If only “Deadpool” were as clever, dark and funny as it believes itself to be.
Self-satisfied to the point of irritation, “Deadpool” is the latest in an apparently endless supply of superhero films — and like just about every other new superhero movie, it’s clearly designed as the launching point for a future franchise. (See “Daredevil,” “Catwoman,” “The Green Hornet” and not one but two “Fantastic Four” efforts. Actually, I like you, so please DON’T see any of those movies.)
Directed with no small amount of flash and style by Tim Miller, “Deadpool” stars Ryan Reynolds in a bit of casting that’s almost too easy, seeing as how the character of Deadpool is a real wisenheimer, and Reynolds has long specialized in playing fast-talking quipsters.
The comically violent opening action sequence and the credits serve notice we’re in for a superhero movie that will be as much about spoofing the genre and winking at the audience as it will be about serving up a genuine storyline. In fact, the credits are kind of great, as we’re told the movie will feature “A British Villain” and a “CGI Character,” was produced by some “Real A–hats” and was written by “The Real Heroes.” (We also get references to Reynolds’ ill-fated turn as “Green Lantern,” his heavily criticized appearance as Deadpool in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and his 2010 “Sexiest Man Alive” People magazine cover.)
Clad in a pseudo-sadomasochistic, red-and-black leather costume, wearing a mask vaguely reminiscent of the getup sported by The Gimp in “Pulp Fiction,” Deadpool is an unstoppable killing machine who takes great pleasure in mowing down bad guys while keeping up a stream-of-consciousness monologue filled with one-liners, mostly lazy pop culture references, random thoughts (“Did I leave the stove on?”) and more than a few homoerotic observations. (Deadpool’s romantic interest is a woman, but the way he talks about Wolverine’s, um, equipment, and the conversations he has with men, make us wonder if he’s interesting in expanding his horizons.)
“Deadpool” hits the ground running with a gory shootout on a highway and those cool credits — but soon after that we’re plunged into a prolonged flashback in which we learn, you guessed it, THE ORIGINS OF DEADPOOL.
Again with the origin story? Whether it’s “Spider-Man” or “Ant-Man,” “The Hulk” or “Captain America,” “Wolverine” or “The Fantastic Four,” rare is the origin movie with an origin actually worth a giant chunk of a movie. (“Batman Begins” and “Iron Man” being two exceptions.) In “Deadpool,” with the anti-hero himself narrating the journey, even telling us when he breaks the fourth wall (and breaks the fourth wall of the fourth wall, making 16 walls, as Deadpool points out), we learn Deadpool was originally a former Special Ops badass turned mercenary named Wade T. Wilson.
Wade’s more than a bit of a jerk, and he takes sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain on his victims — but his targets are irredeemable criminals, so we sorta like the guy.
T.J. Miller has some winning moments as Wade’s best friend, a bartender who loves to give him a hard time. Morena Baccarin is the alluring Vanessa, who may or may not be a prostitute, goes quip-to-quip with Wade and is clearly designed to be a takeoff on the obligatory superhero girlfriend — but the role is really just the obligatory superhero girlfriend part. Just because a film acknowledges that doesn’t make it less so.
Wade falls in love with Vanessa, and he keeps marveling at how she’s so perfect it’s like a computer made her. Vanessa has an insatiable sex drive, at one point taking charge in a way I really can’t describe here. It’s a perfect life!
Until Wade learns he has terminal cancer.
Next thing we know, Wade has volunteered for an experimental and radical treatment — and we all know how well that sort of thing goes in superhero movies.
Ed Skrein is the aforementioned British villain, a torture specialist named Ajax who claims he feels no physical pain and no emotions whatsoever, though Wade certainly gets under his skin. In scene after scene after scene, Ajax inflicts unspeakable pain on Wade, who keeps the jokes coming even when he’s on the verge of dying. It takes far too long for Wade to emerge from the torture chamber as Deadpool, who now has superpowers, including the ability to heal from just about any wound — but is also hideously disfigured and even more manic than ever. (Deadpool’s back story could have been told in about five minutes’ screen time.)
Flash forward to present day, and Deadpool’s obsession with tracking down Ajax and making him pay. Along the way, he strikes up an uneasy alliance with mutants Angel Dust (Gina Carano) and Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), a Russian giant able to take on a metallic form.
Director Miller proudly flaunts the R rating with some creatively horrific action sequences, and Reynolds keeps up the banter till the very end. Problem is, “Deadpool,” like so many other satires, ends up being not all that different from the films it’s spoofing. Also, we’ve seen wisecracking anti-heroes time and again, from “The Mask” to “Iron-Man.” And it’s not really all that original to tell the story of a reluctant superhero who keeps telling everyone he’s not a superhero.
If “Deadpool” does well at the box office, no doubt we’ll see more chapters in the saga. I wouldn’t be surprised if I liked the sequel more than the original.
For one thing, we won’t get bogged down in an origin story.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Tim Miller and written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters.