Nearly two years ago, some enterprising nut job bravely released test footage for a Deadpool movie that was never going to get made. Then the Internet happened.
Whatever divine intervention that set that leak in motion has turned out to be the best thing to happen to comic movies in a long time.
Not long after the footage hit, 20th Century Fox greenlit the project, giving full creative license to director Tim Miller, star Ryan Reynolds and “The Real Heroes,” screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The movie has already become the best performing R-rated movie in history, and Deadpool 2 is reportedly in the works, because of course.
For a film that mired in Hollywood purgatory for years, it’s a remarkable turn of events. This is the same character whose appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the worst part of a terrible movie. But Deadpool’s success isn’t just a testament to the character’s oddball appeal. He also represents a turning point for comic movies as a whole. And it’s redemption for Reynolds, too, who has had a torrid superhero career thus far.
Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a mercenary with a jaundiced worldview and mouth that just won’t quit. He’s not the most terrible guy in the world, but he’s no Steve Rogers. Rather, he’s what you’d get if a 14-year-old boy took pills and went to a frat party. He’s crude in the best possible way, and gleefully kills his way through hordes of nameless baddies in an attempt to take down a “British Villain” named Francis (Ed Skrein).
Deadpool’s portrayal is a faithful recreation of the anti hero fans have grown to love. In fact, creator Rob Liefeld previously said the character audiences see onscreen is the best representation he has seen. It’s about the furthest thing from what we saw in Wolverine, where the character’s mouth was literally sewn shut. Here, Deadpool constantly breaks the fourth wall, refuses to shut up and reacts to violence the same way someone would playing Call of Duty online. He’s ultra-violent and vulgar, but the movie never overdoes it.
It’s not just Deadpool’s clever satire of action movies and the comic genre as a whole, but his constant self-deprecation. Even Reynolds himself doesn’t pull any punches when referencing his own past failings as a comic superhero. It’s this acknowledgment that constantly reminds audiences that we’re all in this together. This approach keeps the mood light, and although the film is rife with cliche, it manages to feel fresh.
It also helps that among the barrage of violence, the film is devilishly funny. From the opening credits to the movie’s closing shot—even the post-credits scene is funny—Deadpool manages to sustain an impressive level of hilarity. Not all jokes hit, and, to be fair, the ones we’ve seen constantly recycled in the trailers really fall flat. But, for a movie that is so wildly violent, the humor is brilliantly used to assuage the vivid images of dismemberment.
And it never feels like it’s trying too hard. It all feels casual and believable (the jokes, not the violence), especially in the context of Deadpool himself. He’s not called the Merc With A Mouth for nothing. And, honestly, the movie isn’t quite as violent as you’re led to believe. If you can stomach Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Deadpool is a walk in the park.
Much of the movie’s success, as mentioned, comes down to the sharp writing. But it’s Reynolds who carries the movie. If there was anyone born to play a specific role, it’s him as Deadpool. He is Deadpool as much as Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator, or Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. Reynolds himself is wise-cracking and endlessly charming, and his personality shines through Deadpool’s irreverence.
It’s not a perfect movie. Despite its commentary on cliches, Deadpool winds up presenting a plot we’ve seen ad nauseam: Guy falls in love, villain kidnaps girl, guy seeks revenge. It typifies the kind of tropes and pitfalls that hamper today’s biggest blockbusters—there’s even a mandatory Stan Lee cameo. But it still manages to rise up as the superhero movie we needed.
Marvel has built an unstoppable cinematic universe that’s going to expand by over 10 movies over the next three years while DC is just now gearing up to unleash Batman against Superman. In the midst of it all, we have Deadpool; a kind of super person who doesn’t think twice about turning his hapless victims into human kabobs. In fact, he does so with delight. This kind of approach might seem sadistic, and it is. But Deadpool’s enthusiasm is infectious, making for an experience that is never serious, and constantly fun.