If you saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and you have my deepest sympathies if you did), you may recall that a character named Wade Wilson – a silver-tongued mercenary played by Ryan Reynolds – was eventually turned into a CG-enhanced monstrosity called “Deadpool.” It was supposed to help set up a Deadpool movie, but the film was so poorly-received (with the Deadpool sequence standing out as a prominent low point) that those plans were scrapped. Fast-forward a few years, and Wade is being given a second chance: when Wolverine helped re-set the X-Men timeline in X-Men: Days of Future Past (using a high-risk technique I refer to as “the Abrams maneuver”), he provided an opportunity for Wade Wilson to get a new-and-improved origin story and for Reynolds to take a second crack at the character.
Though it's technically part of the X-Men universe, Deadpool is less a new superhero movie than a kneejerk reaction to current superhero movies: a cheerfully ridiculous, raunchy, R-rated, fourth wall-breaking bundle of mayhem that revels in doing things mainstream superhero blockbusters aren't really permitted to do. It doesn't want to compete with other superhero flicks so much as just spray-paint f-bombs and crude images of genitalia on them.
Indeed, the stylish opening credits announce the film's irreverence by replacing the actual names of cast and crew with descriptors like “A Hot Chick,” “A British Villain,” “The Comic Relief,” etc. (we're also informed that the film was directed by “Some Overpaid Tool”). The film works through its origin story material rather quickly: we learn that Wade was an ex-special forces operative who wound up taking a job as a low-rent mercenary in New York, that he fell in love with a call girl (Morena Baccarin, Firefly), that he was subsequently diagnosed with terminal cancer and that he agreed to sign up for a high-risk experimental procedure that will eventually turn him into an incredibly powerful mutant who can recover from almost any injury.
The details are more complicated than that, but unlike a lot of superhero films, Deadpool isn't too interested in dwelling on them. The basic framework of the tale is ultimately a pretty standard-issue genre story, but it spends a good chunk of its running time masking that by snarkily commenting on itself and throwing one raunchy gag after another in the mix. This film is R-rated in the most juvenile way possible – there's a very palpable “look what we're getting away with!” vibe – but that's part of the movie's bratty charm.
Taken on its own terms as an action-comedy, Deadpool is just okay. Director Tim Miller – a VFX guy making his directorial debut – offers a few stylish flourishes here and there, but most of the film's action setpieces are pretty generic mid-budget blockbuster material (it doesn't help that they take place in such drab-looking locations). The jokes are actually pretty hit-and-miss, too, with a roughly 1-to-1 ratio of groan-inducing clunkers and genuinely entertaining riffs (Deadpool has an amusing habit of working '90s pop culture references into his dialogue).
However, taken as a sort of smartass piece of superhero-themed contrarianism, the movie works pretty well. The film effectively punctures the genre's self-seriousness (which is still present in many of the Marvel blockbusters despite the jokier tone of those movies), and it's at its best when it's riffing on the series it loosely belongs to. At various points, Deadpool teams up with X-Men B-listers Colossus (a CG creation voiced by Stefan Kapicic, Big Miracle) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand, First Girl I Loved), and the film makes a nice running gag out of the fact that it doesn't really have the resources for A-list cameos (a similar “look, we're working on a budget here” playfulness is extended to the clever post-credits sequence).
Reynolds – whose pretty-boy face is usually either covered by a mask or by an abundance of horrible scars – seems to be having a grand time, chewing on his salty lines with relish. Reynolds has made more than his share of wretched movies over the course of his career, and he seems delighted to be in a film that gives him this much creative free reign. Again, not all of the riffs work (there are way too many lame dick jokes), but it's a fun performance. The only cast member that really matches him is T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley), who turns in a pretty significant number of the film's best lines in just a handful of scenes. Baccarin and Skrein struggle to overcome the one-note parts they've been given (never mind the fact that the film openly admits these are one-note parts), and Leslie Uggams (Roots) does what she can with some lame lines as Deadpool's blind, elderly roommate.
For the first two-thirds or so of its running time, Deadpool works as a straight-up parody of superhero films, but disappointingly, it eventually becomes an actual superhero film. Yes, it gets there kicking and screaming and trying oh-so-hard to insist that it's not really sincere, but it feels like the filmmakers are a little too nervous about letting the movie wander too far off the beaten path. Still, I sort of like having Deadpool around: he's imperfect and occasionally a little annoying, but fits into his own little filthy corner of the genre quite comfortably.
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Year: 2016