The Merc with a Mouth Arrives in Excellent Comedic Form
After years in development hell, star Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller have brought comedic and hyper violent comic book hero Deadpool to the movies in the character’s big screen debut (X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t count). Wearing its R rating proud and frequently roasting the superhero genre, Deadpool is a riotous adventure that often defies the genre’s conventions, while still playing to their predictable beats.
True to the comics while simplifying some elements, Deadpool tells the story of Wade Wilson (Reynolds), a mercenary who is diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after proposing to the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When a covert agency tells him they can save him and give him unimaginable powers, he signs up. But in reality, it’s a brutal scientific experiment built on torturing volunteers until they gain powers, then selling them as slaves to the highest bidder. When the experiment gives Wilson the power to heal from just about anything but leaves him permanently disfigured, he goes after the man responsible – Ajax (Ed Skrein), a ruthless killer who endangers Vanessa’s life.
If Deadpool were to have been another simple by the numbers comic book origin story, it would have been a passable but ultimately forgettable entry into the ever-growing superhero genre of films. Instead, the movie plays true to the character of Deadpool (Reynolds) and his irreverent, motor mouth, ADD humor that has amassed a legion of fans, which has been lovingly brought to the screen by filmmakers and a lead actor who are clearly huge fans of the character. That comedic element infuses Deadpool with an often refreshing take on superheroics and makes it one of the funniest films of the last year and most certainly the most hilarious superhero movie ever made. Even when some jokes fall flat, there are enough flying by that the pace never hits a stumbing block, with sly film references, easter eggs, and throwback song choices filling in any remaining gaps. Ranging from dark humor to pop culture references to character beats to fourth wall breaks, the comedy is thankfully diverse throughout while maintaining a consistent tone in order to get the most mileage out of the material as possible.
Outside of the comedy, there are multiple shining moments of action scattered throughout Deadpool. While the film may skimp a little too much on its action setpieces, it uses them to great effect, in particular, the opening highway fight uses running gags and splashes of action to make the film pop right as it begins.
Deadpool can be a tricky character for anyone to get right, just look at his many comic book iterations. While the character’s popularity has continued to climb in the 25 years that he has been around, there have been many runs by writers that heavily relied on the character’s pop culture referencing and wackiness for the sake of wackiness. That’s a shtick that can and did grow old fast, resulting in a Deadpool that is far too annoying to sustain an interesting fan base. However, this is a character who can have real depth, which plays off his self-awareness and dark humor for stories that range from silly to grim. After all, Wade Wilson is a psychologically scarred and often sociopathic mercenary whose violent tendencies frequently overcome his desire to do good.
Thankfully, the team behind Deadpool understands that there are many reasons behind the character’s appeal and works as many of those layers into the film as possible. While this certainly isn’t a profound narrative, there is enough emotional complexity and depth to Reynolds’ Deadpool to make him into a compelling character. He may serve as the root of most of the film’s comedy (especially since his awareness of being in a film results in many superb fourth wall breaks), but he’s not a shallow comedic tool. As Wilson, Reynolds brings tons of charisma and an outstanding comedic timing to the role, which helps to elevate decent jokes to strong ones and great jokes to outstanding ones. He’s also wonderful at selling Deadpool’s emotions, even when acting through a full body costume or heavy makeup for much of the movie. His passion for the character not only helped to bring Deadpool to the big screen, it makes it a far better product. The big screen version of Wade Wilson feels just like the character in a way few live action superheroes ever have, with Reynolds inhabiting a loving interpretation of him that still gives him the chance to make Deadpool his own.
Reynolds is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast with actors who slot into their needed roles just right. Baccarin’s Vanessa is a solid love interest for Wilson, which is most certainly needed when their relationship propels so much of the plot, and T.J. Miller’s Weasel works great as a comedic foil to Deadpool, giving some fantastic one liners and a style that plays well with Reynolds. In addition, Stefan Kapicic as Colossus, Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, and Gina Carano as Angel Dust all help add a little more variety to the narrative, with their unique personalities playing off Deadpool for more varied notes of humor. And while Skrein’s Ajax isn’t much more than a despicable one-note villain, he has an imposing physicality that makes him a believable threat for Deadpool in combat.
It’s clear that Deadpool is working with a formulaic plot that has informed many superhero and action films in the past – hero’s tragic origin, transformation into the persona, and last ditch effort to save love interest from the bad guy – but the film has been restructured in a way to prevent it from feeling monotonous. In addition, the movie’s loads of humor and undercutting self-awareness help those predictable beats become more of a framework for the movie’s true entertainment value rather than its purpose. Just when you’re ready to call the film out for a pedestrian plot development, its characters make a self-aware comment that undercuts that weakness. In particular, a comment about how another person might “move the plot forward” and an observation on the lack of background characters at a certain location are sublimely timed and pointed.
Not only that, but the timing of the jokes and their presentation within the plot are often far less predictable than the direction of the narrative. They might conflict slightly with the pathos that motivates the character of Deadpool, but it’s clear that this is a comedy first and a superhero movie second. And as an R-rated comedy, Deadpool is not afraid to break the standards set by most movies featuring colorfully costumes comic characters, with dark ideas, violence, and sexuality all being used to humorous effect throughout.
That aggressive and adult (if juvenile) approach to getting laughs may sit differently with each viewer, but it’s often so well done and such a break from both the shiny cookie cutter plots of Marvel movies and the grim violence of DC movies as to be an all-too-welcome change of pace today.