Deadpool is ruder, cruder and more violent than its superhero-film contemporaries. It is in no way for children or kids. The content is hard-R, for audiences attracted to ratings rather than substance, dick jokes in the place of story. But it succeeds completely, despite itself.
Ryan Reynolds has spent a decade trying to bring Deadpool to the silver screen, and the movie is a massive love letter to the character. With a minor budget, distinct style and detachment from franchise concerns, “Deadpool” feels like a truly independent entry to the superhero canon. It’s a unique experience and, in its uniqueness, a welcome entry in the genre.
Wade Wilson / Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary with a mouth, a paid warrior who can’t shut up. After enlisting in a secret program to heal his terminal cancer, Wilson is both permanently scarred and gifted with fast-healing powers. Think Wolverine, but even more immortal, uglier and 100 times more annoying. You might as well make the comparison because Deadpool certainly does, on multiple occasions. That’s another, key, defining attribute of the character: He is completely self-aware of his presence in a movie.
The key to Deadpool is, well, Deadpool. This isn’t an ensemble; not since Iron Man has a star performance so defined a character, but Reynolds does it. He’d be a great addition to any of the other self-serious entries in the X-Men franchise. The irreverence of Deadpool brings to mind 2010’s classic Kick-Ass, but the comparison is off. Kick-Ass was inherently cynical; Deadpool, for all its self-aware humor, isn’t. It still believes in the basic tenants of teen-fantasy superhero storytelling.
Take it or leave it, but there is an inherent earnestness to the Deadpool’s character, which grounds the movie’s “throw it all at the wall and see if it sticks” approach to humor. There’s no question that a vast majority of the jokes could have been written at a boy’s school-lunch table, and the romance is shallow. But Deadpool fundamentally wants to be good while seeing himself as too flawed to be, throwing up a shield of humor. It’s compelling and different. As Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) tells him time and time again, he truly has the potential to be a hero. He doesn’t embrace it, but maybe he can. Not today. Someday. Maybe.
Reynolds is joined by excellent performances by T.J. Miller as his closest friend and Morena Baccarin, who does what she can as a thankless love interest. The villains Angel Dust (Gina Carano) and Ajax (Ed Skrein) are a bit wasted, but move the plot forward and provide surfaces for Deadpool to bounce off of, which is about all they need to do on this outing. A second film with the same sparseness beyond the central character would kill the franchise, but this is in all ways an introduction, almost a pilot, and it works.
The greatest weakness of Deadpool is its structure, telling a dull, tired origin using flashbacks interspersed throughout a great action sequence. It almost feels like the team behind the movie knew these origin bits weren’t any good, but needed them to make a full-length movie, so they made sure to keep our attention by tossing them into the best bits of the film.
Deadpool’s level of crude cannot be understated. Is is dirty. It is violent. It can be pretty nasty. But it is also original and insanely likable. If you have the stomach, Deadpool is 2016’s first must-see picture.