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Deadpool: A Superhero Who Makes Fun of Himself

As Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds is an entitled, smarmy, and immature superhero—and he knows it.

20th Century Fox

Deadpool is obnoxious and puerile and infantile and has an irritating meta tone so snide that it’s constantly in danger of nullifying the entire movie—and I still got a pretty big kick out of it. The superhero origin story has become so tired and rote at this point that you can recite it from memory: Regular person is given extraordinary powers, struggles to grasp and harness those powers, comes across an appropriate villain, emerges triumphant and looks forward to future adventures (and licensing opportunities). The fun part of Deadpool is that the lead character, the guy with the origin story, is fully aware of this and is constantly commenting on it. This proves surprisingly fruitful terrain for a comic book movie. Deadpool is both exhausted by superhero movies, and yet still believes in them.

Deadpool is Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a Canadian wise-cracking vigilante violent super-soldier do-gooder who doesn’t care about anyone or believe in anything until he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a fellow lost soul with a fractured spirit and loudmouth. They fall for each other instantly, and believably, until he is suddenly and shockingly diagnosed with cancer. In a last ditch effort to stay alive, he submits himself to an experimental treatment to bring out hidden mutant powers (or something), and ends up permanently scarred and totally indestructible. So he becomes Deadpool, a speed-riffing pop-culture freak who is also capable of killing dozens of people in a matter of seconds, one who is bent on revenge. He also serves as the somewhat unreliable narrator of his own story and is likely to freeze mid fight-scene to remind us that this scene is a little clichéd and he’s sorry about that; then he continues the fight, and you’re glad he did.

The movie is not inventively directed—it’s mostly standard issue superhero stuff—but it is ingeniously conceived. Deadpool is an immature, childish, clever man with superpowers but no particular bent on using them for good or evil: He just wants to go crazy with them and have a ball. Deadpool is the rare superhero who doesn’t mind using guns, so the fight scenes are ultraviolent and exist outside the typical rules of combat. Deadpool will shoot you in the face, chop off your arms, and pretend to “teabag” where your neck used to be, and he won’t shut up about the whole time. Hardcore comic fans will eat it up with a spoon: The movie is the running commentary you might have when watching a more conventional superhero movie, except now it’s the superhero saying it. But even with its ultraviolence, the movie never quite slips into the vacant nihilism of the Kick-Ass movies. Deadpool wants us to laugh—and we do—but it’s not completely disengaged from basic storytelling. Deep down, even if it doesn’t want to admit it, the film actually cares about its characters.

Much of this is because of the surprisingly strong romance at its center. This is one of the first comic book movies I can remember in which I legitimately believed the couple at its center entirely independent of any superpowers. Vanessa is occasionally a little too Perfect Woman As Conceived Of As A Comic Book Fan—she’s sexy, she’s sexually adventurous, she can quote Star Wars—but Baccarin gives her more dimensions than that, balancing well a somewhat unbalanced personality and her relief at finding Wade, who’s even more screwed up than she is. But the real revelation here is Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds has long grasped, with little success, at movie stardom, and you can see why people keep giving him chances: He’s stupidly handsome, able to carry a fight scene, and has some real comic chops, a quick wit and silver tongue honed in the world of sitcoms. He’s found pretty much his perfect role here, one where his entitled smarm works for him rather than against him; you won’t necessarily cheer for him, but you’ll certainly enjoy watching him. He’s a little proud of himself, but at least he admits it?

There are a few too many “look, we know we’re making a Deadpool movie and we’ll protect ourselves by making fun of ourselves for it” moments in the film. There are times you want the movie just to settle down and be a movie already. But then again: We’ve seen that enough times before. It might not always hold together, and it might pat itself back for its cleverness a little too often, but it is different and energetic and, yeah, at times, pretty damned funny. I’m tired of my superheroes all brooding and moody, or earnest and well-intentioned. Sometimes, it must be a gas to have super powers, simply for the sake of having super powers. Deadpool won’t inspire you. But man, it looks like fun.

Grade: B

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Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film, Grierson & Leitch. Follow them on Twitter @griersonleitch or visit their site