‘Crass’ is about the best word to sum up the Deadpool experience – and your immediate reaction to the word will be the best predictor of your enjoyment of the film.
Ryan Reynolds is Wade Wilson, a.k.a Deadpool, a.k.a. the Merc with a Mouth, the quick-witted Marvel super/anti-hero last on screen in the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here, he’s a dishonorably discharged U.S. army vet diagnosed with terminal cancer and roped into an experimental treatment programme that fuses the cancer to his genetic structure – leaving him with the ability to heal from just about any injury, but covered head-to-toe by cancerous scars.
Deadpool was mis-adapted in the earlier Wolverine film, and fans of the character have long waited for a faithful adaptation – and here it is in all its irreverent glory. Deadpool hasn’t yet met a henchman he couldn’t decapitate, a minority he couldn’t offend, or a fourth wall he couldn’t break, and Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script brings all those elements to the fore.
As Wilson/Deadpool, Reynolds is childish, chaotic and energetic, a fountain of youthful enthusiasm overflowing with vicious barbs, insistent non sequiturs and the crudest of sex jokes. There’s an incessant energy to Reynolds’ performance, bouncing across the screen as both CGI ninja and irrepressible wordsmith. For every barb, Deadpool has a comeback, and for every comeback he has an irrelevant, off-colour addition.
X-Men stalwart Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) is introduced as a comedic foil, the straightlaced Russian steel giant providing many of the film’s strongest comedic strikes. His puritanical abstinence and pure-heartedness stands in for every other comic book film hitting cinemas across the summer, outmatched and hopelessly outpaced by Deadpool’s non-stop lunacy. He’s joined by Brianna Hildebrand’s astonishingly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead, the moody goth teen superhero we’ve all been waiting for. To drive home the don’t-take-this-too-seriously-or-else message, the whole thing is soundtracked by the finest hip hop the ‘80s and ‘90s had to offer.
Beyond all the jokes and insults though, perhaps Deadpool’s most impressive achievement is that it strikes a stronger emotional note than all of the last three years’ superhero epics put together. Deadpool’s transformation costs him his love, in the form of Morena Baccarin, and their unorthodox relationship is truly the core of the film. A romance for the ages it may not be (the film’s pivotal sex montage sets the tone pretty firmly), but there’s a poignancy and depth lacking in the rest of Marvel and DC’s output to date – an especially impressive achievement from a film that features its protagonist masturbating with a unicorn plushie.
Sadly, not quite every joke in Deadpool hits its mark, and it’s never quite funny enough to feel like it’s earned the right to be so relentlessly puerile. There’s also a distinct lack of straightmen – Deadpool should always be the weirdest guy in the room by far, and too often the supporting cast are just as wacky. The film shines most when Colossus is there for Deadpool to bounce off (sometimes literally), the contrast between them a welcome reminder of how far Deadpool’s tone sits from the rest of the superhero oeuvre.
It’s hard to deny that Deadpool is occasionally rough around the edges, and your enjoyment of the film will hinge an awful lot on just how funny you think dick jokes are. But it’s a breath of fresh air for an increasingly stale genre, a welcome burst of juvenile, immature energy that’s utterly committed to just being fun.
Words by Dominic Preston