“Crime’s the disease, meet the cure. Okay, not the cure, but more like a topical cream to reduce the swelling and itch.” ~ Deadpool
“Just promise you’ll do right by me, so I can do right by someone else. And don’t make the super suit green. Or animated.” ~ Deadpool
“Wow, this is such a big house, but I only ever see the two of you here. It’s like the studio didn’t have enough money for any more X-Men.” ~ Deadpool
“I had another Liam Neeson nightmare. I kidnapped his daughter and he just wasn’t having it. They made three of those movies. At some point you have to wonder if he’s just a bad parent.” ~ Deadpool
Back in the day, writer Fabien Nicieza and artist Rob Liefeld (who’s established a well deserved reputation as one of the worst comic book artists of all time) created an unlikely character named Wade Wilson, otherwise known as Deadpool, a mercenary with a smart aleck attitude, a healing factor, and an ability to understand that he was a comic book character, thus breaking the Fourth Wall. The character has been around the Marvel universe ever since, annoying pretty much anyone he’s come into contact with, proving to be an antihero with mileage. Now the character has hit theatres with a solo film of his own, starring Ryan Reynolds, who played at least a version of the character previously in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Wade (Reynolds) is a mercenary in New York, a former special forces operative with a motor mouth and shaky ethics. Vanessa Carlyle (Morena Baccarin) is the woman in his life, but life throws him a bad loop and he ends up diagnosed with terminal cancer. This being a comic book adaptation and not My Life, the story of course will not involve long vigils at hospital bedsides and a teary eyed fiancée watching her guy waste away. Wade is given a chance at a secret program, with an experimental cure dangled in his face.
The program includes one Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), aka Ajax, who has a formula meant to trigger mutant genes, though there are of course other agendas involved, including torture for the sake of torture. Ajax and his right hand Angel Dust (Gina Carano) aren’t nice people, and Wade’s experiences in the program lead to a cure of sorts, an accelerated healing factor, not to mention a wee bit of a disfigurement soon requiring a red and black mask and costume.
The character had been in the works for a film treatment for years. Reynolds first became interested in the role after a comic book reference by Wade comparing his appearance to “Ryan Reynolds crossed with a shar-pei.” Wade turned up in the aforementioned Wolverine film, carrying some of the character’s habit to irritate everyone around him before ending up in a very different state than when he began, but this film pretty much feels like it’s ignoring that film- with the odd exception here and there. One wonders as an aside, with the time altering events of the most recent X-Men film, did that movie even happen?
The story is squarely set in the X-Men cinematic universe though, with the appearance of one of the team as well as a trainee with a really weird name, as opposed to the Marvel cinematic universe of the Avengers films. The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is strongly influenced by the comic history, but even more by the tone of the character. Deadpool (often referred to as the Merc With A Mouth) has long been the sort of character who understands he’s in a comic book and frequently breaks the Fourth Wall, something that’s done in the film as well. It’s a meta sort of film where the protagonist knows he’s in a film and riffs on that, and the writing plays to that in a hilarious way, tweaking the conventions of action, comic adaptations, and even romance in various ways. The previous take on Wade in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well as Reynold’s role in the ill fated Green Lantern, as well as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Batman, and much more all become targets for the humour of the film.
The script gives us a protagonist who’s not that sympathetic- Wade’s ethics as a vigilante are shifty to say the least, and he’s not out to save the world. He’s crass and thoughtless at times, tends to lean towards selfishness at times. The villains are suitably nasty- and prone to getting very quickly irritated by the protagonists. The writers play to those elements, and give the script a funny, demented, and skewed tone that fits Deadpool perfectly.
Director Tim Miller comes from a background in animation, short films, and title sequences for other films. This is his first feature where he’s helming the whole thing as a director, and yet he seems well suited for it. Filming was done in Vancouver (which so often fills in for American cities), and Miller’s use of the urban environment makes up for the relatively low budget of the production. Miller does well with working on action sequences, and gives the film a gritty feel in the way he films things.
The cast are relatively well cast. T.J. Miller plays the role of Weasel, Wade’s friend, an import from the comics where the character is a long suffering support to Deadpool. I wondered where I’d seen him before- it turns out he played the most obnoxiously annoying member of the cast of Cloverfield, an oaf handling a camera through that monster film. Leslie Uggams plays the part of Blind Al, also a transfer from the comics, an elderly blind woman who ends up having the exasperating mercenary as a roommate. The X-Man Colossus turns up as well; previously played by Daniel Cudmore, this time it’s a performance of several actors taking on voice, motion capture, and facial expression. Colossus is pretty much bland no matter who plays him, but putting the character opposite Deadpool makes him a good foil and subject for Wade’s snarkiness. The X-trainee with him is played by Brianna Hildebrand, taking on the name Negasonic Teenage Warhead (proof that X-students have no business choosing their own codenames). The character is rooted in the comics as well, and the actress gives the mutant the right kind of attitude.
Gina Carano has a background in mixed martial arts before moving into film. Her take on Angel Dust is very different from the comics- the character has gained powers through experimentation, and she’s a good deal crankier than her comics counterpart. She brings the physicality to the role that the film requires. Ed Skrein, who’s spent time on that whole Game Of Thrones series (spoiler: in the end, everyone’s going to die) has the primary antagonist role of Ajax to play. As required, he plays the scenery chewing sociopath well, and as expected given who he’s up against, he tends to get irritated quickly and often.
Morena Baccarin first came to my attention as a cast regular in Firefly (it’s a crime that the show only lasted a season), and these days she’s a regular on the comics adaptation series Gotham. She’s likeable and sympathetic as Vanessa, a character who’s quite different in the comics. The actress has good chemistry with Reynolds, and where the film takes her, the reactions that she has make sense, particularly how she feels about revelations that play out.
Ryan Reynolds has a ball playing Deadpool, to the point where it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character. He conveys the sheer sense of anarchic lunacy and snark that’s so central to the character, a mix of self loathing glossed over with sarcasm. His performance is subversive, hilarious, and self-aware; with his tendency to break the Fourth Wall, Reynolds plays Wade rather like an updated Ferris Bueller- albeit one with a hideous face, lack of moral center, and fondness for weapons. It’s a delight to watch him in action or to listen to him speak, and you can tell that the actor is enjoying himself thoroughly throughout the film.
Deadpool is a blast, blowing the lid off the conventions of the superhero film in a big way, providing plenty of laughs and thumbing the nose in many ways. It’s thoroughly entertaining, with lots of nods towards the genre (one will have to see it more times to catch all of them). I look forward to more of the Merc With A Mouth- and it seems that movie going audiences agree.