Take your moment, Ry-Ren™; you earned it.
Everyone likes an underdog story, even when it is wrapped in fifty-eight million dollars (that’s chump change for Hollywood, kiddies). The fact is, however, that Deadpool is the famous passion project that almost wasn’t; the character had as much to lose for future projects as the producer/actor behind the mask. But take heart, lovers of the Fringe: Deadpool works from the very first frame and does not let up until the last after-credits bonanza. Director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick throw everything at the wall, and amazingly, it all sticks.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), ex-Special Forces operative now mercenary-for-hire, has seemingly the perfect life for a disaffected man haunted by his past. He’s part of a rag-tag club of other loveable low-lifes run by Weasel (TJ Miller), the closest thing he has to a friend, and he’s just proposed to his long-time prostitute-turned-love-of-his-life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin); but, alas, this is an origin story, so I probably do not have to spell this out for you: shit gets real. Sardonic wit and perfectly sculpted abs cannot save poor Wilson from the mortal coil when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. He seems to accept his fate even when his few loved ones encourage him to fight, but the Merc with a Mouth finally has something to lose in Vanessa, and he takes a mysterious recruiter up on his offer to save his life and make him a superhero. Problem is, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is, even in a Marvel movie. Ajax (Ed Skrein), leader of this little experiment, has other plans for Wilson, and out of the process comes: Deadpool. Now, feeling his life is ruined, Deadpool must find Ajax and get his life back. This is not a save-the-world story. It’s a story of vengeance.
If that synopsis moved you little, fret not; Deadpool may read on the surface like just another three-point comic book story, but forget “heroes” versus “villains.” Since his debut in “The New Mutants #98” in 1991, Deadpool has always been the antithesis of the comic book hero, a crowd-pleasing ball of crazytown. But would that lovable cynicism translate on the screen? The answer is a resounding yes. You can sense from the film’s opening moments that everyone is in on the joke. The filmmakers know exactly who their audience is, and play right into that. What surprises, however, is the amount of heart embedded in this story of love, revenge, and ultimate acceptance of your lot in life, and its the handling of these themes that make Deadpool one of the cleverest and most satisfying comic book movies to date. No one phones this one in; from the cinematography to the performances, there is real care here for the material.
Ryan Reynolds has made a career – successful in the variety of roles, if not box office receipts – on his cocksure, Canadian heartthrob-iness; it is quite obvious to anyone paying attention that Deadpool was the role he was born to play. He swaggers through every scene, completely embodying the eponymous hero; he is Wade Wilson so much that Reynolds has spent the last year promoting the film everywhere. Morena Baccarin matches him toe-to-toe, and Ed Skrein proves a multidimensional villain, despite limited screen time. The usually annoying TJ Miller fits Weasel to a “T,” taking a less-is-more approach with his line readings; he cannot exactly match Reynolds’s sharp edge or cadence, but it’s kind of adorable watching him try. The real standout is newcomer Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who steals every scene she occupies with her physical choices; her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission.
Sure, the story hits the usual beats, but it hits them earnestly, and the audience hangs on, anticipation building for these moments to come to fruition. The dialogue whips past at breakneck speed, but not for the entire duration — Reese and Wernick know when to leave space and silence. There is a moment when Wilson finally chooses to hold his tongue, and it is completely earned and emotional. The Deadpool comic is known for its fourth-wall breaking, and the film is no exception, but the script is smart about when and how to deploy those moments in an organic way, without derailing the story’s momentum. The only real low point comes in the third act; we know there will be a final showdown, and it turns out to be a bit of an anticlimax, but the ultimate conclusion makes up for the speed bump.
Tim Miller works hard to bring a unified vision to the screen; from the tone of the performances, to the shot design, to the vibrant art direction, Deadpool is an experience more than it is a film. In lesser hands the material might collapse into lame parody, a National Lampoon’s Deadpool; but because Miller, Reynolds, and the writers are undeniably fans, the film serves as a love letter to the character and to his devoted readers. It’s the trail blazed (to a lesser, PG-13 extent) by James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy that allows Deadpool to exist, but Miller takes the freedom Marvel and Fox have given him and pushes those boundaries even further.
This is a film that takes risks — gratuitous violence begetting an “R” rating, covering your leading man’s good looks with grotesque make-up followed by a red mask, adding yet another origin story to the 12-car pile-up currently jamming the current box office – but it all works due to a brilliantly edgy script, a committed star, and a brave director willing to literally drop bodies from the sky. Whenever you need to catch your breath from gut-wrenching laughter, there is a moment of touching realism; when your head is spinning attempting to catch-up to the lightening quick dialogue, Miller pauses for the laugh. This is not only one of the new year’s best films, but one of the genre’s.
Congratulations, Deadpool. You’ll get your sequel.