Is the image of more pretty-boy actors in tights gritting their lines at their CGI villains more than you can bear?
Does the mental image of movie star Ryan Reynolds getting pegged on International Women’s Day set your heart a-racing?
If so, I’d like to direct your attention to the just-released action-comedy extravaganza, Deadpool. Directed by Tim Miller, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and starring Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool is unlike any other comic book movie you’ve yet to see. And that is a good thing.
Based on the comic book character of the same name, Deadpool is the story of one Wade Wilson (Reynolds), a retired Special Forces operative who slums it as a mercenary. While his life isn’t perfect, he has his best friend Weasel (TJ Miller) along with other friends at Weasel’s bar and he’s got the love of Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Things were going well until he’s diagnosed with terminal and aggressive cancer. Desperate for a cure to spare Vanessa seeing him die, Wade accepts a clandestine offer for a secret program ran by Ajax (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano). The program works by activating his latent mutant regeneration power – making Wade nigh-indestructible – but scarring his entire body. Desperate for a cure to his condition, Wade begins to chase after Ajax after breaking free from his secret program. He dons a red suit and takes on the name of Weasel’s betting pool of who’d live the longest (the “dead pool”) since it’s now certain he’s the winner. He’s Deadpool.
Created by 90s comic book star artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool started out as a straightforward villain in the X-Men universe. He was a mercenary in the employ of darker, more nefarious forces but what you saw was what you got. It would take the work of writers Joe Kelly first and Christopher Priest later to turn him into a comic anti-hero; a character who could criticize the medium he was in as well as the “dark and gritty” genre that had spawned him. The character quickly became a fan-favorite thanks to the humor: his ability to break the fourth wall, the insane amount of carnage he could inflict and have inflicted on him and his pop culture riffing. It’s why every Comic Con and Wizard Con has many Deadpool fans in costume. He’s the right hero for our age.
There were various attempts at bringing Deadpool to the silver screen at the turn of the century, but it wasn’t until 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine that it finally happened. And that was not this character. Sure, Reynolds played a version of Wade Wilson, but, when Deadpool showed up as the final villain, it was with his mouth shut, displaying powers he’s never shown and acting like a Terminator instead of the Merc with a Mouth. The hope afterwards was that his own movie would fix all that. Further delays followed until test footage leaked online in 2012. The furor over it finally forced Fox’s hands and the movie was made. Which brings us to today and the movie opening to monster amounts of money and critical acclaim.
A great deal of the success of the movie has to be laid at the feet of Reynolds who throws himself entirely into the role. No other actor could so embody the various aspects of Wade Wilson. His rapid fire delivery of sardonic wit as well as the tortured person underneath all the layers of horrid flesh or the physicality of being a mercenary get equal footing and come through. This isn’t surprising as Reynolds has lived with the character for close to fifteen years now. He’s someone who can display both sympathy and respect for someone while spitting a really foul line at the same person. Reynolds allows for Wade to be the smart-ass deadly anti-hero without turning him into the cartoon that he could be. And one that loves to break the fourth-wall a lot.
Beside him, TJ Miller does a fine job of keeping up with Reynolds as Wade’s best friend/confidante Weasel. It’s the kind of jerk with a heart of gold that Miller does so easily. Leslie Uggams does well as Blind Al, Wade’s old, blind, black lady roommate. It’s a complicated and yet also sweet relationship. They hurl insults at one another but act as a shelter for each other when the world has turned on them. Brianna Hildebrand and Stefan Kapicic work as the two X-Men the movie is able to afford; Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus. They’re there to hint at the larger X-World that Deadpool will be a part of and to instill a sense of internal conflict: will Wade be a hero or not? If anyone comes out looking weak, it’s Skrein and Carano as the villains. Not that they’re bad. It’s that Carano is simply a one-note B-villain while Skrein smarms his way as Ajax. He’s a goal for Wade to reach.
The heart of the story and the next best performance is Baccarin’s Vanessa Carlysle. For it’s the relationship between Vanessa and Wade that anchors this story and makes it more than just your standard superhero fare. Baccarin’s Vanessa is smart and funny and as sharp as Wade. It speaks to the talents of both Reynolds and Baccarin that their meet-cute as a mercenary and a prostitute plays more like rom-com fare than it should. I mean that they bond over a game of who had the more fucked-up childhood. Their relationship feels real and silly and honest. So that, when Wade is struck by his disease, you get why he wants to spare Vanessa and why she’s having none of it. It also explains why she’s the one thing Ajax and Angel Dust would use against him.
It’s also that relationship between Wade and Vanessa that turns this movie on its head. Look, Spider-Man is notorious for having Peter and Mary Jane and Superman movies invent new ways to have Lois and Clark together. These relationships are central to their stories. However, Deadpool makes Wade and Vanessa feel vital to the tale it’s telling. Much of the charm in this movie comes from their interaction. In a weird way, they do turn this into a romantic comedy – with guns and mutant powers. If Peter never met Mary Jane, he’d still be Spider-Man. Superman would be Superman without Lois Lane. I don’t know that Wade Wilson would become Deadpool without Vanessa Carlysle.
People are somehow surprised that Deadpool has become such a big hit. I guess they never saw the number of fanboys and fangirls the character’s developed in over 20 years of life. A lot of journalists are tying its success to the success that Guardians of the Galaxy had and saying that what audiences want is funny comic book movies. Which misses the point for me. Guardians and Deadpool are funny and irreverent because that’s who those characters are. Their creators stayed true to what they were adapting and the audiences happily got what they wanted: a movie version of their comic books. Turning Thor or the Hulk into action-comedies will not make their movies any better.
That said, I am glad that we are getting movies like Deadpool. It shows that comic book movies don’t have to be all grim and serious. As the genre has exploded over the last 15 years, studios have shown a reticence to try out different variations of the “comic book movie,” staying closer to origin stories. But just as Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a comic book spy thriller and Ant-Man was a comic book heist film, Deadpool is a comic book comedy – a Marvel version of Wedding Crashers, where Ryan Reynolds has to beat the douchebag and save the girl. But with swords and guns and mutants walking slow-motion to DMX.
Go see it. Enjoy it. You’ll laugh.