As couples, and single folks head to the multiplex this weekend for a Valentine’s Day treat, they’ll have at least three big studio options. Having seen them all, I can say despite one’s own preferences, Marvel’s latest superhero flick is the best of the bunch. Funnier than Derek Zoolander’s return to fashion, more outrageous than anything Rebel Wilson does in How to Be Single, Deadpool is this year’s Ted. Which is a good thing overall, but let’s be honest, not entirely super memorable.
Like the found footage genre, breaking the fourth wall in entertainment can, if not done right, come off as little more than a stunt. Ask any fan of John Hughes, and they might look you straight in the eye doing their best Ferris Bueller. There aren’t nearly as many games that break the fourth, but I know my favorite moment: the Metal Gear Solid “Put the controller on the floor!” moment of absurdity. (The “deleting save” prank from Eternal Darkness is a close second.)
This brings us back to Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds as the titular “not a superhero” hero. The film is rated R for language, violence, and a fairly fun sex scene. Throughout the 100-minute running time, Reynolds talks to us as much as he can—which is to say, a lot. I’m all for the former Green Lantern (yes, they mention it) being the male voice for whatever future Specter I’ll be playing in Mass Effect. I’m sure that version won’t take guff from a hostile Turian.
Back to the film. That this fourth-wall gimmick doesn’t wear out its welcome says a lot about how charismatic former People’s Sexiest Man Alive 2010 can be. Casting another actor in this role could have been fatal. Luckily, this was never gonna happen as it was Reynolds himself who worked at getting the Merc With The Mouth his own film. The actor had played Deadpool ever briefly, unrecognizably, forgettably in X-Men: Wolverine: Origins (2009). Reynolds really wanted to make good this time. And for the most part, he has.
On the downside, beyond Deadpool’s funny dialogueand his constant chatter to audiences, there’s not much here that doesn’t feel dated. The origin story, the villain, even the set pieces feel like an early 2000s comic-book flick. Think Blade, which this film wisely gives a quick nod to.
Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a hired thug who’s content living his crappy life busting heads and sleeping around… until two things happen. First, he falls in love with an escort named Vanessa (Homeland‘s Morena Baccarin) who’s just as much of a potty mouth as he is. Their verbal sparring followed by a sex “over a year” montage is just all kinds of fun. (Celebrating Feminist Day is a hoot.) The second is that Wade finds out he has cancer, doesn’t have long to live, and signs up for an experimental treatment that is sort of linked to the mutant genes that makes a person an X-Men. He becomes invincible (or at the least unkillable), but his skin is horribly altered. Hence, the mask.
Speaking of Professor X’s School for the Gifted, Deadpool features two of their members and even a quick visit to the mansion. (Well, the front door at least.) Deadpool smirks that clearly the studio (Fox) didn’t have the budget to include more marquee players. That’s fine, actually, since a CGI Colossus, and a “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” (Brianna Hildebrand) round out the hero’s trio of a team quite well. If this was a game, I would want them in my party. (Make that happen, Activision!) This is by far the best use of the Russian big guy ever in the movies, though admittedly that’s not saying a whole lot. Hildebrand as the angsty always-texting teen mutant is note-perfect. While the action scenes are serviceable, the casting of Gina Carano (Fast Five) as the villain’s heavy is effective. She plays Angel Dust, a crazily strong brawler type, which suits the mostly wordless former MMA fighter.
Still, the pesky need to tell yet another origin story (told in flashbacks) is generic and obvious. Reynolds with the script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick does his best to keep us distracted by tossing in plenty of ultra violence, funny lines, but the key to the entire story, not just the origin stuff, is that Wade is laser-focused on getting revenge on the doctor who made him, a bland Euro guy named Ajax (Ed Skrein)—none of which is at all interesting in the slightest.
The clever caveat is that the movie announces all of its shortcomings in the opening credits, even describing Ajax as “evil British guy” via fun title cards. That’s quite funny in the first few minutes, but why then have us sit through the actual meet up with our hero? Is it really necessary in an era where audiences are savvy with comic-book tales?
Like Seth MacFarlane’s foul-mouthed stuff bear, Deadpool is the kind of character that you can’t look away from. No matter what he does, even when he’s being a jerk to his blind elderly roommate (don’t ask), you still laugh with him. To be honest, those are the film’s best moments. Though I like the two X-Men, Deadpool’s interaction with normal working class people are the interactions that resonate most. Wade’s best pal is Weasel, a bartender played by the dependable comedic actor, T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley). There’s also cabbie Dopinder (Karan Sori) that Deadpool talks to throughout (he hasn’t heard of Uber?), which is a joy to watch even when he’s encouraging this non-superpowered normal due to kill another man who's stolen the love of his life. Deadpool is like our own personal red-outfitted devil sitting on our shoulders, urging us to be bad.
Speaking of love life, this is a Valentine’s Day flick, after all, and Morena Baccarin is terrific as Vanessa, the best she’s been since her Firefly days. The mentioned verbal sparring matches between her and Wade crackle with energy. I just wish she was in it more. Like Weasel and Dopinder, she is another engaging "normal" person.
As the credits rolled, the stuntyness aftertaste never went away, but that’s okay. Be sure to stay for those end credits for a fitting homage to the fourth-wall genre. (Is that a genre now?) In any case, Deadpool is a recommend, especially in theaters with a packed responsive crowd.