Fittingly, Deadpool has had an unconventional journey to the big screen. A Deadpool film has been talked about since 2000 when its rights, along with Captain America, Ant-Man and others, were sold to Artisan Entertainment. Artisan were taken over in 2003 and New Line Cinema stepped in, hiring David S. Goyer to write and direct in 2004 with Ryan Reynolds attached to star. As these things often do, shit fell apart and the project stagnated. The rights then went to 20th Century Fox. Cut to 2009 and “Deadpool” showed up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, giving Reynolds the opportunity to finally wisecrack as Wade Wilson. Well, for about five minutes before he showed up at the end, his mouth sewn shut and the fun character arbitrarily changed into an angry, silent mutant with laser vision and swords in his arms. Fans were pissed. In the following years, a script for a solo Deadpool adventure leaked online, which garnered enough attention for Fox to stump up some money to film some test footage, which also leaked online. The reaction to what was leaked was incredibly positive. Fox took note and here we are. I don’t normally start reviews with film development talk, but I think it’s important to understand a) how long Ryan Reynolds has been attached to the project and b) how satisfying it must be for fans to have a nice, spurty release after over a decade of cinematic blue balls.
Mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He undergoes an experimental treatment to rid him of the disease. The treatment turns out to be a sinister plot to turn people into superpowered slaves. A man named Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his partner in crime Angel Dust (Gina Carano) inject Wilson with a serum that cures the cancer, gives him superhuman abilities, but leave him horribly scarred and disfigured. Not wanting to face his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wilson fashions himself a red suit and goes on a personal rampage, determined to find those responsible and make them fix what was done to him.
Straight from the meta and genuinely amusing opening titles (including credits for “A British Villain” and being produced by “Some Asshats”) it’s clear that this is the Deadpool people have been waiting for. From there, the film is fast and funny with a furious gag rate. It’s bawdy, gross and sweary as anything, which is fucking refreshing. In complete contrast to the Origins version, nothing about this incarnation feels compromised. The trademark hyper-violence is also present and correct. Want to see someone slice off a man’s head and kick it like a football at someone else? This is your film, you weirdo.
Ryan Reynolds was born to play this character. The film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with another person in the suit. Reynolds has always been well known, but aside from his early turn as Van Wilder, he’s not had a defining role that connected with audiences. Green Lantern was meant to change that, but we all know what happened there. Deadpool is that defining character for him. I’ve always liked the guy, even sat through dross like Blade: Trinity and R.I.P.D. purely because of him, but to see him throw himself into a role so completely is awesome. Now it’s officially a big hit, breaking all kinds of R-rated box office records, maybe this’ll exorcise a few of the demons. Shit, the film itself feels like it’s doing that at times, with digs at both Green Lantern and the Origins version of the character. Reynolds fucking crushes it as DP and it’s genuinely heartening to see him get a hit with a passion project 10+ years in the making.
The supporting cast are great too. Morena Baccarin does stellar work in the usually thankless girlfriend role. She gets some fun moments and gets to play a lovably mucky role. Despite some of the more outlandish elements, Wade and Vanessa’s relationship feels rather genuine and touching. They’re together because they’re both as fucked up as each other and it makes sense. Their “Four Yorkshiremen” inspired meet cute works a treat.TJ Miller is also a lot of fun as Wade’s confidante, getting nearly all the best lines. Karan Soni is affable as cab driver Dopinder and I loved the little back and forth between him and Mr. Pool. Ed Skrein and Gina Carano are decent enough presences, but neither get much to actually do.X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the eyebrow-raising, eye-rolling Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are also welcome additions.
Deadpool’s story is told in flashback, which thankfully negates that problem origin stories usually have of audience impatience for the lead to snap on the spandex and dole out street justice. It does make the thing slightly wonky though. You’ll feel some of the pre-mask stuff drag because it’s clear that’s not where the writing effort went. Obviously, the movie doesn’t want you to laugh at Wade’s diagnosis or anything, but a lot of the flashback scenes are rather inelegant tonal shifts and it leads to the feeling that the film’s pumping the fun brakes a little too hard. When the film is underway, it flies. The gags come thick and fast. It reminded me of something like Airplane! in a few bits. The jokes aren’t all great though. A good 40% didn’t hit their target, or at least didn’t for me. It’s a scattershot approach. Still, the subjective nature of comedy meant that different people in the audience were laughing at different moments. The only moments of silence when funnies were meant to be happening was during some of the more obscure U.S. pop culture gags. Considering its target audience, I’m not sure American audiences will get them either. I laughed, snorted and guffawed way more than I was expecting to and certainly more than I do at most pure modern “comedies”. The action was on point too. I especially loved ‘Pool getting the audience to mentally count down the rounds in his last clip.
With something as tongue-in-cheek and audience winking as Deadpool, it’s hard to determine what is parody and what’s not. Is the thinly-sketched plot a commentary on current movie trends? Is the fact that we only have action sequences in generic locations like a highway, a warehouse and a junkyard part of the joke? Who knows. The plot is an excuse to showcase Deadpool’s character anyway, but it would have been nice to have some stronger villains or some more interesting locations.
I had a blast with Deadpool. It’s a lot of fun and whilst many jokes didn’t hit, the ones that did hit big time. I felt good supporting it too. Whilst it is a big studio release with a very strong marketing arm, it’s still a moderately budgeted R-rated flick, something which is still a rarity in the current movie climate. More please.