Funny Ha Ha
On first glance Deadpool, an adult spinoff from Fox’s X-Men universe, looked about as welcome as…well, a glib Ryan Reynolds ironocaust. Reynolds, a lifelong fan of Marvel’s “Merc with the Mouth”, as he no doubt realised the character was tailor made for him, has lobbied to bring the profanity spouting, wise cracking antihero to the screen for years. Indeed, though the world’s fortunately forgotten, he’s already played him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. On that weird occasion, everything that was good about the character – his personality, sense of humour, was stripped out. Poor Reynolds, Wade Wilson at last, even had to suffer the indignity of personifying a version whose mouth had been sealed. Imagine a silent Axel Foley and you realise how ridiculous an idea this was.
But sometimes, not often admittedly, but just once in a blue moon, the film gods bestow a second chance. Reynolds’ campaign to do the character justice with a second bite of the cherry, culminated in test footage being released online with the man who would be Wade again, in full-on belligerent, caustic mode. The result? A web meltdown and a greenlight for a $58m origin story, which thanks to Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past and its timeline tinkering, supersedes the previous performance in the official Fox Marvel canon.
But does Deadpool earn its second chance? Well, trailers suggested this would be one of those conspicuous R-rated efforts, with sex, violence and swearing crowbarred in to sate an older teenager audience. Tim Miller’s movie certainly plays that way but crucially it gets two things very right. One, it’s a movie with a bit of heart; a love story as billed, though with tongue in cheek, that actually delivers a couple you like and may care about, and two, it’s witty. Not all the time, but enough to endear you to Reynolds’ performance. The risk with a movie like this, i.e. one tailored to meet the imaginary checklist of a certain strata of the ticket buying public, is that it tries too hard, a film too crude and lewd to be truly enjoyable. Fortunately, Deadpool pulls back when it matters, remembering to be likable, much like the ‘80s movies it frequently references.
Yes, in case you missed it from the marketing, Deadpool’s a postmodern comic book movie, complete with ironic, self-reflexive credits, forth wall breaks and Reynolds openly acknowledging its status as a movie within the X-Men cinematic universe. On paper, there’s every reason to think this would get old fast, and that close to two hours of pop culture jokes, fast talking and self-awareness would be exhausting. Yet it works, primarily because Miller and Reynolds ride the line between comic book movie and zany spoof with a welcome lightness of touch. The sense of fun cuts through, so too the opportunities afforded to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to lampoon the very formula they reuse.
The freedom granted by the R-rating and comic tone, allow for fun variations on well-worn themes, like Gina Carino’s breast popping out during a fight and X-Man Colossus breaking off to point it out and minimise her embarrassment. The scene pretty much sums up Deadpool’s contribution to its own universe. It’s an X-Men movie where both Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds exist, where the movie’s budget limitations are flagged, but where, thanks to this breezy spin on the mythology, all the philosophical and moral seriousness associated with these movies, has been gleefully jettisoned. The result is something like Sam Rami’s Darkman with jokes substituted for style.
It’s still an X-Men flick that hits all the beats you’d expect, allowing Reynolds to crossover should audiences demand it, and therefore not quite the rule breaker it pretends it is, but so what? Deadpool’s funny. You wanna see Stan Lee DJ at a strip club? Or Ryan Reynolds fucked with a strap-on? Well now you can. X-Men: Apocalypse is going to be a sombre entry by comparison.