, leading man and even the studio, Deadpool is the film this character deserves – but is it the one we need?
Right out of the gate, this is the most violent and least child-friendly superhero movie in its current field. It’s a foulmouthed, dirty headed but consistently hilarious film that suits the character to a tee. The problem with Deadpool for the most part, though, has been the very acceptance of the crude anarchy that surrounds him. The general joke of ‘he’s a superhero that knows he’s in a superhero film’ is something that can only sustain the interest for so long before becoming rather irksome with the glut of gentile humour that follows it, and the writers apparently know this too. The wacky figure of the title in all his costumed glory is really relegated to two glorified set pieces in the second and third acts that are stretched out via its flashback structure, so for every solemn sequence of emotional anguish in Wade Wilson’s past we cut back to the absurd antics of the present to balance out the pace.
For the most part, this gimmick does work, mainly because the writing on the character side for the heroes of the story is pretty rock solid. The core relationship between Wade and love interest Vanessa (Homeland's Morena Baccarin) is remarkably well-balanced and the believability of their chemistry is astonishingly natural in execution. At a base level, it establishes the stakes as being far more personal than the world endangering cataclysm of standard genre formula. It’s just a shame that overall the film can’t escape the rigid restrictions of both its function as an origin tale and a budget that chokes the film of a sense of scale (once again, Deadpool laughs about the fact that the film can only afford to bring aboard two of the X-Men as side characters).
Speaking of which, the X-Men on board are wonderfully rendered and those off-screen scoffed at by our lead. 'Colossus' (Stefan Kapičić) is a convincing portrayal of traditional heroic standards in the face of Deadpool’s outlandish achievements, but it's newcomer Brianna Hildebrand as the preposterously awesome sounding 'Negasonic Teenage Warhead' who appears to silently steal the spotlight as the modern-day youth who simply doesn’t have time for any of Deadpool’s tired comic shtick. The villains have little to work with beyond their stock character types, even though they are performed rather wonderfully by both Ed Skrein as Ajax and the woefully underutilised Gina Carano as Angel Dust.
It’s unclear in the end as to whether or not these placed restrictions in its path towards greatness are intentional or not, but the screenplay practically backflips over them for the sake of rather relieving comic effect. It is rather nice to have a comic book film in which serialised continuity and stake claiming action is of secondary concern to character motivation, and the lightness of touch is what keeps the whole thing moving through its relatively brief running time. That being said, simply wittily acknowledging one's own shortcomings does not automatically excuse them, even if Deadpool frequently attempts to do this in a comical, postmodern fashion.
At the centre of everything is heartthrob Ryan Reynolds, playing the hell out of a character he was born to depict, equal parts funny, tragic and omnipotent in self-deprivation. It’s a genuinely great rendering of the character on-screen and how well an audience can take to the character both in costume as well as out of it is going to be the key factor in one's overall enjoyment of the film. He’s almost a relic in this day and age, where savvy, wannabe-comedian audiences are themselves quick to undercut convention, cliche or cinematic tropes, but it is why this iteration of the character is so perfectly suited to the medium; he beats them all to the punch line of every sordid joke imaginable.
It isn’t as introspective or even intelligent as its closest companion in the genre, Kick-Ass, but then again it isn’t really trying to be either of those things; it’s a film that is merely serving as the platform upon which its long-suffering anti-hero can achieve his long sought after status as a movie star, and a witty, suitably post-modern rehabilitation for a character that Reynolds himself felt was dealt a poor hand in his first cinematic outing. It is well shot, the action choreography decent, the humour on point and it's general sensibility and well-judged tone (expertly perpetuated by a canny marketing campaign) is bound to draw in the flock from the Marvel Cinematic Universe regardless of its situation outside of it. Deadpool is a big, silly, slightly generic if funny distraction that does its duty to a much-loved fan favourite.