I’ve been feeling comic-book movie fatigue quite badly recently so the prospect of Deadpool didn’t fill my heart with joy. An initial trailer seemed to suggest a film revelling in the kind of sour frat-boy humour that has infected much US film comedy recently. However a very positive review from Mark Kermode persuaded me to give the film a chance. I’m very glad it did. Review after the jump, apologies it gets a bit nerdy when I try and prove I read some comics in the eighties…
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former special forces soldier now working out of a dive bar as a paid enforcer/hit man when he meets prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and falls head over heels in love. The unconventional couple’s idea of romantic talk is to try and out do each other in sardonic (possibly true) tales of their abused childhoods in a fashion not dissimilar to Monty Python’s ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch (the film’s frequent bloody violence has a touch of the Python sketch ‘Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days’ also). Sadly the path of true love is stalled by the appearance of a sinkhole in the road called cancer.
Terminally diagnosed, Wilson accepts an offer to undertake a secret therapy with some shady characters including sinisterly suave physician Ajax (Ed Skrein). Injected with a serum that will jumpstart latent ‘mutant’ genes under physical stress, Wade is systematically tortured, when finally activated his mutant genes bestow upon him regenerative abilities but also horribly scar his flesh rendering him hideous to the eye.
After escaping the facility Wade assumes the identity of ‘Deadpool’ and returns to his profession of terrorising people for money while searching for Ajax who had promised he could cure the hideous visage that has turned him suddenly bashful allowing Vanessa to believe he is deceased.
This is a simplistic revenge narrative, but placed in a rather interesting structure by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s foul mouthed screenplay (their previous work being the equally ‘meta’ Zombieland). Essentially Deadpool is one big action scene during which the action regularly freezes to allow the title character to break the fourth wall and relate his origin tale directly to the audience. Director Tim Miller (his first movie but with a background in visual effects) has lots of fun with the kind of stylistic flourishes and pop culture visual references that one would expect Edgar Wright to have stuffed into his version of Ant-Man [ASSUMPTION KLAXON!!!].
Wade, or Mr Pool, is both aided and abetted in his roaring rampage of revenge by a colourful cast of supporting characters including best friend and comic relief Weasel (Silicon Valley’s T.J. Miller), and X-Men Colossus (a CGI character voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the brilliantly monikered Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). On the villainous side, Ajax has formidable backup from his mutant heavy Angel Dust (Gina Carano) and a steady supply of masked hired goons Deadpool is happy to turn into mince.
I was a big comic book reader in the late eighties/early nineties, but my tastes were more towards the Vertigo line of dark horror, fantasy and crime books. The few superhero books I followed were DC in the main. So Mr Pool largely passed me by as a character. Most of my knowledge prior to this movie’s marketing blitz came from the character’s appearance in the dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Which brings us to the star, Ryan Reynolds.
Reynolds has up to this point been one of the unluckiest leading men in Hollywood. A gifted comic performer he is often the only thing worth watching in a long series of pretty dreadful films. Deadpool is fifth bite at the comic book pie after supporting roles in Blade Trinity and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and lead roles in big budget disasters Green Lantern (the butt of frequent jokes in Deadpool) and R.I.P.D.
In truth Mr Pool is not a very interesting character, when created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza in the early nineties, Deadpool was criticised by many as being a lame rip off of DC villain Deathstroke. The wisecracks and fourth wall breaking asides seem to have been introduced as a way of giving the character some identity. In this movie Deadpool isn’t really a character at all, more an extended stand up comedy routine for Reynolds to throw out pop culture references faster than a machine gun spits out shell casings (in cool looking Wachowski-esque slow motion).
Reynolds is great in the role, lifting what could have been a rather bland character and successfully giving a performance whilst encased in a head-to-toe suit. There are few actors capable of visibly smirking through a thick hood but Reynolds does. The actor has an inmate likability that allows the character to throw out extremely non-PC wise cracks without becoming repellent. Even in under layers of hideous Freddie Kruger-a-like makeup I think most of the women in the audience (and I daresay most of the men) will be thinking ‘I still would’.
Clearly there is an antecedent in Kick-Ass (and James Gunn’s under seen and superior Super), but comic books have been doing that for ages. Deadpool’s in jokes never ascend higher than the level of comedy zingers, certainly never approaching the sophistication of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (somewhat lost in the Zach Snyder adaptation) or ‘The Coyote Gospel’ the astonishing fifth issue of Grant Morrison’s late eighties revival of DC’s Animal Man. Make no mistake, hip and irreverent as it is, Deadpool is still a Marvel product and hardwired into the X-Men movie universe. This is actually done extremely well, far better than in Ant-Man where the references constantly felt crowbarred in to set up other more expensive films.
Deadpool is a cool throwback to the days when comic book movies didn’t feel duty bound to be more Epic than than the last Epic and end with 40 minutes of orbital destruction and exploding cities whilst trying to tie up fifty plot lines because the number of characters is bigger than that of War & Peace. Yes it’s rude, yes it’s crude, but in a rather equal opportunities way that is just as interested in lovingly framing Ryan Reynolds’ arse in tight spandex as it is in Gina Carano’s frankly intimidating décolletage. I started sniggering during the opening credits and laughed pretty much all the way through the film.