By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
Ryan Reynolds is so appealingly demented as Marvel’s super-but-no-hero motormouth “Deadpool” that he might actually make fanboys forgive him for starring in 2011’s DC Comics dud “Green Lantern.” And that’s saying a lot.
Deadpool’s gimmick, aside from possessing a Wolverine-style healing factor that renders him essentially unkillable, is his habit of constantly wisecracking to himself and the audience during bouts of insanely acrobatic combat. He not only is fully aware that he’s a character in a story, but also gleefully acknowledges genre conventions and pop culture ephemera. At one point, his running commentary includes a snarky inquiry about whether the reason we see only two X-Men guest stars onscreen is because the studio couldn’t afford to use more. Later, when X-Men leader Professor X is mentioned, Deadpool casually wonders, “McAvoy or Stewart?”
That ironic self-awareness isn’t the only thing that sets “Deadpool” apart from typical superhero flicks that aren’t anywhere near as self-mocking or brazenly tongue-in-cheek. “Deadpool” also has so much bloody violence and profuse profanity that it easily earns its “R” rating. It also may be the first mainstream comics movie with boobs-and-buns nudity—and who could have imagined Marvel main man Stan Lee doing a cameo as a strip club DJ?
Things get off to an impressively creative start as the camera pulls back, pans around, goes over-under-sideways and finally ends up outside a suspended-in-motion car crash that’s full of visual gags (including a copy of People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” cover featuring star Reynolds). First-time feature director Tim Miller brings the same manic spirit to several ridiculously hyper-violent fight scenes that feature gunplay, decapitations, stranglings, explosions and conflagrations. As in many costumed capers, the fast-motion action sometimes is too frantic to follow, but that apparently is the price of living in a videogame culture.
The clever screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the duo who scripted 2009’s “Zombieland,” combines dark humor with a kind of surreal, self-referencing absurdity. We learn in flashbacks that Deadpool started out as ex-military underachiever Wade Wilson, whose mercenary gigs were limited to tasks such as discouraging a teenage girl’s stalker. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Wilson agrees to undergo an experimental treatment that will force him to “mutate or die.”
Wilson refers to this part of his backstory as “a horror movie,” and that’s no exaggeration. His chief tormentor Ajax/Francis (Ed Skrein) who underwent a similar procedure and emerged devoid of all feeling, sadistically tortures Wilson into a grotesque husk of his former self…but with a healing factor that lets him survive anything from gunshots to stabbings to amputations. Fortunately, Wilson survives with his sense of humor intact.
Reynolds previously played a far less goofy Deadpool as a bad guy in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but most of what he did there (and his vastly enhanced powers in that flick’s final act) are ignored here. Instead, the new movie makes the character more faithful to his crazier comic-book incarnation, created by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Rob Liefeld.
On the other hand, the amusingly deadpan, buzzcut-sporting teenage female X-Man known as Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who shows up as sidekick to the CGI-generated X-Man Colossus, has nothing in common with her comic-book namesake except her name. One step forward, one step back, comics fans!
Morena Baccarin is Wilson’s unsuspecting fiancée Vanessa, who naturally ends up as a damsel in distress. T.J. Miller plays Wilson’s smartass bartender friend Weasel, who explains why he won’t accompany Deadpool on a rescue mission by saying, “I’d go with you, but I don’t wanna.”
“Deadpool” has more in common with the wised-up, wacky but absolutely not-for-kids sensibility of comics-inspired fare like “Kick-Ass” and “The Secret Service” than any of the more conventional Marvel movies. At one point, Colossus reacts to something Deadpool does by throwing up in disgust, which says it all.
Whether you find the quip-spouting Deadpool endlessly entertaining or “relentlessly annoying” (as Francis puts it), he’s definitely a one-of-a-kind character. His finest aside to the audience may be when he notes that he’s just done a “fourth-wall break inside a fourth-wall break” during a flashback.
Dead clever, that.