From the very first pan of its opening titles, Tim Miller’s Deadpool brandishes its meta credentials with the title character’s cocky, abrasive relish. As the camera glides through a SUV suspended mid-somersault, the cast are introduced as stereotypes (‘hot chick’ or ‘British villain’) while a floating Starbucks cup bears the scrawled name Rob L. in reference to the comic’s creator Rob Liefeld. It’s a little thing, but its seminal to this take on the superhero movie that shakes its Easter eggs around front and centre. What’s more, Deadpool has enormous fun doing it, even if the overall product can’t quite live up to its trash-talking star.
Most runs of the character’s own comic title have been beloved for his off-the-fourth-wall shtick rather than Z-list supporting characters or gripping narrative. Just before the carnage of the film’s first set piece, Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) turns to the screen in one of many asides to the audience. “Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?” It’s a fair question to ask of this marginal, foul-mouthed and generally foul antihero who has no guaranteed crossover appeal (hint: the answer “rhymes with Polverine”). However, he’s on the big screen now and boy does he know about it. Deadpool’s defining characteristic is his awareness that he’s a character of fiction and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick dine out on that one. As a result, Deadpool doesn’t just quip about what is happening within the narrative, but also the conventions of the now prevalent superhero genre – as they fly by. He even takes a few potshots at the X-Men franchise.
Reynolds has been attached to star for many of those years and he’s perfect as the self-healing mutant trying to save his best girl, Vanessa (a sparky Morena Baccarin), from his worst enemy (a suitably detestable Ed Skrein as Ajax). Reynolds’ comedic timing is unquestionable, but he manages here to add an adequately grubby sleaziness to the puerile humour of something like Van Wilder while throwing pop culture references around like there’s no tomorrow. He’s raunchy and ridiculous and while not every joke lands, so many are machine-gunned at the screen that you’re bound to get hit, repeatedly. The faint-hearted should be warned, though, that vulgarity and offence are high on his To Do list. In hindsight, it’s regrettable that the otherwise exceptional marketing campaign had to be quite so aggressive.
The juvenile tone (though it’s still rather too blue for kids) may put some off, but it’s appropriate for a character who endears in spite of himself. Ajax calls him “relentlessly annoying” and this is both completely true and, through sheer force of will, part of his near-charm. For a film that vocally questions convention, it’s perhaps a shame that Miller and co. played it so safe with a fairly cookie-cutter origin story, but it’s really just there to give Reynolds ammunition to riff on. Whether the studio might be willing to push the character further into the leftfield in the future will depend on whether Deadpool warrants sequels. If it was sex, violence and the chance to hilariously run his mouth off that the ‘Merc with the Mouth’ was after, he’s got pretty much the movie he deserves right here.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson