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The meta the better. This seems to be the mission statement for this horribly violent, shriekingly self-aware and macabre Marvel super-antihero movie. It’s the funniest Ryan Reynolds film since Van Wilder: Party Liaison, and incidentally finally confirms the hall-of-fame status for Richard Curtis’s “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy…” line from Notting Hill.
Deadpool is absorbed in irony, zinging and stinging with pop-culture jokes; it starts by spoofing the generic lineup in the credits, giving nobody’s name, just archetypes – “British villain”, etc. Maybe this will evolve for Deadpool 2 with everything simply replaced with the phrase “I know, right?” (It’s a bit similar to the Cracked.com YouTube spoof trailer for an indie movie called Movie Title.) Deadpool wittily gets away with it by barrelling the references past us in an aspartame rush.
Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool , now getting a film to himself – after some fan agitation which was in no way cynically manipulated by the studio. He had previously been just a cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). This is the mutant mercenary assassin with a smart mouth, hyperathletic combat capability and the capacity to heal everything in his body except the poignantly disfigured face that the mask is there to conceal. Deadpool is effectively the untrustable black sheep of the X-Men family, some of whom are brought into the action to achieve brand overlap with the rest of the series. Stan Lee naturally gets another of his Struldbruggian cameos.
Deadpool comes in the drama in the back of a cab, dead set on some serious revenge with that British baddie, Ajax, played by Game of Thrones graduate Ed Skrein. The ensuing action mayhem is represented with some nicely rendered bullet-time slow motion, although for my money it isn’t as good as the Quicksilver sequence in X-Men Days of Future Past, accompanied by Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle. Flashbacks show us Deadpool ’s former civilian existence as Wade Wilson, former special forces hombre turned tough guy for hire, who falls in love with a beautiful badass called Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin – Damien Lewis’s wife from Homeland. Then cruel fate intervenes, and Wade’s super destiny takes him away from Vanessa, away from everything he loves, a terrible emotional pain that he transmutes into flippancy and violence.
As a self-deconstructing superhero film, Deadpool finds himself in a recognizable line from Matthew Vaughn’s outrageous Kick-Ass, which shows the superhero’s secret un-super homespun existence behind the cameras (there is the same relationship with Tarantino’s Kill Bill). It also has something in common with Watchmen, the costumed vigilantes who ply their trade in a counterfactual universe. There’s also the widely forgotten Mystery Men, starring Ben Stiller. But it doesn’t have the sweetness and wisdom of Brad Bird’s Pixar masterpiece The Incredibles, which really took seriously the burden of being a superhero, falling in love with another superhero and raising superhero children.
As he approaches the foothills of early middle age, Ryan Reynolds is developing something self-deprecatory and knowing in his handsomeness, a Clooneyesque goof, which works with the comedy here. His motormouth delivery is also clearly a cousin to Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, but with more sugar in the mix, less barbed – younger, in fact. The whole feel of Deadpool and the way it is written and directed is in many ways like something by action maestro Shane Black, who sent up his own tropes amusingly in the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The problem is that by letting Deadpool be both the good guy and the bad guy, by letting him have the bad guy’s prerogative of making acidly witty remarks, there isn’t all that much for the actual bad guy to do. Ed Skrein does his best as Ajax, but he doesn’t look or sound like a proper villain. He looks like the villain’s henchman. In fact, that “British villain” joke in the opening titles is misleading. The Brit in question would usually be some well-spoken, mature UK thesp – someone like McKellen or Stewart or the much-missed Alan Rickman.
Deadpool is neurotic and needy – and very entertaining. An innocent pleasure.