It may be aimed squarely at the 41-year-old male who still feels 14 inside; the kind of Gen Xer who adores graphic comic-book violence ironically and Wham’s “Careless Whisper” sincerely, and might masturbate to both (seriously, there’s more “self-love” and talk of same in this movie than any since Beavis and Butt-head Do America). But let us also consider the reaction of my 26-year-old wife, who was completely unfamiliar with the character of Deadpool save that “the trailers look funny.” Specifically, she opined that Deadpool 2 needs a plus-sized stripper character so that she can play the role and do onscreen nudity for the first time. We’ve spent the last decade proving to people that girls like comic books, action figures, and video games just as much as boys; Deadpool may be the movie that finally proves to Hollywood they love dirty jokes in spandex equally too.
The opening credits set the tone: we’ve seen movies begin with frozen, bullet-time action moments, but this one isn’t just filled with easter eggs (a Starbucks cup for “Rob L.” here, a Green Lantern trading card there), nor is it enough that it’s scored to Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” (an ironic juxtaposition, but a sincere appreciation of the song, which recurs). No, the blood-red cherry atop this slo-mo sundae is the text of the credits, which inform us that this is “some douchebag’s film,” “produced by asshats,” starring “God’s Perfect Idiot,” “a hot chick,” “a British villain,” and “a CGI character,” directed by “an overpaid idiot.” Said “idiot,” Tim Miller, cut his teeth as a visual effects producer on Star Wars: the Old Republic and as creative supervisor on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; his feature directorial debut here will only earn him more nerd cred. Calling him overpaid, in fact, may be the most objectionable thing the movie says amid its vast ocean of profanity: Miller deserves all the money to make another one.
Ryan Reynolds, who played a misbegotten faux-Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and has nobly spent the subsequent six years trying to atone by doing it right, may finally have found his defining role. An actor who has often seemed more stymied by his good looks than assisted by them, he has excelled most in half-darkness (Buried), a fat suit (Just Friends) and in character roles like that of a dubious mentor (Waiting…). Here he keeps his mask on more often than most Hollywood heroes these days, and even beneath it he’s mostly buried under latex, though like Michael Jai White in Spawn he doesn’t quite go full hamburger head, and remains recognizable. His new and more accurate Deadpool has the physicality and costume of a ninja Spider-Man and the personality of Daffy Duck if written by Kevin Smith, sustaining multiple cartoonish injuries while making non-stop dick jokes and opining on random pop-cultural touchstones like Liam Neeson’s parenting skills in Taken. He exists within the X-Men movie continuity, and is aware that he does, too. He also owns an action figure of the terrible 2009 movie version of himself.
Fans of the earlier, more villainous Deadpool may be disappointed, but rest assured that this version is no all-out good guy either. In a moment sure to cause controversy, he encourages a cab driver to stalk a woman and murder her boyfriend, despite the fact that we’ve earlier seen him threaten to rape a pizza delivery boy for doing something similar. Perhaps it’s easier to take because the movie reminds us constantly that it is just a movie, but there’s also a general theme of accepting that people are messed-up and not all good or bad; the political incorrectness may be too much for some, but the message that being a hero doesn’t mean being good all the time is nicely handled.
Yet there’s a sweetness to the movie too, which is at heart, believe it or not, a love story, though it’s admittedly an extremely adolescent one based mainly on sex and nerd-culture references. When the pre-Deadpool Wade Wilson meets Vanessa (Gotham‘s Morena Baccarin) at a bar for hitmen and mercenaries, they bond over a version of the old Monty Python skit about whose childhood was more poverty-stricken. He says he slept in a closet, she says she slept in a dishwasher box, he expresses envy that she at least had a dishwasher, and eventually the subject turns to clown porn, because that’s the kind of movie this is. One long, amusing montage of holiday-themed boinking on every major day of the year later, and Wade suddenly has terminal cancer for no apparent reason. So when a creepy guy in a suit offers to cure him, he eventually says yes, not wanting Vanessa to have to watch him die slowly.
There is, naturally, a catch. The “cure” involves being subjected to non-stop torture in order to awaken dormant mutant genes that theoretically should kick in to save him when he’s at the brink of death (a not-terrible metaphor for chemotherapy, really). In a departure from the comics, this isn’t the Weapon X program as far as we know, but a freelance business run by nasty mutant Ajax (Ed Skrein) to make super-slaves for the highest bidder. Inevitably the genes do kick in, to give him super-indestructibility–there’d be no movie otherwise–but with the side effect of making him look like a burn victim, even before he actually becomes one.
The obvious question, and one that has bedeviled directors of Superman movies, is how you can create dramatic tension with a character who can’t die. The answer here may surprise you. While there is a supervillain in the person of Ajax, albeit one without interesting clothes or powers, the real antagonist of the story is Deadpool himself, whose obstacles emanate directly from his own poor choices–as such, the story make a refreshingly low-key alternative to the world-destroying aliens-du-jour that show up in every other superhero movie. At numerous stages of the script, a different decision made by Wade would wrap up the movie there and then, but as evidenced by his ever-running mouth, he can’t help himself. If you’ve enjoyed the trailers and the various marketing stunts, you’ll enjoy the movie too, as it is literally the same, but more, even down to the music (“X Gon’ Give It to Ya” should have been an X-Men theme way before now).
Though it’s Reynolds’ showcase, he’s ably backed by Baccarin, who feels looser and more fun here than on Gotham; T.J. Miller, doing that dry T.J. Miller thing he does as Weasel the bartender; Leslie Uggams as Deadpool’s unlikely, elderly, IKEA-obsessed roommate Blind Al; Brianna Hildebrand as sullen X-teen Negasonic Teenage Warhead, mocking Wade’s “old” references to the ’90s without apparently knowing her name is one; and a CGI Colossus (voice of Stefan Kapicic) with the kind of exaggerated physique and shiny skin that makes him the closest thing we’ll ever see to a live-action Rob Liefeld drawing. (Skrein’s Ajax is less interesting, but he’s basically a prop anyway.)
Calls for a PG-13 version seem even nuttier once you’ve viewed the final film; it would require a complete re-recording of all the audio, to the point where none of it would make sense (it’s a miracle there’s no “D.P.” joke, but everything else is fair game). Then subtract strippers, decapitations, Reynolds masturbating to toy unicorns, prescription drug abuse…you’d have better luck digitally altering an old Spider-Man movie to add swords on his back and blinking C-G-eyes. Speaking of which, how cool is it that we finally have a comic-book movie where the masked hero has fully whited-out and animated eyes like on the page, regardless of whether or not it makes logical sense that they could then wink at you?
It’s early in the year yet, but I’m already looking more forward to seeing Deadpool again than I am most of the other upcoming comic-book movies for the first time. Rest assured that Dead Gon’ Give It To Ya.
Five out of five burritos. Though you really should deep-fry those suckers and make ’em chimichangas for this one.