“I’m super, but I’m not a superhero,” clarifies Deadpool, a petulant mutate. Yes, he has mighty powers, but no pretense about being a nice guy. If there is ever an Avengers Hall of Fame, he’ll never get there; they wouldn’t even let him clean the latrines. If an Avenger ever makes it on to the front of a Wheaties box, it won’t be him. But he’s OK with that. He’s OK with being in his own skin, even though it’s a disfigured mess. If you’re looking for an unconventional protagonist, with a potty mouth and devilish mind, fly to the theaters to see Deadpool. Or at least walk.
Marvel Comics originated the snarky character, concocted by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist/writer Rob Liefeld, in 1991. He appeared in the series The New Mutants. Back then he was a mean, villainous bastard. He’s come a long way. Now he’s an unstable mercenary with no direction in life.
Screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, who made a name for themselves with their first feature collaboration Zombieland, can take a big bow. Few scribes could write the edgy, sour, filthy, graphic, rapid-fire dialogue that so consistently spews out of Deadpool’s mouth like sewage into a drain. Their words carry this movie along for 108 minutes.
Ryan Reynolds can take credit for turning their writing into biting satire that he hurls like a dagger. And director Tim Miller, an animator, creative director and visual effects artist, who marks his feature film debut, orchestrates the madness like a wizard on hallucinogens and crystal meth.
The film opens with a still motion, multidimensional scene (think Matrix) that appears to be a car crash in progress. Bullets are flying, men are being thrown out of windows, and someone is biting another man’s underwear. It’s a visually stunning (Ken Seng cinematographer, Project X) and ingenious sight. You watch aghast and know at some point this stagnant moment will go into high gear. It does.
There’s a backstory, which is told in bits, pieces and flashbacks, never intrusively or in an indiscernible way: Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative. He becomes a mercenary content to do small, petty acts of revenge, like intimidating a pizza delivery boy who demeaned a high school girl. He is a complete loner until he meets a sexy, cynical stripper named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Lust fuels their sarcastic barbs. He has met his match. They go home and have mad, freaky sex, like Kanye West and Amber Rose; only Vanessa doesn’t tattle.
All is well until Wade comes down with a major illness and seeks the help of unorthodox scientists for a cure. One such character, Ajax (Ed Skrein, The Transporter Refueled) promises Wade immortality, through a risky experiment, but nearly tortures him to death in the process. Wade survives, endowed with an incredible power to accelerate his healing process. The downside is he is scarred severely, head to toe, making him look like a chiseled, muscled mass of walking vomit. So why is Wade in the middle of a car crash at the beginning of the film? He’s on the road to revenge and this is merely a way station.
A key device in the Deadpool comic book series has Wade breaking the fourth wall and talking to the reader. It’s a technique that is responsibly carried through to this film; it never becomes an annoying sideshow distraction like in the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short.
Wade, thanks to Reese and Wernick’s powerful dialogue, expresses his feelings explicitly: “I’m a bad guy who is paid to f— up worse guys.” True. Then he takes verbal jabs at others, like actor Liam Neeson and his Taken movie franchise that involves his daughter being kidnapped: “Liam Neeson did three of those (Taken movies), maybe he was just a bad parent.” Other gut funny lines are too filthy to relay, but you get the picture.
Director Tim Miller showed his genius as a creative supervisor (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), a visual effects artist (Star Wars: The Old Republic video game) and a short film animator (Aunt Luisa). Deadpool is the perfect vehicle for him to exhibit the summation of all his talent. He makes this film as visually striking as The Dark Knight. Fight sequences are superbly choreographed and shot. Performances are universally eccentric and strong. He does an excellent job.
The other person who must have been waiting all his life for this film to be produced, is actor Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds gave audiences a taste of this dour character in X-Men-Origins: Wolverine. But that cameo was nothing compared to this. Here, he releases the beast inside. He’s ferocious, bitter, animated, relentless and talks a blue streak. His interpretation of Deadpool is an indelible, career-defining achievement.
Morena Baccarin makes Vanessa irresistible. Ed Skrein’s portrayal of Ajax is evil incarnate. Karan Soni, as a lovelorn cabbie, is sweet and comic. And Leslie Uggams, as Wade’s roommate Blind Al, proves she can pack heat and hang with sardonic boys, anytime, anywhere.
Technical credits, from Junkie XL’s bouncing urban score, to Julian Clarke’s tight edits, to Sean Haworth’s provocative production design and Nigel Evans’ art direction lift the film up. The footage has a look and feel all its own.
Deadpool will make a bundle. Audiences will see it again and again just to savor the hate-spewing, self-mocking dialogue. Who needs a hero when you can have an entertaining antihero?