Let’s start with the obvious question, for those who aren’t in the know: Who is Deadpool? It’s a very reasonable question, given that Deadpool doesn’t have as many decades of name recognition as Superman, Captain America, or even most of the more famous X-Men. In fact, Deadpool didn’t even exist until 1991.
To put this in context, this was the era in which the whole comics industry was trying to make itself “edgy” and “gritty” in a pitifully misguided attempt at imitating the successes of “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns”. In this wretched period of excess, few comic talents found more fame or success than the notorious artist Rob Liefeld, who co-created Deadpool in “New Mutants #98,” alongside writer Fabian Nicieza. Deadpool’s appearance in that debut issue was brief, but it was enough to establish Deadpool as a mysterious badass mercenary with wit and arrogance in abundance. Allegedly because Liefeld really really wanted to draw Deathstroke and had to settle for making his own thinly-veiled ripoff of the DC character instead.
Cut to a few years later, when the speculator bubble was about to burst, the X-Men brand was slowly collapsing under its own catalog of series and spinoffs in publication, and Marvel was facing bankruptcy. In this context, Deadpool got a 1993 miniseries written by Mark Waid, and an ongoing series in 1997 written by Joe Kelly. In both cases — but especially under Kelly’s tenure — the creators went hog wild and threw everything they could at the wall, figuring that the series was doomed to be cancelled anyway.
So it was that Deadpool became the regeneratin’ degenerate so beloved by comics readers that he’s been known to consistently outsell Superman in the bookstores. Details about his past are unclear, but it’s known that Wade Wilson is a mutate (as opposed to a mutant, it’s a subtle difference) who was given a healing factor by the same Weapon X program that created Wolverine. However, Deadpool’s healing factor is so ridiculously advanced that he’s effectively unkillable. He can be hurt really badly, and some injuries take longer than others to heal, but Deadpool simply cannot be killed.
Because of Deadpool’s proclitivity toward violence and his ability to absorb unbelievably gruesome injuries, he works as a slapstick cartoon character in the vein of Tom and Jerry — or more accurately, Itchy and Scratchy. It also helps that Deadpool isn’t meant to be a sympathetic character. He’s very much an antihero, out for nothing except his own self-interest, though he can sometimes be hired or tricked into following someone else’s agenda. And the cherry on top is that somehow, Deadpool is actually aware that he’s in a comic. Talking directly to the audience and commenting on superhero cliches is a beloved staple of any Deadpool story.
Put simply, Deadpool is unique in that he can be anything, he can do anything, and he can say anything. And I do mean ANYTHING. He’s wooed the physical personification of Death. He’s killed every single U.S. president brought back from the dead. In one notable miniseries, Deadpool killed the entire fucking Marvel universe — every superhero, every villain, every deity and demon, EVERYONE — before killing the comics’ writers on the way to killing the audience. In all the massive multiverses of Marvel and DC, no one could do that but Deadpool.
So here we have a character who’s massively successful among comics fans, but virtually unknown in the mainstream. This explains Deadpool’s appearance in the famously godawful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which Ryan Reynolds — an avowed fan who actively campaigned for the role — played a version of Deadpool with a radically different origin and power set. Worst of all, the Merc with a Mouth had his mouth sewn shut in the climax for absolutely no reason. Ryan Reynolds and all of his fellow Deadpool fans were so outraged that they spent eleven goddamn years campaigning to get a Deadpool movie done right. That meant a decent budget, a hard R rating, plenty of irreverent quips and wisecracks to the audience, a full-body costume, and Reynolds in the title role.
This was not an easy sell to the studios. But then Guardians of the Galaxy proved that a faithful adaptation of an irreverent and obscure comics property could make crazy box office bank. Folks, it’s really hard to overstate how much of a game-changer that movie was.
So against all odds, here we are with Deadpool, an origin story that makes it clear from the opening credits that these filmmakers are not fucking around. We all wanted a creative, juvenile, self-aware, rapid-fire, and completely fearless spirit toward action and comedy, and that’s exactly what we get from the first frame of the opening shot to the last frame of the post-credits stinger. The first scene alone is full of so many sight gags and one-liners that are so much fun to discover that I won’t even dare to try and list any of them here.
Naturally, the X-Men franchise as a whole proves to be a very popular punching bag, especially since X-Men: First Class fucked up the timeline. Hugh Jackman is brought up in so many jokes that he should’ve gotten a supporting actor credit. Deadpool’s botched appearance in X-Men Origins is naturally brought up once or twice, ditto for Reynolds’ ill-fated turn as the Green Lantern. But strangely enough, though Marvel’s cinematic output is alluded to a few times, no mention is made about the schism in the Marvel universe between the characters owned by Marvel/Disney and the characters on lease to Fox. That seems to me like a prime target for some meta humor. I wonder if someone at legal quashed that.
Oh, and of course it goes without saying that Stan Lee gets a cameo. I love it when filmmakers try to one-up each others’ Stan Lee cameos, and this one is a strong contender for the greatest yet.
Then we have Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), here serving as a voice of responsibility, heroism, doing the right thing, and so on and so forth. He’s basically the straight-laced goody-two-shoes to serve as a contrast with Deadpool’s self-serving immorality. And in the process, it hammers home the point that Deadpool is quite decidedly not your average cinematic superhero.
(Side note: Given how many inside jokes there are in this picture, I consider it a huge missed opportunity that the filmmakers couldn’t spare three seconds for the Colossus Yell.)
Colossus is joined by X-Men trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead (quoth Kitty Pryde in the comics, “Wow, we really have run out of names.”), played by newcomer Brianna Hildebrand. As your typical moody and withdrawn teenage girl, she plays a detached and disinterested kind of irreverence to contrast with Deadpool’s hyperactive motormouth.
(Side note: In the comics, NsTW was a telepath who could see the future. Here, she’s basically a walking bomb.)
As for the villains, Ed Skrein is on hand to play Ajax, little more than a sneering Brit with super strength an an unlimited pain threshold. Gina Carano plays Angel Dust, who pretty much serves as Ajax’s muscle. Deadpool has a couple of sidekicks as well: TJ Miller (no relation to director Tim Miller, so far as I can tell) plays Weasel, Deadpool’s confidante and favorite bartender; while Leslie Uggams plays Blind Al, a mouthy old blind woman who agrees to give Deadpool a place to stay. Their conversations about Ikea furniture are an especially random highlight — a blind woman trying to put together Ikea furniture is exactly as funny as it sounds.
Last but not least is Vanessa, played here by Morena Baccarin. I was very disappointed to find that Vanessa’s mutant abilities (she’s a shapeshifter in the comics) don’t manifest in this movie, but maybe they’re saving that for later films. That aside, it’s a great thing that Baccarin throws herself into this role with abandon and her chemistry with Reynolds is on point. Because the plot affords Vanessa precious little agency, and her all-important romance arc with Wade is more or less rushed through in the space of a single montage.
Which brings me to a very crucial point: The budget. This film was reportedly made on a budget of $58 million, and it shows. For one thing, the stakes are quite distinctly small and personal, instead of the huge global stakes we usually get in superhero cinema. For another thing, the screen time is very limited. Because the film has to breeze through 108 minutes, nobody in the supporting cast gets much in the way of development and so they’re all painted in very broad strokes. Granted, the actors make it work and the exaggerated characterizations fit with the goofy tone of the comedy. Even so, there’s the distinct possibility that Deadpool’s brand of humor might have been more effective if everyone else was playing the straight man and Deadpool was the only goofball. You know, like it is in the comics.
Another crucial drawback of the smaller budget (relative to other mainstream comic book movies, let’s make that clear) is that the action is extremely limited. Luckily, the filmmakers were clever enough to find ways of making it count. By far the most prominent concerns the opening brawl, which is split into sections as the plot switches between time periods to show Deadpool’s origin. This effectively means that the filmmakers get half a dozen smaller action sequences for the price of a single huge one. Quite ingenious, really.
Aside from two huge fight sequences bookending the film, we’ve got a couple of smaller and generally unremarkable fights here and there. Director Tim Miller proves himself to be unusually adept at action scenes for a first-time director — aside from the occasional wonky camerawork, the fight scenes all look great. It certainly helps that Miller stretches his budget by making the fight scenes funny and loaded with humor, rather than going for the biggest stunts and the most awe-inspiring CGI spectacles.
And really, that’s what it all comes down to. Though the action was always going to be important, it’s the sense of humor that was really going to make or break this movie.
Deadpool is pretty much exactly the movie that fans of the character have been clamoring for. It’s a tremendously faithful adaptation of the character, brought to the screen by talented filmmakers who wanted to portray his bloodlust and his crude humor no matter who they offended along the way. It also helps that the movie pokes fun of itself and other superhero films in a loving and geek-friendly — though no less incisive — way.
If you’re not a fan of the character and you have no interest in seeing a loudmouthed antihero make crude sexual double entendres, this was never going to be your movie. But even so, with superhero tentpole films racing to be bigger and louder and more expensive, there’s something to be said for a smaller and more streamlined movie that approaches the genre from a different angle and doesn’t cost nine figures to produce.
Chances are good that anyone who’s been expecting this will not come away disappointed. Even for those who haven’t been expecting it, I’d at least recommend a second-run or a DVD viewing just to give it a try. Also, I don’t know how much they’ll be charging for the unrated director’s cut, but I’m sure it’ll be worth every cent.