When Deadpool shoots, he kills, and when he pokes at the conventions of the superhero movie genre, he twists his katana. Tim Miller’s Deadpool is a satirical exercise in excess along the lines of Paul Verhoeven’s original Robocop—it is gratuitously violent, profane, and self-aware. And like Robocop, Deadpool manages to orchestrate outrageous and oversized riffs on genre hallmarks into something that works better and functions more enjoyably than that which it skewers. Deadpool is an ideal superhero movie.
The superhero genre of movies has long deserved a kick in the ass, for all of its craven pandering, low-stakes bombast, inert storytelling, and two-dimensional characterization. Watching an Avengers movie is like watching a bunch of people in spandex treading water for two and a half hours until (spoiler alert) they save the world. Again. Our hero Dead, meanwhile, shits in the pool for giggles.
He makes it all look so easy—obnoxiously easy, at first. “Oh hello,” says Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool, breaking the fourth wall as his comic book cognate is known to do. “I know, right? Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?” Wolverine’s, as it turns out. So much of the humor here derives from stating the obvious, from merely acknowledging the setting, or saying something discordantly banal. In the middle of an explosion, as the scenery around him slows to the customary speed, highlighting the gravity of the ensuing chaos, Deadpool interjects levity: “Shit. Did I leave the stove on?” he wonders aloud. The movie’s very title sequence sets up the roasting atmosphere: “Starring God’s Perfect Idiot,” is how it credits Reynolds before going on to list, “A Hot Chick,” “A British Villain,” “A CGI Character,” “A Moody Teen,” “A Gratuitous Cameo.” This movie, per itself, was “Produced by Asshats,” “Directed by an Overpaid Tool,” and “Written by the Real Heroes Here.”
And so it is. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s script is bursting with unlikely pop cultural references (Deadpool loves Wham!, has jerked off to Bernadette Peters, fantasies about giving Meredith Baxter Birney a Dutch oven, name-checks Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, and compares the virtues of the infomercials for Slap Chop and Shake Weight). It gleefully shows you what it’s doing at almost every turn—“I don’t know, might further the plot” is how his bartender friend Weasel persuades him to talk to the mysterious figure who ends up recruiting him for the experiment that turns him into Deadpool—and comes off as stocked with far less bullshit than just about every other superhero film made since at least 2008’s The Dark Knight, if not 2003’s X2. “It’s funny, I only see the two of you,” says Deadpool to the X-Men he eventually teams up with, Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). “It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.”
Deadpool doesn’t just break fourth walls, he makes them multiply. After signaling to camera yields a flashback in which his past self then signals to the camera, he notes, “Fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break—that’s like 16 walls.” That kind of giddiness is kept up throughout Deadpool, a movie that’s high on its own fumes. Reynolds channels none of his contemporaries as much as Jim Carrey, farting as he crosses the room his roommate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) sits in. “Hashtag, drive by,” he chirps.
Deadpool is infinitely quotable, the kind of riotous good time that demands multiple viewings because so many jokes will go unheard under the laughter at the joke that preceded them. The zaniness extends beyond quick gags and into existential queries: “This is confusing!” says Deadpool at one point, confronting a female villain. “Is it sexist to hurt you? Is it more sexist to not hit you? The line is blurry.” Later, Colossus goes in for the attack on villain mutant Angel Dust (Gina Carano) and notices that her breast is exposed. He lets her know and allows her to adjust herself before they continue their battle, all the while standing in front of her so as to obscure her nudity from the audience and keep the joke morally sound. What’s surprising about Deadpool isn’t that it’s a screwball comedy, it’s that it manages to be a responsible screwball comedy.
There’s a palpable soul here that other movies are too scared or dumb to represent. The stakes are very real—instead of the bloodless violence that most superhero movies serve up in order to be rated PG-13, trivializing death in the process, Deadpool’s gun ends lives and his swords disembowel. He points out early via voiceover that this is “technically murder” and he’s right.
But the extreme self-awareness and violence are only part of the story. Deadpool himself refers to the movie as a romance—and then a “horror movie,” upon receiving the treatment that gives him superhuman healing abilities while also disfiguring his face so that he looks like, according to Weasel, “Freddy Krueger face-fucked a typographical map of Utah.” The real heart of this story concerns Deadpool’s estrangement from his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Deadpool, whom she knows by his human alter ego Wade Wilson, is too self-conscious to let her know that he’s still alive after his transformation (as he attempts to approach her on the street, his confidence is diminished by strangers’ shocked reactions to his pizza-esque face). Their relationship is built on physical attraction and sexual chemistry, not just the narrative’s necessity of a romantic connection as it is in so many other major-studio movies today, it seems. We watch their relationship flower in a hilarious montage of their first year together, in which they try out different kinds of sex based on whatever holiday it is (Halloween finds him giving her head in plastic vampire fangs, Thanksgiving involves food play, and he gets pegged on International Women’s Day). There’s a real reason for them to be together and, a real reason why he comes to feel that’s impossible. Ultimately, my investment in their happy ending was also very real.
Comic-book movies tend to promote a sort of hero worship that demands suspension of disbelief and a sort of dissociation from reality. Deadpool, on the other hand, goes for relatable, looking you right in the face and speaking directly to you and your emotions. It’s a simple trick, and yet in rescuing us from the mundanity of cinematic spandex inevitability, Deadpool is something that superhero movies rarely are: truly heroic.
Image via 20th Century Fox