AKA “I Am Curious (Deadpool).”
By ROB KELLY
I went into Deadpool with no real preconceived notions. I’ve only read a couple of Deadpool comics in my life, and those were the ones drawn by Kyle Baker, who was the real attraction for me. So even though I am steeped in comics fandom (comics were just 25 cents when I bought my first—Whip Inflation Now!), I sat down in my big, Wall-E-style floaty theater chair with probably the same amount of background as the rest of the audience.
I think that was probably the only thing I had in common with them. The last trailer shown was for the Sacha Baron Cohen “comedy” The Brothers Grimsby, which looks like nothing more than a succession of dick, ass, Gay Panic, and/or poop jokes. The crowd around me roared and cheered with approval, and I sank down in my seat.
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, I thought. If Deadpool was of a similar bent—and I had kinda heard it was—then I was in for a very long, lonely two hours.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. Sure, Deadpool is full of raunchy jokes, mostly about genitals, excrement, and other stuff that keeps 13-year-olds in stitches. And while some of these jokes are just lazy—mentioning poop isn’t, by itself, inherently funny—the movie does contain a genuine anarchic spirit and features some scenes that are truly gut-busting, in a Bugs Bunny-via-Sam Peckinpah kind of way.
Following a credits sequence that sets the WTF tone (they include “A Hot Chick”, “A CGI Character,” etc.), Deadpool features our hero talking directly to the audience. It’s clear that star Ryan Reynolds, someone who I generally have not liked much in movies, is enjoying the hell out of this part. He chews on every line, and you can hear the delight with which he delivers them, even through the face-covering mask (more on that in a moment).
The movie quickly settles into a fairly standard structure, cutting back and forth between the present day and the flashbacks that give us Deadpool’s origin: Wade Wilson is a former Special Forces operative who is living life on the margins of society. He meets a woman of similar sensibilities (Morena Baccarin, the aforementioned Hot Chick) and they fall into a passionate relationship.
All this happiness is ruined when Wade is diagnosed with cancer (you know what they call it in Mexico? La Cancer), and he decides to leave his love, wanting to spare her the pain of watching him slowly waste away. When he is offered a chance to be cured by a mysterious agency, he foolishly takes it, realizing too late that while he does get cured, it comes at a terrible price—both physically and emotionally.
All of this secret origin stuff is done pretty straightforwardly, and while they do feature some bonus nudity and four-letter words, there really isn’t a whole lot to distinguish Deadpool from any other Marvel superhero movie in terms of story beats and emotional payoffs. I realized I wasn’t laughing all that much either, so I started to wonder when this movie was going to show me something unique.
Then, it did.
I’m not going to spoil the scene. Suffice it to say it’s when Deadpool interacts with two X-Men on a recruiting mission, Colossus (voiced by Stefan Capicic) and the awesomely-named Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played with perfect Millennial indifference by Brianna Hildebrand). Deadpool refuses to do what he’s asked, and director Tim Miller finally achieves the kind of wild spirit I think the movie’s genius marketing promised it would be.
The extended sequence is brutal and violent, but Deadpool just keeps going, suffering more and more physical damage. There’s an added kick when you realize that Marvel and 20th Century Fox are allowing this foul-mouthed little movie spill over into its big-budget, tent pole X-Men franchise (which Deadpool even comments on at one point). If the rest of the movie is this good, I thought to myself, then we’re really onto something!
Well, the rest of Deadpool isn’t that good, although there are a number of very funny scenes afterward. The big action finale is mostly just a big action finale, even though it is well staged (there’s something weirdly frustrating that the X -films have kept Colossus on the sidelines for so long, and it took Deadpool to finally give him a fight scene worthy of the character). The magnetic Morena Baccarin is mostly wasted playing the very bro-riffic Girl Who Can Hang part—she’s asked to look super hot (which she can do, easily) or be a hostage, and that’s pretty much it. Ed Skrein as the main villain, Ajax, is pretty pro forma as well. Deadpool’s one-liners just bounce off him, like he’s in a different, more standard superhero movie.
The real reason to see Deadpool is, as you might have guessed, Ryan Reynolds. As I mentioned previously, he digs into every line with gusto, and you can feel how much he’s enjoying this role. Everyone knows how long and hard (cue Deadpool joke) Reynolds pushed to get this film made, and you can tell he is savoring the fruits of his labor. Big Time Movie Stars pursuing non-commercial passion projects have been around almost as long as movies themselves (see: Tyrone Power’s “Nightmare Alley,” or Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” and man what a double feature that would be), but Reynolds deserves all the credit in the world here.
Unlike a lot of other superhero movies where the heroes spend most of the movie with their masks off (“We paid for the face, we’re showing it, dammit!”—Movie Studio Excec), Reynolds is willing to be hidden through a lot of Deadpool under the mask, realizing that the movie just wouldn’t work otherwise. Not being able to rely on his Leading Man looks (see, or better yet don’t, Green Lantern), he finds the right combination of wit and grit to pull off Deadpool’s motor-mouthed patter.
So while I don’t think Deadpool is the complete genre-buster it wanted to be, it’s pretty close. The movie is making a ton of money, exceeding initial studio projections, despite its “hard R” rating. If there is a Deadpool 2 (which the character himself promises us at the end of the credits), let’s hope the studio realizes that there’s no need to hedge its bets, and allows the sequel to be as crazy and unhinged as its main character deserves.
Oh, and great cameo by…well, you’ll see.
Rob Kelly is a writer/artist/comics and film historian. He is the co-host of The Fire and Water Podcast (and the host of its sister show, The Film and Water Podcast), the co-creator and writer of the award-winning webcomic Ace Kilroy, and the creator of the book Hey Kids, Comics!: True-Life Tales From the Spinner Rack. He really hopes Wolverine shows up in Deadpool 2.