I’m not at all sure that Tim Miller’s Deadpool is any more transgressive than Frank Miller’s much maligned The Spirit (2008) — it is definitely less stylized and stylish — though it is certainly more popular. (Deadpool was expected — optimistically — to gross $70 million in its opening weekend, but is currently estimated at having grossed over $135 million.) Deadpool is outrageously vulgar — fully and fairly winning its R rating — and uncommonly self-aware. This is a movie with a hero (or the next nearest thing) who talks directly to the audience. It’s a movie that exists in a world that’s aware of the very movies it’s part of. For instance, when Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is told he’s being taken to see Professor Charles Xavier, he wants to know if that means Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy. It’s so in on itself that it has a fourth-wall breaking post-credits bit that riffs on a 30-year-old movie’s fourth-wall breaking post-credits bit. Frankly, it reminded me of Bing and Bob’s old “Road Pictures,” but with sci-fi action, spandex, bad language and no musical numbers. That, by the way, is a compliment.
The interesting thing is that this is actually Ryan Reynolds’ second go-around as Wade Wilson/Deadpool. He played the same character — in a supporting capacity — in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Honestly, I have no memory of him in the film (and little memory of the film itself), which strongly suggests that his earlier performance was nothing much like the campy, vulgar, winking and sexually ambiguous one on display here. This is just not a performance you’re likely to forget, whether you like it or not. This is also not a performance that could have existed in 2009. It’s a performance that needed that debacle and the 2011 fiasco of Green Lantern to come into being. Some have said that Deadpool is the character that Reynolds was born to play. The truth is that it’s the character Reynolds career and public image has forged — and it’s the character that suits him because of this.
Deadpool does not reinvent the super-hero movie. Stripped of its wisecracking, foul-mouthed hero and its self-referencing, self-deprecating (according to the opening credits the director is “an overpaid idiot,” the producers are “asshats” and other participants are treated similarly), and self-congratulatory tone, this is actually a fairly conventional movie. It’s similar (again) to The Spirit in that it buries its basic origins story in the story the film is ostensibly telling — only here the story is simpler. When the film opens, we find Deadpool on the trail of the villainous Ajax (whose real name is Francis and who is played by Ed Skrein). The crux of this is a pretty simple revenge story, since Ajax is the one who turned Wade into the disfigured, self-regenerating, pretty much indestructible Deadpool — as part of a cure for his terminal cancer. The advertised side-effect of the treatment was super powers. The unmentioned side-effect was this disfiguration — something Ajax claims to be able to fix.
Into this, add Deadpool’s girlfriend — former hooker Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) — who in a completely unsurprising move is kidnapped by Ajax and… you can figure this part out without any help. While there is a certain warmth to the Deadpool/Vanessa relationship that makes the movie seem at least sort of human, it’s mostly a movie that exists on the sheer rush of inventive rudery. Whether it’s giving Deadpool a blind, grumpy roommate, Big Al (Leslie Uggams), whom he latched onto when he met Vanessa in a laundromat where she offered the sage advice that a red superhero suit wouldn’t show blood, or having him con a couple of lesser-X-Men into helping him rescue Vanessa with promises of considering joining up, the movie is all about attitude and smart assery. If that’s what you want, you’ll probably love the movie — and not even notice that, no, they haven’t figured out a way to make one of these things that doesn’t climax in some kind of hero-villain smackdown. And if you do notice, you probably won’t mind very much. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity.