Comic books, especially Marvel, have always been a little meta. There’s always been an underlying absurdity to costumed vigilantes flying around cities, and the writers of these books realized it and made it part of the Universe. But nothing is more meta than Deadpool is, which not only realizes it’s a comic book but also knows it’s a movie. This is evident from the opening credits, which recognizes the tropes. Instead of names, we get things like “British Villain,” “Hot Chick,” “Comic Relief,” and for Producers “Asshats.” If that makes you laugh, this movie is for you.
It’s also the first R-rated superhero film. Spider-Man has always been a quipster, making jokes while battling villains, but he never said fuck or shit. Deadpool, real name Wade Wilson, played by silver-tongued Ryan Reynolds, has a potty mouth, which I’m sure thrilled all of the tween boys who snuck into theaters.
Reynolds is a low-level mercenary (the only job we see him do is scare off a stalker for a teenage girl–surely that is not a career). He hangs out at a bar full of rough characters, and meets a woman (Morena Baccarin) who is just as tough as he is. They have a great relationship, but–uh oh–he has cancer.
A shadowy group offers him a cure. They are led by a guy named Ajax, whose real name is Frances (Ed Skrein, who is of course British) who pumps Reynolds full of chemicals until he mutates (Deadpool first appeared in an X-Men film as a villain). He gets super-strength and super-healing, but in the process gets disfigured (why his skin doesn’t heal is an open question). He wants revenge, makes himself a costume, and goes hunting for Skrein.
There’s been a lot of talk about how Deadpool is a new kind of superhero film, but let’s hold back the applause. It’s really standard stuff, and even less so. Deadpool isn’t a hero, as all he wants his revenge and doesn’t save anybody. His amorality is an interesting touch, but I doubt it’s the stuff of a sea change. What’s more revolutionary is the swearing and nudity. So many films have guys wander into a strip club, but the girls are wearing bikinis. Not in Deadpool! Stan Lee’s cameo is even in the strip club.
The meta stuff flies fast and furious. At the beginning, Deadpool, who breaks the fourth wall often, asks us if we were wondering whose balls had to be fondled for him to get his own movie. This is the first joke at Hugh Jackman’s expense. Later, when he drops in on the X-Men’s mansion (only two X-Men are present: Colossus, who is a CGI character, and someone called Negasonic Teenage Warhead) Reynolds jokes that they couldn’t get any of the others because of salary, and when Colossus says they must see the Professor, Reynolds asks, “McAvoy or Stewart?” I must admit I did laugh when I stayed for the post-credit tease, which is a goof on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Deadpool is a mildly amusing diversion, and Reynolds, despite being under makeup or latex throughout the film gives a star performance, but a little of this goes a long way. This character is best in a group. The X-Men want him to join; it wouldn’t be a bad idea.