It must be a sign of superhero fatigue that studios are injecting life into the genre via characters who declare that they want nothing to do with heroics. While the posse of baddies known as the DC Comics “Suicide Squad” will be rolling into theaters later in the summer, Marvel is unveiling their own foul-mouthed antihero just in time for Valentine’s Day. Ryan Reynolds stars as the titular superpower-enhanced jerk in “Deadpool,” a sarcastic, cheeky chap in a red suit wielding double katanas – though his tongue is sharper than his swords.
This ain’t your kid brother’s superhero movie. The hard R rating notwithstanding, “Deadpool” is a fourth-wall breaking meta commentary on the tropes of the superhero, with an expository flashback nested inside Deadpool’s introductory fisticuffs. During a brutal and bloody massacre on a highway bridge in search of the mysterious “Francis,” Deadpool decapitates goons and causes a multi-car pile up, all the while hurling highly creative and vulgar insults at his victims, with time stretching and pausing for him to fill the audience in on his backstory.
Reynolds arrived in the 2002 National Lampoon college comedy “Van Wilder,” and both that role and “Deadpool” make excellent use of his smarmy comedic delivery. His other, more serious comic book performances have fallen flat (exhibit A: “Green Lantern”), but it’s a good thing that Marvel gave him another chance, because this role fits Reynolds like a glove, playing to his snarky strengths.
“Deadpool” might feel innovative, but the story itself is standard-issue: guy meets girl, guy saves girl. The guy, Wade Wilson, a mercenary for whom no job is too small, and the girl, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) fall in love, bonded by their dark humor and sexual appetite. When Wade discovers he has advanced-stage cancer, he undergoes an underground experimental treatment, in which his mutant genes are tortured into life by Francis (Ed Skrein) and his henchlady Angel Dust (Gina Carano). The treatment works, imbuing him with powers of super healing and strength, but the side effects are a horrific disfigurement. The vain Wade can’t bring himself to face his girlfriend, and takes on the Deadpool nickname and face-covering suit in order to search for a cure from Francis.
Reynolds’ energetic motor-mouth performance has its entertaining moments, but a lot of the talk is just smoke and mirrors. While Deadpool disavows the hero thing, the film results in a “Perils of Pauline”-esque rescue of a pretty girl, and the vanquishing of a sneering villain. Women are objects to be saved or sexually leered at (not even the awesomely tough Angel Dust escapes this treatment). Two “X-Men” characters serve as foils for the Deadpool antihero philosophy while offering him backup: Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). While Negasonic sports a rad buzz cut that’s almost as rad as her explosive powers, Deadpool writes her off as a texting teen with a ’tude.
The veneer of twisty storytelling structure, dirty jokes and gory violence can’t cover up the fact that that ultimately, “Deadpool” is a conventional tale about a guy and his powers, with a surprisingly old-fashioned view of gender, love and relationships. What would have been truly genre-bending, innovative and different? A major action film with a character like Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the lead.
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