It’s inevitable that when any particular movie genre or franchise enjoys prolonged success, somebody is going to come along to satirize it, deconstruct it or refute it. Sometimes, these efforts are just cynical and half-hearted attempts to jump onto the last car of a gravy train. Sometimes, they’re little more than high-functioning grumpiness or bitterness disguised as snobbery. But sometimes, they manage to be both part of a greater something while also standing apart from it, choosing to be on the outside looking in. And when it comes to the superhero genre that has so utterly dominated an entire decade of movie-making, there are no better examples of a meta-satire that works both as its own genre entry as well as a smart-assed commentary on it. That’s right, pumpkin. Today we’re talking about Deadpool.
Wade Wilson is an ex-special forces agent who currently works as a mercenary, taking shady jobs and occasionally doing a little good along the way. When he falls in love with Vanessa, a hooker with a heart of gold, Wade settles down and it looks like he might finally get to enjoy something like a regular life. But then he gets terminal cancer and skeedaddles to spare Vanessa the pain of minding his deathbed. He hooks up with a seriously dodgy outfit of mad scientists who promise Wade a cure but really just want his body to try out a deadly and experimental method for causing latent super powers to emerge. It works, but it leaves Wade severely disfigured and even more severely pissed off and looking for vengeance. Donning a red leather outfit, a pair of katanas and twin Desert Eagles, Wade calls himself Deadpool and hunts down the goons Angel Dust and Ajax so he can force them to reverse his condition, the idea being hat he will look human again and maybe be able to pick up where he left off with Vanessa. But the plan goes more than a little pear-shapes, all while Wade draws the attention of a couple of mutant superheroes who belong to the X-Men, and who would much rather see Wade put his unique talents to nobler purpose. Yeah, right.
It is impossible to discuss this movie without first noting how much of its success depends on Ryan Reynolds’ performance as Wade/Deadpool. In an era where comic book adaptations have managed to become ever-more faithful to the spirit of their source material if not the literal story lines themselves, Deadpool faces a unique challenge of hitting us with a mouthy knucklehead who is superhumanly witty and profane, and frequently breaks the fourth wall to drop some knowledge on the audience. It’s a volatile recipe that done just 1% off of true would create one hell of an annoying show. But Reynolds so perfectly inhabits Deadpool that every time the story veers into unfamiliar narrative territory, there’s our titular character not just driving the story, but looking over his shoulder to make sure that we’re all keeping up and having a good time.
Superhero movies are never as weapons-grade funny as this one is, and when Deadpool isn’t having fun by blowing up its own genre conventions (as well as its main character), it’s delivering such an intense barrage of hilarious NSFW one-liners that after a while, it’s almost like if somebody made a superhero movie out of Cards Against Humanity. It’s probably not for everyone, but for those who can appreciate what’s going on here, the results are nearly dangerous levels of humor.
The most impressive part about it all is how balanced it all feels; the lowbrow delivery of so much of Deadpool’s dialogue could so easily grow tiresome or run out of steam. After all, how many F bombs can you really drop in a movie before they just don’t pack a punch any longer? But the movie bounces us around between Wade and his mercenary contact Weasel, his regular cabbie Dopinder, his love-hate relationship with the elderly and blind ex-spy Al, all to let us know that this isn’t just a universe where Deadpool wisecracks his way through life. This is an alternate reality where throwing hard R-rated putdowns and comebacks is a fundamental life skill and that we should all be thankful that we get to witness 108 minutes of it.
But where we really see the discordance between how the rest of the world expects superheroes to act and how Deadpool actually behaves is in Deadpool’s relationship with the X-Man Colossus, a goody two-shoes hero of the traditional mold who doesn’t kill people, tries not to create too much havoc, and is even willing to endure a total cheap shot from a female bad guy rather than keep fighting her when she has a wardrobe malfunction. Colossus is the straight man that both gives Deadpool something to riff off of, and also serves as a kind of narrative restraint. Deadpool without a guy like Colossus reminding him that he could maybe tone things down a little becomes a kind of weird nihilism, just as Colossus without a guy like Deadpool becomes a kind of moralistic preacher who nobody really wants to listen to.
This give and take delivers Deadpool’s moment of truth, when Wade finally catches up to his nemesis Ajax and is about to deliver final justice to him,. Colossus intervenes and pleads with Deadpool to spare Ajax instead. He delivers a moving speech about how being a hero isn’t about being perfect every day, it’s about standing and delivering during those rare moments when it truly matters. It’s the kind of speech that would feel right at home in some other movie, but Deadpool’s reaction to it, and the justification he gives is irrefutable proof that sometimes you don’t need a hero to save the day. You just need the right kind of bad guy. Preferably, one who doesn’t look like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, but we’ll take what we can get.