Editor’s Notes: Deadpool is out this weekend in wide theatrical release.
Adaptations of comic books into movies has become serious business. Not only do they make an extraordinary amount of money, but their tone (with the exception with a rare few) are becoming increasingly dour, despite some quips and one-liners to break the tension. Then there is Deadpool, the adaptation of Marvel Comic’s Merc with a Mouth. Deadpool is the very definition of irreverent, giving us not only a character who never stops talking and making fun of every situation he’s in, but the film itself levels itself against not only the conventions of the comic book movie but of all movies.
. . . the film itself levels itself against not only the conventions of the comic book movie but of all movies.
The story is about Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a former special-ops soldier turned mercenary who gets involved with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a prostitute working the merc bar he hangs out in, which is run by his friend Weasel (T. J. Miller). After a year together, Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer throughout his body and subjects himself to a program that attempts to bring out latent mutant genes, which imbues him with a healing factor that is constantly regenerating his body, not curing the cancer but always healing enough to keep it at bay while also allowing him to regrow limbs and (although it isn’t covered in this film) come back from a pile of ash into a full person once again. With this constant flux of his cells, he’s left with extremely scarred skin, making him unwilling to return to Vanessa until the procedure can correct this last defect. So, he starts looking for Ajax (Ed Skrein), the former test subject turned administrator at the facility that experimented on Wade. He takes the name Deadpool from a betting list at the bar that puts odds on who isn’t coming back from their current mission, the Dead Pool.
The humor, which runs throughout since Deadpool never really shuts up, ranges from smart to crude, verbal to visual, never taking a rest even during the intense action sequences.
That is the backstory, which is told in flashback with direct narration from Deadpool during an elaborate fight sequence. Deadpool pauses the film while skewering an adversary to address what got him to that point. That’s why the film is unconventional. Deadpool routinely talks to the camera, makes references to other films not just in a pop-culture reference way but specifically noting that he knows he’s in a movie, like when Colossus, a CGI character voiced by Stefan Kapicic, says he’s taking Deadpool to the Professor (X), Deadpool asks “James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart? Your timelines are so confusing” referencing the X-Men films and their different casting based on timeframe and when he goes to Xavier’s mansion and notes that he only ever sees two people, like they couldn’t afford any other X-Men. In the comics, Deadpool knows he’s a comic book character and regularly cites other comics from DC and elsewhere and talks to the readers and most often to himself (well, one or more voices in his head…he’s also schizophrenic, something not tackled in this film but likely will be in the sequels). He’s driven crazy(er) by this fact and at one point even killed the entire Marvel Universe because he didn’t want them or him to be the puppets of the writers and illustrators (even traveling to the nexus of the universe and going to Marvel HQ to kill them).
With that kind of a character, the film had to be unconventional if it was going to honor the original character. Director Tim Miller, making his feature debut here, works with the manic energy of Deadpool to create a film that works against expectations and typical thinking. He puts us with the character immediately and makes us like him before we ever know his backstory and get on board with why he’s doing what he’d doing. He embraces comic book elements to make us realize that this isn’t reality nor should it be made to be entirely realistic beyond what is needed to make us believe in it. He uses slow motion, clever visual gags (like numbering bullet casings to show how many Deadpool has left after it was mentioned that he forgot his ammo bag and he only has 12 bullets to last him the whole fight), cutaways and intricate staging for the fight scenes that work with the conventions of the action film while working against them.
His direction utilizes the great script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the team responsible for Zombieland). The screenplay is told directly from Deadpool’s vantage point, working in breaking the fourth wall to tell the story first person. Normally, this kind of narration and intervention is lazy screenwriting, but here it helps to keep the film authentic to his character. What they also work in is a lot of sexual humor, sex, nudity, blood and excessive violence. Again, in other instances this could be seen as gratuitous but all of it comes from the source material. Deadpool is not a character for kids and he is not portrayed as one here. The humor, which runs throughout since Deadpool never really shuts up, ranges from smart to crude, verbal to visual, never taking a rest even during the intense action sequences.
This is because Reynolds is the perfect embodiment of Deadpool. The snide, ever-quipping roles he’s played in the past never quite worked within the films he was in but looking back, it feels like he has been auditioning for Deadpool his entire career (with some exceptions). He’s billed in the opening credits (that list none of the names associated with the film, another example that Deadpool has complete control over what we’re seeing) as “God’s Perfect Idiot” and that is on full display here. Reynolds has said that Deadpool has always felt like an alter-ego for him, even before he was cast in the part. This could explain why he took the role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which botched the character so completely that it was feared he’d never be seen onscreen again. Everyone else in the film works in perfect concert to Reynolds, but he’s the main show and he executes it flawlessly.
Deadpool works on every level because of the outside-the-box thinking that went into the film. It’s a personal project, most notably for Reynolds who produced the film in order to protect the character from being mangled like it was before. He worked to make it rated a hard R so that they would not have to make compromises to the character. This hard R rating is worth mentioning again because this film is not for kids (obviously you know your kids better than I do and if your kids can handle it, then by all means take them, but don’t complain about the content because you thought it would be just like the other X-Men or Avengers movies). Deadpool is funny, unconventional, exciting, energizing and funny (yes, it’s so funny it needs to be said twice) and it’s exactly what the comic book genre, and filmmaking, needs.
Deadpool is funny, unconventional, exciting, energizing and funny (yes, it’s so funny it needs to be said twice) and it’s exactly what the comic book genre, and filmmaking, needs.