It’s an odd fate that appears to have fallen on 2009’s much derided X-Men: Origins – Wolverine. Though financially successful, the almost universally negative reaction to the film could have signalled the end of the franchise as it was, and indeed led the studio to go for a semi-reboot approach following it up with prequel X-Men: First Class. And yet, years later we’ve had a second Wolverine movie that was given the chance to essentially deliver the kind of solo story people wanted first time around, and even more strangely, two of the other comic-book characters introduced in the film are getting their own spin-off features.
One of the biggest criticisms aimed at X-Men: Origins – Wolverine was that it messed up the character of Deadpool, a fan-favourite since his début in the early nineties. The film’s depiction didn’t especially reflect the nature of Deadpool in the comics, yet somehow, Ryan Reynolds loved the character enough to mount a years-long campaign to do justice to him (he’s a producer here as well as starring). Before the troubled Gambit arrives next year (?) Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox have somehow allowed the existence of an R-Rated Deadpool movie starring Origins – Wolverine actor Reynolds that takes place within the established X-Men universe, though the series has never much cared for continuity (a good thing for this movie). His hard work has paid off.
Mercenary Wade ‘Deadpool’ Wilson’s most notable characteristic is that, unlike all the other characters, he knows he’s in a comic book and frequently ‘breaks the fourth wall’ talking directly to the audience. While I could see the potential in transferring this aspect to the big screen, it severely risks coming across as both smug and gimmicky, and in truth, never being much of a fan of the character, I was very sceptical about this adaptation.
However, I needn’t have worried on that front; the meta-humour turns out to be this movie’s strongest aspect. I honestly laughed more during the opening credit sequence of this film than I have at plenty of entire comedies. The best aspect of the film’s comedy here is not simply that Deadpool talks to the audience, which he does a few time both directly and in voice-over (at one point expressing his own surprise that they’ve given him a movie), but that he and other characters make references to the kind of movie this is. Co-star TJ Miller, playing against type as Deadpool’s friend Weasel has a few lines about how talking to a mysterious character in his bar “might further the plot” or the franchise potential of his superhero name that had me howling with laughter. Similarly there are jokes about the film not having the rights to certain characters and a Hugh Jackman dig in the finale that land brilliantly.
The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland) sensibly limits the number of these meta-jokes though, having them appear at a rate that never feels overbearing. In contrast to these smarter gags, the rest of the film’s humour is thoroughly and unapologetically juvenile. This was my other concern about Deadpool, that it would use its R-rating freedom to just add in a torrent of F-words to a superhero movie. It does do that, not to mention also containing a ton of dick jokes, but overall there are more hits than misses to the film’s broader comedy. The weaker aspects centre on a few of the supporting characters, including the only X-Men to appear; Colossus, voiced by Stefan Kapičić and trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Colossus is basically there to be the butt of Deadpool’s flatter jokes, not to mention being an obvious, and rather poorly rendered CGI creation. There’s also a small subplot involving Deadpool’s roommate being an old, blind woman that never really works.
As Deadpool himself, Ryan Reynold’s enthusiasm does shine through. He’s not an actor I’ve ever had much to say about before (and I say this as someone who moderately enjoyed Green Lantern, which gets mocked here) but his commitment is undeniable, unleashing a cascade of motor-mouthed snark. I can easily envision the character becoming very irritating if placed in the wrong hands, but Reynolds proves himself the man for the job throughout.
The film adopts a structure that differs from the standard superhero origin story, allowing it to open with a spectacular action sequence featuring Deadpool in costume with full abilities on display. The whole first half of the film then cuts between the aftermath of this scene and extended flashbacks explaining Deadpool’s origins, as he meets and forms a romance with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), gets diagnosed with cancer, then undergoes underground treatment that gives him his powers. There’s a lot of fun to be had in these scenes, but they can’t escape the fact that they’re setting up what is in fact a fairly standard and generic storyline. The basic plot of Deadpool is unfortunately not up to much, it is essentially just about Deadpool telling his origins and then seeking revenge on the man who created him, Ajax (Ed Skrein) who’s an unremarkable villain with enhanced strength.
Debutant director Tim Miller, an effects specialist, infuses the film with enough manic energy that the more generic aspects of the story often breeze by. Clearly operating on a much lower budget than the other X-Men movies, the film only has a couple of big set-pieces. A little disappointingly, the best of these is the aforementioned opening sequence. The big fight scene that closes the film pales in comparison, despite still containing a couple of decent visual gags.
Overall, Deadpool works best as a comedy. Its generic origin and revenge story elements are more easily forgivable when wrapped in layers of both broad and meta-humour, and these help it stand out from the superhero pack far better than just having a bunch of violence and swearing would.