Superhero movies have been in a bit of a creative slump. Marvel Studios has created the new standard in the post-Chris Nolan years of superhero adventures, for better or worse. But with a record five Marvel properties receiving a theatrical outing in 2014, it has been postulated that the formula Marvel has imprinted on each of the entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is growing stale in the over-saturation of such films released each year.
Thank goodness for Ryan Reynolds and company convincing Fox to up the ante by making the first R-rated Marvel movie. This is a unique step for a company that has been making the X-MEN movies, the most consistently challenging and socially conscious series based on Marvel properties.
With Deadpool, the socially conscious moralizing is tossed out as soon as the opening credits roll. Set to Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning,” the opening showcases the carnage Mr. Pool is most ready to indulge in, including torturing bad guys with cigarette lighters and atomic wedgies. This opening really conveys all the gleefully subversive brutality one will find in the feature to follow. But the whole of the movie is not just decapitated heads and one-liners, oh no. This flick is also a romance movie, the posters were not lying.
That’s right, a key plot of this movie revolves around the smart-mouthed mercenary attempting to reconnect with his fiancée, while also hunting down his nemesis, Francis. The romance is introduced after the initial opening action scene in a flashback to Wade Wilson’s life pre-red costume. Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a low-rent mercenary who meets an equally acerbic escort, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), at his favorite dive and strikes up a romantic interlude, complete with things I cannot mention in this review due to decency standards, but all things aside, it is hilarious, provided you like joy.
Unfortunately, the twosome’s romance was cut short by that mood-killer of a diagnosis, cancer. At his wits’ end, Wilson leaves his girl in the teary rain and signs up for an experimental program that will give him superpowers while curing his cancer. But there is a cost – his personal freedom. Driven bonkers by his treatment at the hands of the vicious Francis (Ed Skrein) and his cool-as-ice assistant, Angel Dust (Gina Carano), Wilson adopts the persona of Deadpool to track down his nemesis with the aid of his bartender pal Weasel and a couple of X-Men who show up to critique Deadpool’s violent, anarchic methods. Along the way, he works himself into getting enough courage to visit his old flame and hopefully rekindle their kinky escapades.
The flick revels in tapping into childish exploitations of brutality and smugness that could easily backfire, as some disappointed audiences noted in reviews on various social medias, including Letterboxd, the social media for film lovers. To be fair, most of those critics likely had no idea what they were in for.
Deadpool has a history of subversive cultural savviness that frequently pokes fun at anything and everything – think South Park style. While the film does consider itself a superhero movie, it really is a fascinating hybrid of all sorts of genres: romantic comedy, action thriller, gross-out comedy, and superhero movie. The tone is still playfully anarchic, with star Reynolds as the titular anti-hero pointedly breaking the rules of movies constantly, looking to the audience, making smart comments, and cuttingly criticizing the studio that unwittingly gave Reynolds and the writers free rein to make the movie that Deadpool fans deserve, for better or worse.
The character of Deadpool originated as a straight-laced satire of 1980s and 90s action movie stereotypes, continuing this way until around 2004, when Marvel Comics executives chose to heavily exaggerate the already over-the-top cultural references and invincible self-awareness. While his escapades have attracted an audience of devoted followers, his character has not always received proper mainstream treatment. The 2009 film X-MEN Origins:Wolverine did include Ryan Reynolds as the pre-weaponized Wade Wilson, but in the third act decided it would be best to sew Deadpool’s mouth shut and turn him into the strange love-child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Abomination from Incredible Hulk comics. To put it mildly, fans were very displeased with the film, especially its treatment of the beloved ‘Merc with a Mouth’.
What should be taken away from this review is that Deadpool is a breath of fresh immaturity that comic book movies have been lacking. The pace is frenetic, the romance is cute and pleasing, the action is over-the-top and fun, and Ryan Reynolds has finally found a property to showcase his talents. It is a good time to be a fan of comic books and their adaptations…for now.