Even though their position in movie culture often appears ankle-deep in concrete, superhero films are fluid, reactive things. Don’t think for a moment that Margot Robbie and Gal Gadot would each be co-starring in DC Entertainment productions later this year if Marvel Studios hadn’t been so sluggish in getting their own female-led franchises into gear – or, for that matter, that those DC films wouldn’t have been part of a come-one, come-all cinematic universe if that model hadn’t already proven so wildly successful for Marvel.
That’s one reason Deadpool movie 2016 feels like the wildest comic-book movie of 2008. It’s a smirking deconstruction of superhero-film excesses and clichés that the industry has, by and large, already moved on from of its own accord, like token “hot girls”, defensive heterosexuality and gravelly, anti-heroic bluster.
Imagine a satirist coming on stage in 2016 and launching into a routine about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s dinner at Granita: however funny and keenly observed it might be on its own terms, its moment has probably passed.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson, a Tyler Durden-ish contract killer whose black-market treatment for cancer turns him, as these things so often do, into an X-Men-like super-powered mutant.
The movie channel-hops between the present, where Deadpool 2016 is hunting the “British villain” (Ed Skrein, from The Transporter: Refuelled) responsible for his extensive facial ruining during the operation, and a long-form flashback which details Wade’s doomed relationship with Vanessa (Homeland’s Morena Baccarin), a gorgeous prostitute he seduces while she’s “on the clock” in a transcendentally numb-skulled and pandering scene.
As should already be clear, Deadpool movie is laser-targeted at the Venn diagram overlap between comic-book cognoscenti and hormonal teenage boys: two groups that are no longer as synonymous as superhero agnostics might expect, but undoubtedly qualify as a lucrative market.
Its sense of humour is sadistic and puerile, with lots of gratuitous female nudity and the splatter of organs on Tarmac. But to decode its barrage of in-jokes, you’ll also need a working knowledge of the superhero-movie industry itself, including Reynolds’s two previous forays into the genre (in Green Lantern and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and also the legal niceties that keep Marvel’s stable of characters split between three studios, Fox, Sony and Disney.
When the metallic Colossus drags Deadpool 2016 movie off to meet the X-Men boss-man, Charles Xavier, our hero quips: “Stewart or McAvoy? I can never keep track of these alternate timelines.” It’s a great gag in context, though you’d probably have trouble making it work in a job interview.
Deadpool’s awareness of his own fictional status is the character’s USP – and translated into film terms, this means he’s aware of the camera’s presence (in an early sequence, he flicks a wad of chewing gum onto the lens) and regularly chats to the audience, often while the action’s in freeze-frame, with Reynolds’ hyper-caffeinated jabber in these scenes owing something to Jim Carrey in The Mask.
The fourth-wall-smashing is fun in a Ferris Bueller kind of way, but it’s never pulled off with the devious panache of Blazing Saddles, let alone Funny Games or Hellzapoppin’. Since it’s this stuff, instead of the continuing thud-thud-thud of bad language and gore, that seems mould-breaking, it’s a shame Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay doesn’t have the courage to experiment a little more.
While they were at it, they might have also written a juicier role for Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), an intriguing X-Woman sidekick who might have neutralised the alpha-bro swaggering had she been given more to do than frown and occasionally burst into flames.
Yet much like Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman, the film’s bludgeoning enthusiasm for itself goes a long way. I chuckled along with its lavatorial riffs and winced at its butcherings and impalements, which are inevitably carried off with an incongruous soundtrack from Neil Sedaka or Wham!.