He stalks the Marvel universe but, as the man himself tells us time and again, Deadpool is no hero. He has the super strength, just not the mind-set, which is both a strength and occasional weakness for this oddball X-Men spin-off. There’s no doubting that Ryan Reynolds is in his element though, cracking wise as well as knocking heads together with a delicious dark sense of humour.
Reynolds spent years trying to persuade studio suits to give this movie the green light, his character having made a brief appearance in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. For them, it’s a dicey proposition because it so relentlessly (and refreshingly) mocks the superhero ethos that has made Marvel billions, regularly breaking the fourth wall to bring the audience in on the joke.
Even the opening credits are marked by mischief, not bothering to check names but only tick off Hollywood stereotypes including “British villain”, here played by Ed Skrein like a cross between a cockney hardman and a Nazi concentration camp officer.
At a top secret medical facility, Ajax (Skrein) takes special delight in torturing his patients, with the mouthy Deadpool chief among them. Before coming up with that moniker, though, Deadpool is just a washed-up ex-mercenary called Wade Wilson, who drinks hard and plays hard, then falls in love with a feisty hooker called Vanessa (gamely played by Morena Baccarin). Cancer spoils the party, however, and with no other hope for survival, Wade accepts an offer from a man in black (“Agent Smith?” he presumes) and ends up in Ajax’s “care” – enduring pain to the point of cell mutation.
While he acquires the ability to self-heal, regenerate and kicks cancer’s butt, Wade no longer sees a reason to live after Ajax burns him third-degree style (just for the giggles), making him so unsightly that he has no option but to don a mask and a tight suit, and, crucially, is left unable to face Vanessa again. Wade tells us that this is a love story, not a superhero movie, and that’s the key to getting over the nasty parts, with Deadpool embarking on a bloody rampage of revenge, vaulting over cars like a ninja, spraying brains and sticking guys with his two swords. It’s Ajax he wants – well, Francis actually, because as Deadpool gleefully discovers, that’s his real name.
Early on, the blood splatter can feel gratuitous, especially because Deadpool is so mercilessly glib about it. That’s a habit that has tripped Reynolds up in other movies, like The Green Lantern (which gets an amusing wink-wink reference here). Thankfully, the smugness is eventually tempered by vulnerability as he tries to muster up the courage to face Vanessa looking like, as he puts it, “a testicle with teeth”. Later, after dropping in at X-Men HQ, he also gets the endorsement of silvery giant Colossus (that’s part CGI, part Stefan Kapicic) and the lesser-spotted Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) to lend credence to his mission.
Wolverine gets a few mentions too – at one point, Deadpool wears a paper Hugh Jackman mask – but he notes with a hint of ire that the studio probably couldn’t afford the more famous X-Men. Deadpool is after all an outsider, and that’s the appeal of this enjoyably twisted little mutant tale.
The volatile mix of crude comedy, violence and lovey-dovey stuff means it’s not a smooth ride; at times, it’s just plain uncomfortable. But director Tim Miller (making his feature debut) packs in a fair whack of choreographed combat and a couple of epic stunts to keep action fans happy. Above all, the fun is in seeing how Deadpool handles himself in standard set-ups – often digging himself deeper into trouble with a tongue as sharp as his weaponry. Importantly, along with that too-cool attitude, he’s also willing to be cut down to size. You have to root for him when he gets shot in the backside “right up Main Street” in a guns-blazing battle on the freeway and still manages to keep his sense of humour.
Deadpool is certainly rough around the edges, but that’s his – and the film’s – charm.
Deadpool is released in cinemas on Friday 10 February