Director Tim Miller's long-gestating "Deadpool" feature exposes its audience to its twisted worldview in the least amount of time possible, using its uproarious opening credits to tick off important character tropes rather than actual actor names (Brianna Hildebrand is "a moody teen" while Stefan Kapicic's Colossus is derided as "a CGI character") who are all starring in "some douchebag's film." These snappy, sometimes silly credits all play over a slick, gory slow-motion car crash that hints at major carnage to come, all with a cheeky twist (amid the swirling, crunched bodies gentling hurdling through space, there is various self-aware ephemera, like a People Magazine declaring Ryan Reynolds as the sexiest man alive and a Green Lantern card that made an entire audience groan). It's all bolstered by a purposely ironic musical choice: Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" blares out like the cherry on top of a "look, isn't this funny?" sundae.
And for a moment, it is, but not for long.
Although Deadpool has previously shown up in other features — Reynolds himself played him in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" — Miller's film functions as an origin story (see? already not so original). In his non-mutant form, Deadpool is Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces dude turned for-hire mercenary, one armed with both serious ass-kicking skills and a salty sense of humor (he's not called "the merc with the mouth" for nothing). Wade mostly busies himself with beating up baddies for chump change and hanging out at a local merc watering hole run by his pal Weasel (TJ Miller, providing standard comic relief in a movie already bent on being funny).
Things change for Wade when he meets the alluring Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who's also both very violent and funny. The pair fall in love and everything looks like sunshine and roses, until Wade is diagnosed with cancer. Eventually driven to find a cure, he submits to the weirdo come-ons of a mystery man who delivers him to Ajax's (Ed Skrein) "workshop" to be, presumably, made better. He's not. Deadpool, for all of his wit and winking self-awareness, is still bred from the X-Men line, and Ajax's "treatment" involves subjecting Wade to enough stress, pain and torture that his mutant genes activate and cure him.
When those genes do finally pop up, they turn Wade into a mutant capable of healing himself from everything, not just cancer, though his outward appearance is forever altered (and not for the better). In a rage, he destroys the workshop and sets his crosshairs on Ajax, the only man who may be able to change him back. Horrified by his appearance, Wade becomes Deadpool, slinks into the shadows and refuses to let Vanessa in on his new lifestyle until he can force Ajax to fix him.
It's a fine enough plan, and it's one punctuated by plenty of style, a solid self-awareness (and lots of fourth wall breaking), some pretty good jokes and the thorny realization that it will never pan out. Also, two of the X-Men show up, begging Deadpool to join their merry leagues. It's a bit of a mess, but even with its piled-on plot and lots of laughs, it still looks very much like a standard superhero origin film.
Even casual comic book movie fans are likely well aware of the years-long struggle to bring "Deadpool" to the big screen as a standalone film (the film is, like the X-Men franchise, not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Deadpool is a Marvel superhero and the film was partially produced by Marvel Entertainment, alongside 20th Century Fox), a complicated drama of inner-studio wrangling and competing interests that, while a fine enough talking point for a while there, holds little bearing on the final film itself. What is clear, however, is how much Reynolds and company clearly wanted to make this film, particularly for fans, and that good cheer and strong dedication shines through in every frame.
Reynolds is at his best here as Deadpool (and, alternately, as Wade), all snappy jokes and sly one-liners. He's genuinely fun (he's funny, too, sure, but really, he's fun) and he seems to relish the chance to give his chimichanga-loving hero the main stage that many people have so long desired. In a landscape where superhero roles are too often seen as paycheck parts, Reynolds breaks the mold. Too bad his film doesn't.
One of the primary selling points of "Deadpool" and its big differences with most studio fare is its R-rating, earned for "strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity" (plenty of people have tried to tout the film as the "first" superhero film to pick up an R, but that's just not the case, as it follows in the rating steps of other offerings as diverse as the "Blade" films, "Watchmen" and even the recent hit "Kingsman: The Secret Service").
Despite what that rating might tell you, the majority of the film's more adult-skewing elements lean towards the "strong violence" side of the scale, and every action scene is punctuated by the kind of bone-crunching violence that wouldn't be out of place in the "Saw" franchise. At one point, Deadpool wryly remarks that the film is really a horror movie, and while that particularly instance is caught up in psychological trauma, it's hard not to see the parallels elsewhere.
As is often the case with such violence, it eventually becomes numbing. By its midpoint, once the novelty of a superhero movie showing super levels of violence wears off, the thinness and lack of spark in the fight scenes becomes more readily apparent. By the film's end, they are hard to distinguish from any other superhero fare. Similarly, lack of imagination keep the film's prodigious swearing and occasional nudity from feeling like anything original. They appear to be shoe-horned into the film simply because they could be, not because they serve an essential purpose. And here we thought "Deadpool" would do something different.
"Deadpool" opens nationwide on February 12.