Deadpool is at its best when it’s making fun of superhero movies. The film feels like a deliberate counter-reaction to the seriousness and prominence of comic book films in pop culture, and in that regard, it’s a wild success. When it fills the opening credits with descriptions of its actors rather than their actual names (e.g. “Moody Teen”, “British Villain”, etc.), features knowing winks to its star’s prior, emerald-tinged efforts as a cape, and plays “Angel of the Morning” behind its freeze-framed mayhem, it’s a statement of purpose, an indication from the very beginning that this is not going to be your average superhero flick and the movie is very much in on the joke.
At the same time, Deadpool is at its weakest when it capitulates to the sober, formulaic demands of its genre, when it hits the expected beats of your typical good guy origin story—a tragic past, a dull antagonist, and a lost love–even as it vociferously proclaims that its “hero” is anything but a good guy. The film does its best to throw in a comedic riff on these moments. Deadpool himself, a.k.a. Wade Wilson, has plenty of playful quips for the movie’s villain, Ajax (Ed Skrein), even as his rival slogs through the usual, perfunctory threat and intimidation routine. And Wilson’s ribald remarks permeate the sad-sack backstory and star-crossed romance that might otherwise hurt the film’s humorous tone.
To this end, the film makes a firm attempt to take some of the edge off of some of its more standard-issue elements—generic baddie Ajax and his wooden henchwoman Angel Dust (Gina Carano) chief among them. But at its core, Deadpool can’t completely run away from the typical superhero movie tropes it ends up employing, even as it’s trying to make fun of them. That drags down the proceedings in the moments where the otherwise off-the-wall film tries to be a little more solemn or conventional.
Thankfully, the film’s main character provides plenty of comedic juice– both in the suit and out of it–that keeps Deadpool humming along. The titular Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is effectively a murderous Bugs Bunny, causing a maelstrom of mayhem that resembles a cross between Kill Bill and Tex Avery. Reynolds nails the character’s charming irreverence, and the script belies any attempts to reveal a true heart of gold beneath his barrage of bullets and sarcastic asides.
If anything, Deadpool goes too far in the other direction, by having its lead repeatedly affirm that he is not, in fact, a hero — that he is, instead, just a bad guy who goes after people who are worse. That’s a great premise for a character, and the fact that the film doesn’t shy away from its R-rating, featuring Deadpool plying his trade with little care or concern for Truth, Justice, and The American Way, is a boon. But having him vocalize that point repeatedly makes Deadpool himself feel more like the rebellious teenager who makes a point to constantly remind you that he doesn’t care.
Despite that, in the moments where Deadpool avoids the pitfalls of backstory fatigue and rescue mission malaise, it is a delightfully breezy, eminently enjoyable film. Director Tim Miller perfectly captures the lewd-yet-impish tone necessary for the piece to work, from his star’s looney mischief, to the comedic exchanges between Deadpool and his wife Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), buddy (T.J. Miller), and roommate (Leslie Uggams), all of which have their own distinct flavor and weird, off-color charms.
Make no mistake; Deadpool is a film that wears its raunchiness on its sleeve. Reynolds’ previous turn as Van Wilder served him well for the movie’s puerile sensibilities, culminating in a parade of horribles-style game of one-upmanship that serves both as his and Vanessa’s meetcute and their reconciliation. The movie has no compunction when it comes to making jokes about sex, masturbation, and other bawdy subjects. To that end, the script occasionally feels like a Robot Chicken sketch grafted onto an X-men movie. I’m certainly not above enjoying the film’s thoroughly juvenile charms, and the unabashed way in which it embraces its sophomoric, self-mocking tone keeps things light and fun.
The film also preserves Deadpool’s fourth wall-breaking asides from the source material. Miller strikes a delicate balance, and staying on the right side of the Ferris Bueller line is no small feat. But when Deadpool talks to the audience about who he had to pleasure to get his own movie, or asks that his suit not be green or animated, or expresses his confusion about which actor is playing Professor X at this point in the timeline, it’s another sign that the film is having fun with the excesses of the genre and his X-men Universe stablemates in particular. Too much of that style of post-modern comedy can be grating, but Miller parcels out just enough to make it a treat instead of a gimmick.
Despite James Gunn’s protests to the contrary, in many ways, Deadpool feels like the raunchier cousin of Guardians of the Galaxy. Both films feature a less-than-savory protagonist; both trade in classic tunes played over silly action scenes; and both attempt to undercut any necessary serious moments with a quick joke. What’s more, both Deadpool and Guardians subvert the big comic book ending just enough (before giving into it) with a twist that shows the audience what kind of film and what kind of “heroes” they’re really dealing with. Guardians is undoubtedly a bit more earnest in the effort, and it’s certainly tamer by comparison, but both films prove you can make a superhero movie that is just as much of a comedy as it is an action-adventure story, regardless of where the humor is pitched.
Deadpool does revel in its sense of subversion. The main character pushes back against Colossus, the film’s voice of standard good guy morality, and his not-so-subtle lessons about what being a hero entails. (He also ribs Colossus’s teenage sidekick for her sullen silences and sharp remarks in one of the film’s funniest recurring bits.) And just when it seems like Deadpool’s about to give in to his better angels and spare his enemy, he shoots his rival point blank, right in the middle of Colossus’s big speech.
That type of attitude—where the film eschews the usual beats of comic book movies and adds in a ribald barb or two for good measure–makes Deadpool a refreshing, often hilarious enterprise that knows what it wants to be and doesn’t hold back. If only it could sustain that energy and aim throughout the film, rather than devolving, at times, into damsels in distress and a typical revenge tale, it would succeed unequivocally. Instead, Deadpool is a tremendously funny film with a delightful comic verve that sustains it from beginning to end, even though, occasionally, it can’t quite escape the baggage of its super suit-wearing brethren.