Deadpool is the latest in a very long line of superhero origin movies, but from the very first few seconds it makes it clear that it’s far from a conventional one. Opening on a bruising car crash and highly stylised gun/sword fight, Deadpool immediately eschews the problem of most origin stories (the main event of the costumed hero in action takes about an hour to arrive) with a canny flashback structure. Wasting no time in introducing us to Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), it’s only after he’s killed a swathe of hired guns that we delve into the past that made him this hideous but highly effective mutated killer.
Before becoming the titular superhero, Wade Wilson is a semi-retired mercenary. He no longer takes special forces jobs, instead content with roughing up stalkers for a minimal fee, soft-edged but not entirely warm-hearted, spending his evenings trying to get his fellow bar patrons to kill one another so he can win a bet. Running this bar is Wade’s best/only friend Weasel (TJ Miller) and their back and forth is the best the film gets outside of its imaginative action scenes. Exchanges between Reynolds and Miller have a loose, ad-libbed feel that’s generally more at home in a sitcom than a studio blockbuster, so the jokes seem natural, convincingly selling a long-term, snark-fuelled friendship between the two.
Less believable is the romance between Deadpool and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), an escort he meets at Weasel’s bar. Their courtship is handled efficiently (a year of dating is packed into about 90 seconds) but not very effectively, with Vanessa never receiving more characterisation than ‘perfect girlfriend who loves weird sex’. Just after the pair get engaged, Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer, for which the only cure is to attempt to get mutant powers from a very shady underground organisation headed up by the villainous Francis (Ed Skrein).
Francis’ experiments are suitably horrific, giving Wade superpowers, but cursing him with a permanently burned appearance and breaking his sanity. If the build-up is a little underwhelming, Deadpool really kicks into gear once Reynolds is suited up and on the rampage. Deadpool’s powers lend themselves to slapstick, as his ability to heal and high pain tolerance mean he can take beating after beating without real consequences. A very Holy Grail Black Knight moment is both incredibly funny and wincingly gruesome. The film’s other characters are less impervious to damage, and many nameless goons meet grisly yet embarrassing ends. First time director Tim Miller is clearly far more at ease with kinetic action than the more ‘human’ scenes, which makes for an uneven, but often very fun, overall film.
Deadpool’s shattered mind manifests itself in the film, as it does in the comics, as the ability to break the fourth wall. Wade is fully aware that he is in a movie, and whilst his film incarnation doesn’t use this skill to break down the form as much as his comic counterpart does, the direct addresses to the audience are nicely handled, most often used to poke fun at the X-Men Cinematic Universe in which Deadpool exists. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick throw a barrage of jokes at the audience, and despite plenty not landing, the ones that do get big laughs.
Ryan Reynolds’ desire to see this film get made has been well-publicised, and he is clearly having the time of his life in the lead role. His star power and charm are vital in turning a character that could have been actively repellent into someone you can easily root for. With Deadpool being Reynolds’ fourth comic-book movie (after Blade Trinity, X-Men Origins Wolverine, and Green Lantern), it’s great to finally see him in a superhero role that lets him use his natural flair for comedy. Between this (which is on track for huge box office takings) and 2015’s Mississippi Grind, Reynolds is proving himself both a bankable action star and an actor with real dramatic heft.
If Deadpool could have found a better balance between its fantastic action, great comedy, and naff drama beats, it could have been an early contender for 2016’s best comic book movie in a year absolutely laden with them. As it stands, it is instead just a very fun blockbuster, not quite revolutionising its genre, but also rising above its possible fate as merely a rude Spider-Man. A sequel that fixes some of the more glaring issues would be welcome, and the predicted financial success is exciting in its promise of more riskily violent and sweary superhero movies to come.