I have a confession to make. I didn’t hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine when I saw it. I haven’t seen it since 2009, and I was so horrifyingly depressed at the time that I might have just appreciated anything to distract from the torture I was feeling inside, but I remember my reaction to it being along the lines of, “Huh, that was inoffensive.” The Nerds, I would soon learn, felt very differently…
The biggest complaint I kept running into as I perused IMBD message boards in 2009 (literally the worst thing you could do, don’t do it, I didn’t have a life then!) was the mishandling of Deadpool portrayed by Ryan Reynolds. Again, I didn’t really have a problem with it. Ryan Reynolds is my man crush. Breathtakingly gorgeous, a skilled actor, and comic chops you could fillet a steak with. No joke, if by some miracle Ryan Reynolds wanted to have sex with me I would do it. I’m not saying this to gross you out, I’m trying to make a point here. My affection for the man is such that any Reynolds is good Reynolds. I thought he was very funny at the beginning of Origins, and though I too was surprised at how they sowed his mouth shut, I assumed that was how the actual character looked.
Oh, how wrong I was.
As most of you reading know, Deadpool is one of the few enduring creations of Comic Book Persona-Non-Grata Rob Liefield, a mask-wearing, schizophrenic maniac who kills without remorse, changes sides on a whim, regenerates from any gruesome injury, curses like a motherfucking cocksucking sailor, and frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience and comment on his very nature as a comic book creation. He is also renowned for being very, very funny. After his… ‘mishandling’ in Origins, fan outcry for a proper big screen adaptation of the character began to grow. Rumors surfaced of a script penned by Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick that managed to successfully capture the tone of spirit the character while still being sweary, gory, and flashing the occasional titty or two. But would a superhero movie so outside of genre norms ever see the light of day?
Well, after several years of development hell, a leaked test reel, and the tireless campaigning of Reynolds to reprise the character, here we are: February 2016, and an R-Rated superhero movie opens to $260 million worldwide. Sometimes the geeks do know what they want.
I’m not sure what else I can do to expound on how wonderfully funny the film is. Virtually every other review explains that, but that’s because it’s true. Almost every jab at the nature of studio politicking is a joy. “This is a huge house,” Deadpool remarks when he visits Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) at the X-Mansion. “It’s crazy there’s only two of you here. It’s like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.” Many jabs are taken at Reynolds himself, especially at his other failed attempt at superhero stardom, Green Lantern. (“You think Ryan Reynolds got this far on his superior acting ability,” the man pointedly asks.)
Fortunately, Reynolds isn’t the only one bringing the funny to the party. T.J. Miller thankfully tones down his Silicon Valley persona, delivering A-level ad-libs without overwhelming a scene, and Morena Baccarin, so wonderful on the entertaining but very cheesy Gotham, not only manages to spark actual chemistry with Reynolds but matches him move-for-move in comic timing. Baccarin still ends up being the damsel in distress, but to filmmakers looking for someone to play that role compellingly, hire her. Even Gina Carano’s mostly stoic Angel Dust gets a funny line in. The only weak link in the cast is Ed Skrein, underwhelming here as he did in The Transporter Refueled (not that the Transporter franchise should inspire hope), simply going through the motions as the ‘British Villian.’ Just because the opening credits are funny enough to call this out does not mean it isn’t bad.
Perhaps what’s most surprising here, though, is that this is the work of a first time feature director. Director Tim Miller has a lot of experience in visual effects, which surely brought a lot to augmenting the expressions of Deadpool’s mostly featureless mask. But unlike other VFX directors turned filmmakers – say, Maleficent’s Robert Stromberg – Miller keeps a tight, tight grip on the tone and pacing of his story. Even without the fourth-wall breaking, Deadpool is a tough script to shoot, jumping back and forth chronologically, existing alongside an established multi-million dollar franchise, and staging over-the-top action scenes on a (comparatively) shoestring budget. And yet Miller handles all of it with aplomb. He successfully resists the urge to ‘shakycam’ his action scenes, keeping the geography of the sequences clear and concise. His comic timing is impeccable, juggling slapstick, ad-libs, and the ever-present meta commentary on the whole thing while never overplaying a beat. And for such a self-aware movie, he actually handles the moments that asks for emotional investment with grace. You will not cry in Deadpool, but you will be surprised at how much heft the emotional scenes actually have. When one of the best things you can say about an R-Rated action-comedy mashup is that the romantic subplot actually feels believable, you know you’re doing something right.
Deadpool is by no means a perfect movie. For as much on-point skewering of the superhero genre it does, it also hits too many of the same beats. (Oh joy, yet another action finale in a generic industrial complex!) And the cracks do show in just how far they’re stretching their budget to make this thing, as we spend an awful lot of time on the highway where the opening action sequence takes place, as well as revisiting the same three interiors (apparently, the criminal underworld hangs out at one bar and one bar only.) But when a movie this risky succeeds at hitting so many of the lofty goals it sets for itself, that’s something worth celebrating. Let’s hope this means a future of superhero movies that aren’t all brooding, PG-13 grudge matches (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)