If I have a lingering complaint about the output of the Superhero Industrial Complex, it’s that the films need a healthy dose of humor. Too often these giant action epics get wrapped up in so much apocalyptic dread that they become too serious for their own good. Deadpool doesn’t have that problem. Here is a movie that is explosively funny while teetering on the edge parody and redefining the term “meta” in such a way that it doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it often reconstructs the rules of its own universe.
Conceived in the early 1990s by artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool is the Joker in Marvel’s royal flush, a wildcard who is more vigilante than superhero – meaning he doesn’t fit within any measure of hero parameter (he was originally conceived as a villain). He carries guns and swords and his body is self-regenerating, but his biggest asset is his mouth. Moments of extreme bloodshed are punctuated by a tripwire wit fit for Bugs Bunny or Groucho Marx. He’s an extreme character in an extreme movie; the producers make good use of their R-rating with copious amounts of gory violence, nudity and four-letter words.
Walking into the movie, that’s more or less what I expected. I knew Ryan Reynolds’ passion for this character, and everyone knows his decade-long struggle to get this movie made after Deadpool’s disastrous cinematic debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (there’s more than one reference to it). What I didn’t expect was how much I would come to care about this character and his plight. Deadpool’s dialogue is a ceaseless string of often explosively funny one-liners, though I can’t decide if my favorite is the line about Hugh Jackman, the zamboni, the fourth wall, Jared Fogal, or the derogatory slap at creator Rob Leifeld. Yet, I cared about what happened to him because I cared about the story of the man under the mask.
Told mostly in flashback, we learn that Deadpool is Wade Wilson, a nice guy who once had a steady life. He met his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Bacarrin) and fell in love with her just on the edge of learning that he had cancer so severe that he would need something short of a miracle to make it another year. He accepts and offer for a cure, but it has disastrous results that leave him thinking that Vanessa won’t love him anymore
That’s the secret sauce of this film. The romance between Wade and Vanessa is established in such a way that it doesn’t feel perfunctory. They have a real connection (though that connection does involve creative mating rituals). Although Wade’s motivation is a bit shallow, we feel for him and we want to see him get the girl. It is refreshing to see a romance in a superhero movie that doesn’t feel like filler. When Wade looks at Vanessa, his vulnerability is touching.
It is also refreshing that the plot doesn’t involve the apocalypse. How many times do we have to go through yet another preternatural supervillain bent on dominating the world (which, come to think of it, describes the next X-Men movie). It was nice that Deadpool’s only motivation is getting his face fixed so he can get his girl back – saving the world is not in his wheelhouse. He wants to pull off his Death Wish-style revenge while breaking the fourth wall. The villain isn’t even super, he’s just a British jerk in a labcoat named Ajax whose real name gets a lot of mileage from our lead.
The fourth-wall breaking is what makes the movie fresh and new. That element made the brass at 20th Century Fox very nervous about making this movie, and in other hands it probably might have come off as overbearing, but it works because Reynolds’ is able to pull it off. I was very entertained by it . . . BUT!
Somewhere in all the fun, I began to get the sinking feeling that the movie was protesting too much. The movie’s meta outlook is admirable, but not being familiar with the comic books, I wonder if it wasn’t stretching just a little beyond where it needed to be. The movie takes place within the cinematic world of The X-Men (this is a Fox production, not Disney) and makes heavy references to those characters, but it also makes references to Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman and James MacAvoy having starred in movies about Professor X and Wolverine. So, the characters exist in this world, but the movies exist within that world too? Does that mean that the other X-Men movies take place in a world where X-Men movies have been made? It’s a little confusing if you dwell on it too much, but you have to admit that it spins your brain if you try and imagine how Deadpool could possibly fit into a future X-Men movie.
Despite those issues, I’m happy that the movie turned out as well as it did. This was a movie that the brass 20th Century Fox was reluctant to make. You can see it in the fact that in its scale which is closer to Ant-Man then Captain America. Despite breaking the rules of the genre, and film in general, you can still feel the studio restraints (the plot is really just a hanger for his wisecracks). Yet, it is nice that the restraints don’t extend to the character. Deadpool is exactly what the genre needs at this point, a wiseass who stirs the pot of a superhero stew that is often so dark and broody that it forgets to be fun. Maybe they could benefit from more Peter Cetera and Neil Sedaka songs, who knows?