Poor Ryan Reynolds. When it has come to comic book adaptions, the actor certainly has seemed to be unable to catch a break. Green Lantern was an overcooked disaster and no one went to see the admittedly lackluster RIPD. But for comics fans, perhaps the worst disappointment was when he played the wisecracking mercenary Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not only was the character demoted down to supporting player status, but many felt that he was watered-down significantly from his comic book persona. But the new movie Deadpool, which takes the character and gives him a chance at solo stardom, is hyper-violent, raunchy and ridiculous – basically, everything that a Deadpool fan could ask for.
Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a mercenary, willing to take on any job for the right amount of money. And while that can be a lonely life, Wilson is surprised when he finds himself falling in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). That happiness is short-lived when a cancer diagnosis gives him only months to live. Wilson finds a chance for a cure when he is recruited to take part in an experiment to give him superpowers. But it turns out that the experiments’ end result is to make superpowered slaves and the process itself involves unending pain and torture and an end result of horrifically scaring Wilson. Making his escape, Wilson targets for revenge the doctor, Francis (Ed Skrein), who seemed to take sadistic pleasure in overseeing Wilson’s conversion. Complicating that revenge plan is the X-Men member Colossus, who is trying to recruit Wilson, now known as Deadpool, to the mutant superhero team. Have we mentioned that this is a comedy?
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Deadpool is an extremely R-rated movie, mostly for the amounts of cartoonish violence, some brief nudity and more F-bombs dropped than real bombs were dropped on Dresden during World War Two. And this is really the only way this movie could have succeeded. The violence needs to be at the ridiculous over-the-top levels it is at to achieve the desired comic effect. Think of it at levels similar to what Sam Raimi was doing in parts of his Evil Dead films, minus the copious fountains of blood. But this isn’t just slapstick with guns and swords for its own sake. By its comically excessive nature, the violence is commenting on the escalating level of fisticuffs your standard superhero films engage in, in their ongoing attempt to top each other. And this is ultimately ironic, in that the stakes of this film are exceedingly small. It is just Deadpool getting revenge on someone who done him wrong. He has no deeper moral imperative to stop Francis and the fact that that Francis is engaged in villainous activity that Deadpool ultimately puts a halt to is completely superfluous to the action. There is no world-ending plot that Deadpool is racing to foil, no blue beam of light shooting into the sky that he is struggling to shut down.
One of the key points about the Deadpool comics is that the character is aware that he is a fictional construct inhabiting a comic book, and frequently breaks to fourth wall to comment to readers on the goings on of that issue’s story. Deadpool, the character in the movie, certainly does that as well, speaking directly to the audience from the screen in a time-honored tradition that dates back as least as far Groucho Marx. But the movie itself takes things one step further, mocking the conventions of the superhero movie. While the advertising has given away one of the lines where Wade cracks wise about the costume that Reynolds the actor wore in Green Lantern (“Just don’t make the super suit green… Or animated.”), that’s not the only reference to that movie or other entries in Reynolds’ filmography. Even the film’s opening credits take a swipe at standard comic book movie conventions by replacing its stars’ names with mockingly descriptive titles like “Gods’ Perfect Idiot,” “A CGI Character,” “Gratuitous Cameo,” etc. If anything, Deadpool is a smart movie masquerading as a dumb one.
So how does this fit in with Fox’s overall X-Men cinematic universe? I don’t think it really matters, as befitting the character’s textual and meta-textual chaotic nature. If one were to look at the movies canonically, it can be argued that the time traveling events of X-Men: Days Of Future Past have changed the timeline enough that Deadpool’s previous cinematic appearance, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, has been erased, along with the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. (Fair enough, as they are the two lowest points of the franchise.) Still, the film does manage to slip in a metatextual reference or two to the previous film, while at the same time having Deadpool himself confess to confusion over the whole thing.
There is plenty more to discover in the film. I have only touched on a few gags in the film. There are a number more to be discovered and enjoyed. Additionally, the movie has a very sweet core in its releationship between Wilson and Vanessa. It is not as a stroke of counter-programming that sees this being released on Valentine’s Day weekend. And it is certainly much better than the last comic book film to be released over this timeframe, 2003’s Daredevil.
Normally, films that poke fun at genre conventions usually come along at the end of the period of popularity for those types of movies. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein puts a fine comedic capstone on Universal Studios’ classic monster cycle while the Scary Movie films does the same for the self-aware slashers of the 1990s. But Deadpool doesn’t serve as any sort of herald of the death of comic book adaptations. If anything, Deadpool further shows the genre’s elasticity, allowing a superhero film to be a full on comedy much in the same way that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a throwback to Cold War thrillers. And that is a good thing not just for genre fans.