Deadpool is like a teaser for a Trump presidency–loud, boorish, and stupid. Stuck with the aging X-Men and the not-so-Fantastic Four, the poor cousins at the Fox branch of the Marvelverse have taken the latest entrant in the superhero sweepstakes in a rare R-rated direction, and the results are grungier, slobbier, and meaner than the more tasteful product that rolls off the Disney assembly lines.
Deadpool, the transformed persona of the motormouthed mercenary Wade Wilson, has a tortured history in the comics, and a briefer one onscreen. His antics enlivened the rock-bottom X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), and, as a reward, despite career reversals, Ryan Reynolds is back to play him. Last seen muzzled in the part, Reynolds is completely unbound as Deadpool this time, giving the most strenuously comic performance this side of Jim Carrey circa 1994. If you found him aggravating in the turbo-charged red band trailers for Deadpool, the ones accompanied by posters winkingly suggesting that you “get a load” of him–well, maybe you best get a load of someone else.
Put off by the hard sell, I wasn’t looking forward to Deadpool, but I met it halfway, and I had a halfway good time. The “fourth wall”-busting elements, the ones that have been heavily advertised, and the ones the two comics geeks seated behind me repeated aloud when the bits unspooled in the actual movie (talk about aggravating…), aren’t all that successful, and the pop culture references that Reynolds blasts out of his ever-flapping gums frequently felt dated. Truth is I felt a little sorry for the actor, who, nearing 40, with a 25-year career behind him, is finally enjoying a big success he can call his own. When Cary Grant, say, poked fun at himself in Charade (1963), it was at his screen persona. With little to fall back on there except interchangeable rom-coms and 2011’s belly flop Green Lantern (which wasn’t that bad, and pointed the way toward DC Comics’ appealing “Berlanti-verse” on TV), Reynolds is obliged to skewer his bad movies and tabloid “himbo” image, literally laying his ass on the line to do so. It’s not self-deprecating, it’s self-lacerating. Reynolds has triumphed, but he’s won ugly, over his own questionable choices.
Drill down past the anchovy and pineapple toppings, to the crust of the movie featuring its “pizza face” character, and Deadpool is pretty good. The movie fights for us to overlook its basic unoriginality as another comic book movie, complete with sardonic opening credits that tick off every cliche thing about it (and closing credits that refuse to “pay off” in anything, like Disney’s). With animator Tim Miller at the helm, its reshuffling of a worn deck is modestly successful, however.
What we have here is a Beauty and the Beast story, between a messed-up merc manipulated by mutant generators and the loving stripper (Morena Baccarin) who pegs him, a departure from the sex-free norm of most of these stories. Once past the frenzied exposition the plot is refreshingly low stakes, as low as the lighting level throughout–she’s kidnapped, he has to get over his hangups and find her–and Baccarin’s sensible performance gives the movie ballast. Though it pretends not to be, this is an X-Men offshoot, and the two characters trying to bring Deadpool into the fold, the CGI Colossus and the atom-charged Negasonic Teenage Warhead (web star Brianna Hildebrand), are diverting. Ditto the new Transporter, Ed Skrein, and Gina Carano as the chief villains. T.J. Miller, as Deadpool’s pal Weasel, and Reynolds lob one-liners at each other with reasonable aplomb. The requisite big finish, which a movie of its type can’t get away from, at least has a novel setting. Also unexpected: Leslie Uggams, as Deadpool’s foul-mouthed blind roommate, trailing a past of cocaine and men. Deadpool, an overly playful dog of a movie, grabs hold of your sweater with its teeth, then releases you after 108 minutes.