You can see almost immediately that Tim Miller’s adaptation of Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefield’s Deadpool comic doesn’t have the full might of 20th Century Fox behind it. Its relatively low budget ($58 million, which is nothing on, say, Age of Ultron’s $280M) is obvious from the fairly lightweight supporting cast, limited locations and reined-in spectacle. Even though Miller’s film ends with an explosive showdown, it never matches the scale of your typical superhero blockbuster. This might soon change.
Years in the making, Deadpool has long presented a marketing conundrum for the studio. It’s a superhero movie set in the family-friendly-ish X-Men universe, starring a foul-mouthed, ruthless and self-referential antihero. Get it wrong, and Deadpool could be a spectacular failure, but get it right and it could begin a whole new chapter for superhero movies. They got it right, at least as far as the studio is concerned: Set for huge box office returns, Deadpool is so strong and has such appeal it should bust the genre beyond the PG-13 barrier and lead to a glut of major comic book movies made just for adults.
Deadpool moves always at a breakneck pace, hungrily cramming as much as it can into its 108-minute running time, as though Miller and producer-star Ryan Reynolds were in the decade-plus of pre-production just storing up ideas and gags. In fact, Deadpool introduces its title character with a wedgie, as he and a car full of bloody corpses fly through the air above a New York highway. From there the movie jumps in and out of flashback to tell how Wade Wilson (Reynolds) met love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and got turned into a disfigured mutant by Ed Skrein’s sneering Ajax, putting the Merc With a Mouth on a super-powered collision course with his maker.
Not all the film’s gags work, but Deadpool’s sheer determination to break free of the shackles of its genre lends it more than enough energy to compensate. Per the Deadpool comics, the movie is, atypically for superhero cinema, gory, profane and loaded with sex jokes. Our superhero often breaks the fourth wall, stopping occasionally to chat to the audience or “cue the music.” And like the comic but unlike most comic book movies (except for Guardians of the Galaxy’s popular soundtrack), Deadpool lets our world in: There are references to Adventure Time, Freddie Krueger and Hugh Jackman; there’s pop music used ironically, like Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” accompanying the mischievous opening credits (which include “Some Chick” and “British Villain”).
Deadpool more than compensates for its budgetary shortcomings with its throw-everything-at-the-wall inventiveness. Some of the jokes are genuinely shocking—not always because of their puerility, but sometimes simply because of how they so boldly dare to challenge the norm. You have Reynolds as Deadpool mocking Reynolds’ career and acting talent, and openly admitting the reason you only see two minor X-characters—Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), making extended cameos as Deadpool’s “sidekicks”—in the curiously empty X Mansion is because the studio wouldn’t cough up the money to pay for any others.
Reynolds, after years spent searching for a franchise to call his own, has finally struck gold. Days before Deadpool’s release, Fox announced a sequel was already in development. Obviously they knew they were onto a good thing: The Deadpool movie has its flaws, but there’s clearly a lot of mileage in the character himself. Reynolds, a motormouth frequently hired to play characters both charming and irritating, is perfectly cast as Wade Wilson, but props must ultimately go to screenwriters Paul Whernick and Rhett Reese for successfully bringing the Looney Tunes anarchy of the Deadpool comic to life. While first-time feature director Miller doesn’t prove particularly stylistically adventurous, Whernick and Rheese have come up with something quite radical: With a lightness of touch, the pair simultaneously introduce so many new concepts—the superhero movie as bawdy rom-com, the superhero as nihilistic meta-narrator—while keeping on top of telling the Wade Wilson origin story.
Deadpool ends on a relatively unoriginal note, but elsewhere, the movie admirably and forcefully forges its own identity. Loud, scrappy and intentionally provocative, if it were a regular R-rated comedy, Deadpool’s “taboo” ingredients—sex montages, f-bombs, TJ Miller riffing obscenely, so much flagrant murder—wouldn’t be considered boundary-breaking at all. But in a superhero movie, this stuff feels revolutionary.
Director: Tim Miller
Writer: Paul Whernick, Rhett Reese
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Ed Skrein
Release Date: February 12, 2015