I expected Deadpool to be funny. And it was… very much so.
I hoped the action would be slick, stylish, and well-captured. Which it is.
I never even remotely imagined that there would be emotional beats and character moments that effectively landed. But here we are.
The opening credits to Deadpool are uproarious, having the audience in stitches before they’ve seen almost anything. As the visuals weave through a 3D still image of a gunfight/car crash in full swing, the character of Deadpool and his movie are being cemented before the camera has begun to roll.
This iteration of Deadpool somewhat famously got its start from a test reel gone viral, a highway gunfight sequence featuring a wise cracking Deadpool voiced by Ryan Reynolds and featuring hard-R action. The final product not only makes good on the promise of that footage, it actually anchors the film around that viral sequence, at least for the first third of the film. Which leads us to one of the smartest elements of Deadpool: Its scale is appropriately small.
Everything about Deadpool as a character is larger than life. He’s funnier than you, he’s louder than you, he’s more violent than you, and he has way better sex than you do. So all of us should probably hate him. But since he breaks through the fourth wall and ushers us into his own story in a way that only he can, we’re on board with him. And the stakes are merely personal ones… no planet saving going on. Thank the Lord. My point being: Deadpool as a character is big and loud and borderline obnoxious so the movie around him does a great job of being small and focused, letting him steal the show. Said highway sequence has a whole lot of set up, a whole lot of continuity breaking flashbacks and asides, and a whole lot of curse words and body horror-level gore. It’s wonderful. But with all that catching up and filling in, Deadpool is remarkably simple: Mercenary Wade Wilson got healing powers through duplicitous means after an awful medical diagnosis. Then he needs to rescue his girlfriend from the evil scientist who mutated him into a heavily scarred super hero. Get revenge, save the girl, taunt everyone you encounter. It’s a swaggering hero template that’s worked a million times before, and it works again here, with the only seeming tension being around whether an unforgivingly hard-R comic book movie will be accepted by a wide audience.
This hard-R comic book movie question is something only the box office can resolve. And I guess to the suits, box office is all that matters. But whether a fast talking anti-hero with one-liners and a gun to solve every problem can play to an audience is frankly such a silly question to ask I don’t even want to spend any more time on it.
What’s more surprising about Deadpool’s relentless barrage of entertainment value is that it comes from a virtually unknown director (Tim Miller in his feature film debut), and that both star Ryan Reynolds and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, GI Joe: Retaliation) seem to have been allowed completely and utterly off the chain. With overlords like 20th Century Fox and Marvel breathing down your necks, the sheer level of offensive and absurdly hilarious violent imagery that Tim Miller and team pull off is miraculous.
But I promised to praise the film for getting some character beats and emotional moments right as well. Wilson’s transition into Deadpool comes as a result of a terminal medical diagnosis. The film does such a great job of making you fall in love with Wilson’s girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), that the sequences revolving around his illness are interestingly compelling. Their relationship is pretty central to the success of the film and since it’s fairly standard “Hero dude saving tough, but nevertheless-in-need-of-rescue love interest” stuff, their chemistry anchors the movie where a lack could have derailed it. This isn’t rocket science, it’s just good casting, fun writing, and that ever elusive spark of natural chemistry.
Also remarkably effective is the entirely CG representation of X-Man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic). He’s played as the [enormous] good angel in Deadpool’s ear, trying to convince him of the error of his murderously violent ways. He’s a boy scout, and he’s accompanied by young X-Man Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who herself is an angsty teen teased mercilessly by Wilson, but warily growing to respect him in her own angsty way. Colossus is played so square, so earnestly sanctimonious, that his slavish heroism is genuinely touching, especially when played against Deadpool. There is a moment towards the end where Colossus casually rescues a villain character from certain death which isn’t played up for drama, but which perfectly cemented the character as depicted here in this film.
The film isn’t perfect. The jokes come a mile a minute and quite a few of them don’t land. But when you’ve got at least a joke a minute happening, you’ll end up laughing, at times in a bellicose fashion. There are plot developments, mostly revolving around trying to wring drama from Wilson’s physical ugliness, which play pretty dumb. And Deadpool can feel exhausting at times, frankly. As funny as Reynolds is in the role, he’s trying so hard and he’s just so damn loud and overbearing. It really does work, but the balancing act was a delicate one and this character could easily alienate some audience members.
But when a movie is trying so hard to entertain its audience and pushing the envelope left and right, you have to give it credit. And Deadpool’s entertainment value is just through the roof. Miller does fun camera work on top of capturing the action well with slow motion and wide shots. There’s also risks like adding animation to some shots and even making merciless fun of the previous screen iteration of Deadpool and Hugh Jackman himself. Nothing is sacred in Deadpool, and it’s damn refreshing. As successful and beloved as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, there’s no question that there’s a safe formula happening there. Deadpool is the most outside of the box representation of Marvel characters on the big screen to date and it single handedly puts Ryan Reynolds back into successful leading man status. Risks were taken across the board with Deadpool, and the scale and budget were likely appropriately adjusted in order to take those risks. They paid off and the success of this film could usher superhero cinema into a whole new era.
And I’m Out.