“Surprise! This is a different kind of superhero story.”
(This review was originally published for The Grade in 2016. It’s been left in its original format. Warning: the following review continues naughty words, just like Deadpool would want.)
A quick confession before we get into this – I don’t own a lot of comic books. This may surprise readers who know me, because I am a huge nerd; but in all honesty, most of that has been picked up from other places. I’ve read a lot of articles about characters and backstories and timelines; I’ve seen more comic-inspired cartoons and TV shows than I care to discuss at length and I am so in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I’m genuinely considering asking Kevin Feige to marry me.
Why am I telling you this? Because the comics that I DO own are at least 50% Deadpool comics. I fuckin’ LOVE Deadpool. There’s something about this character that really appeals to me, and that thing is literally everything. So, when X-Men Origins: Wolverine announced that Deadpool would be featuring in the movie, and would be played by Ryan Reynolds, I pretty much lost it. This was the most perfect casting choice in the history of comic book movies, along with the chance to see one of Marvel’s most anarchic characters brought to life on the big screen for the first time ever. “Strap in,” I thought, “’cause shit is about to go down!”
Oh, it went down. It went down like a lead balloon. It went down like a movie studio took one of the comic world’s favourite characters, bastardised everything about him, sewed shut the mouth of The Merc With A Mouth and turned him into some kind of weird, silent cyborg with laser eyes and arm-mounted swords, that would go on to be easily dispatched by Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in one of the most disappointing moments in cinematic history (for me, at least).
Then the test footage was leaked, and well… you know the rest. So let’s skip forward a little; to last Monday, in fact.
Having successfully smuggled a fresh steak burrito into the cinema (it’s what Deadpool would’ve wanted), I settled down to take in the visual delights which were about to be presented to me. The opening shot of this film is a tone-setting still image of that very same car chase/massacre from the test footage, and the tone was not disappointing in the slightest. I won’t ruin the gags placed into this opening sequence, but for me, they really encapsulate what Deadpool is all about – a cheeky, self-referential, self-aware gagplex of violence and humour like nothing else in movies.
This film isn’t all just jokes and violence though, and it is driven by an unexpectedly traditional story of love and revenge. Wilson leaves his fiancé, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), in an attempt to find a cure for late-stage terminal cancer. He ends up in the clutches of Ajax (Ed Skrien) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano), whose torturous experiments turn Wilson into a disfigured, mutant superhuman, destined to become a slave soldier on the black market. Wilson escapes and goes on the run, determined to hunt Ajax down, find a cure to his disfigured body, and win back Vanessa. Cue the music, cue the bloodshed.
If you’re not familiar with Deadpool the character, there are two things that you must take account of. Firstly, Deadpool is self-aware. He knows that he is a fictional character, be he in a comic book, film or TV show. Breaking the fourth wall in this way allows his dialogue, be it external or internal, to go beyond the realms of the plot and make jokes and references to (and about) the wider world. As you may imagine, X-Men Origins and Green Lantern (Reynold’s other less-than-well-received foray into superhero films) get a suitable roasting through this method; Deadpool is fully aware that he’s being played by Reynolds and makes numerous references to himself during the film, as well as also taking time out to flirt with/mock Hugh Jackman/Wolverine. Reynolds makes full use of this to reference other things relevant to the world at large, but deftly manages to avoid references to anything too current, avoiding the script becoming too in-jokey, while also avoiding prematurely dating the film. The cinema around me was laughing out loud the whole way through, but not at all the same jokes. The scripting team have worked hard to make sure there’s something in there for everyone, and Deadpool’s ability to comment on the world at large makes that a lot easier to achieve.
The comedy is also added to by appearances from Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), two of Charles Xavier’s X-Men, who have been tasked with stopping Deadpool from doing whatever it is he happens to be doing at any given time, and bringing him on board with the X-Men to become a “true superhero”. Their attempts repeatedly fail, but they keep coming back and eventually lend a hand when Deadpool finally takes on Ajax and Angel Dust. Hildebrand in particular is a delight, portraying the stereotypical moody, punky teenager to perfection, also blending in the stereotypical “plucky young superhero in training” character traits. Her powers (becoming a localised bomb, essentially) are brilliantly created on screen, as is the body of the metallic Russian. Deadpool’s healing factor is brilliantly realised as well, with some of the most inspired, disgusting and juvenile jokes following an incident involving his left hand (which I’ll leave open to interpretation for now).
The second thing you need to know is that Deadpool is clinically insane, while also being a master assassin. Part of how this manifests in the comics is through his fourth-wall breaking shenanigans, and dialogue with the voices in his head; the rest is essentially manifested through ultra-violence. I felt like this side of the character was played down somewhat in the film; despite establishing Wade Wilson (Deadpool’s real name) as being on a different level to everyone else, and though it becomes clear that the experimentation and torture which he undergoes to become Deadpool sends him into a dark, more unhinged place, classifying him as insane is avoided. It is a choice that makes sense, in a time when gun violence is at its peak in America, even an R-rated movie focused on a gun-and-sword wielding assassin with superhuman mutant abilities must avoid making a direct connection between mental health issues and violent tendancies.
What we get as a result is a surprisingly warm, light-hearted feature film that has a dark vein of trauma and violence and its core. The scenes of Wilson’s torture by Ajax are quite difficult to watch at times, even within this comic frame. The fight scenes in general are much more graphic than you would expect from your standard superhero affair, with much more tangible amounts of blood coming from sword and gunshot wounds all round; but it’s still not enough to cause discomfort as you watch, as it all makes sense within the context of the piece. Yeah, he did just cut that guy’s head off with a samurai sword and kick it into the face of the next goon along. Of course he did. He’s fucking Deadpool.
This film didn’t make me excited in the same way that, say, Avengers Assemble did; but it was still an incredible piece of comic book cinema. Incredibly faithful to the original character and brilliantly acted by Reynolds (who was born for this role), Deadpool gets away with cheeky, infantile humour and R-rated violence by building it around a film which is just warm enough and just silly enough to make the whole thing work.
Oh, and they’ve just greenlit a sequel. Time to make the chimi-fucking-changas.