Twentieth Century Fox
1 hour, 48 minutes
There are a lot of comic book fans out there either celebrating this week’s “Deadpool” as the ultimate comic book adaptation, or decrying it as a trashy big screen version of a smugly stupid action hero.
Both opinions miss the mark. “Deadpool” is a lovingly created, exquisitely crafted practical joke of a film. More precisely, it is the cinematic embodiment of Mad Magazine’s version of an “X-Men” movie.
Of course, the actual “Deadpool” comic book (which — full disclosure — I’ve never read) is apparently kind of Mad Magazine-y itself, so the movie must be right in line. This silly, self-mocking demeanor is a big part of why the movie works so well. “Batman” and “Superman” are definitely going the grim and dark route, but I think people are a little tired of it. They want their adventures to be a little more light-hearted. Just look at the success of “Ant-Man” or “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
However, just because the audience is looking for humor, that doesn’t mean they want cheap or shoddy. No one wants a big-budget superhero movie from the Scy-Fy Channel. “Deadpool” gives the audience the laughs, the quality, and one other thing that’s been missing from the superhero scene (unless you count “Watchmen”) — an R rating. The same crowd that demands their Will Ferrell and Seth Rogan movies filthy has been clamoring for a superhero of their own, and now they have him, complete with graphic sex and violence. I would be annoyed if the movie wasn’t so well put together.
Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, an ex-special forces guy who now beats up people for money and who will eventually be transformed into the wisecracking indestructible killing machine known as Deadpool. Reynolds has obviously sold his soul to the devil, because there’s no reason he should have been able to do what he’s done with this, now potentially lucrative, franchise. This character first showed up, also played by Reynolds, in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” movie. The movie was terrible and Wilson’s “Deadpool” alter-ego, though referenced obliquely, never really becomes the superhero he is in the comics.
After that film nearly killed the “X-Men” franchise, Reynolds took up lobbying that he wanted to do a truer version of his character and assured the studio that audiences would eat it up. Now, there’s no denying that Ryan Reynolds is a charming, funny guy, but from the studio perspective they had to be dubious. This is the same guy who’s “Green Lantern” was a massive bomb, to be followed by “R.I.P.D.” a kind of “Ghostbusters” meets “Training Day” debacle that should have spelled doom for his career.
But no. Instead, Reynolds scraped up the cash to do a “Deadpool” test reel that convinced the studios to try it again, this time going with a hard-R version of a character first introduced in a movie aimed at teenagers. That would be like taking “The Amazing Spiderman,” ditching everyone but Jamie Foxx’s Electro, and then making an explicit comedy around that character filled with naked women and exploding heads. I don’t think Foxx could get that done, and he’s a pretty big star. Clearly, Ryan Reynolds has sold his soul.
Motivation and plot aren’t really the point in a movie as self-aware as this one is, but “Deadpool” certainly has them. When Wade discovers he’s got cancer, he is approached by a shadowy organization who promises to heal him and make him a superhero, but fail to mention that said cure involves non-stop torture. Eventually, Wade’s dormant genes wake up and he gets his super on — only to take away his good looks in the process. Thus begins a revenge spree that turns into a rescue-the-girl spree, all accompanied by the non-stop patter of our hero in top fourth-wall shattering form.
“Deadpool” is smart about how dumb it wants to be. It never explains the science behind activating Wade’s mutant genes or attempts to dive deep into any of the chemistry or physics of the film, unlike the “X-Men” franchise. You may wonder why the constant comparisons to the X-Men, but it’s because Deadpool exists in that universe.
Indeed, there are two X-Men in the film, two side-characters who manage to be both more alive and more fun than their serious film counterparts. Colossus is a character the X-franchise has been trying to get right for years, with no success. “Deadpool” makes the giant Russian a cartoon character, but it feels appropriate, if a little silly. Even better is a character I’d never heard of called Negasonic Teenage Warhead. I have no idea what that means, but as played by Brianna Hildebrand steals every scene she’s in with nary so much as a raised eyebrow.
There’s no denying that “Deadpool” is not for everyone. And I certainly don’t see this as a positive direction for the majority of comic book adaptations to go. But as a diversion, as an example of how the comic book genre, like the western, can embody a whole host of sub-genres, it does an excellent job. The movie is funny, witty, incredibly lowbrow, and a complete blast.
“Deadpool” is rated R for extreme violence, pervasive language, graphic nudity, and explicit sex. Do not be fooled by the fact that the lead character fights bad guys in a colorful skin-tight suit. This movie is not for kids.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.