At this point, whenever I go into another superhero movie, I'm mostly judging by whether it turns out to be an endeavor that feels like its own thing. Its own vision, its own story, anything from a singular mind and not some product rolled off the assembly line of formula action filmmaking that feels like it's become a perfected science in the last few years. Much to my surprise, Deadpool really did feel that way. This is a unique, vulgar, self-aware, filthy and somewhat depraved ride that manages to be entertaining and memorable, particularly in how much it stands apart from all the other superhero flicks of the moment. And that really is more than enough to recommend it.
Based on an underground Marvel comic book that's peppered with pop culture references, fourth wall breaking and in joke humor that amounts to a violent genre spoof, the film has been kicking around for the last decade as star Ryan Reynolds' pet project. Only now in the wake of the mass franchise wave was it given the green light by 20th Century Fox, whose only other superhero properties are the Fantastic Four and X-Men series. This is not a studio entirely beholden to formula yet, since its profits from the tentpoles aren't as out of this world as Marvel Studios or even WB, which owns the DC properties. No, Fox isn't exactly on the same page as those, which makes it prone to try a risk every now and then, and going with an R-rated comic that boasts some very adult and decidedly not for kids material isn't something those other studios would have jumped on, at least not before Deadpool's success (I'm guessing we may get a lot of them going forward, however).
But I think this decision was a wise one, because like I said, the best part about it is that it feels like its own movie, completely separate from the X-Men universe despite the detail that Deadpool is sort of an honorary, murderous member of the X-Men (I doubt we're going to see him in any of those films), which he himself jokes about. And the material benefits from a perfect match between actor and role, finally giving the years long quest of Ryan Reynolds to break out in something a definitive payoff. His dry, sarcastic, specific sense of humor has made him an odd fit and a total bore of a leading man for the last ten years, with only occasional glimpses (for instance in a movie like Van Wilder) of comedic talents that were perhaps being underused. Turns out he was born to play this part, and gives Deadpool such a manic, rip smart, non-stop verbal energy that he conjures occasional flashbacks to comics like Jim Carrey in his prime. He may have the ability to regenerate limbs after a sadistic science experiment gone wrong, but his real superpower is cutthroat, profane and pop-culture laden verbal gymnastics. You thought Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark was a wiseass? Yeah, this is him times a thousand.
Reynolds is the movie, dominating every frame of it, but the command of tone makes it feel more akin to a film like 1994's The Mask (coincidentally another Jim Carrey vehicle), with a wacky, cartoonish, dazzling air of unpredictability that you simply don't see in other examples of the genre. He talks to the camera, he quips about other movies and other heroes and makes all kinds of asides letting us know this is all a joke, and yet despite all this the movie manages to have a heart, which is actually the biggest surprise of all. It may not be worth describing too much of the plot, but lowlife criminal Wade Wilson finds his soulmate in Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a feisty woman worthy of his love, who matches his personality in every way, and after tragedy strikes his life and leads to ultimate physical deformity, every move he makes is guided by the goal of getting back to her. Adult relationships have been all but jettisoned in superhero movies these days, but this film has more sex and love in it than any from the last decade, and somehow within the realm of Deadpool's crazy universe there exists a soul in a movie that by all accounts, should be utterly soulless. The fact that it's not is something of a triumph.
I had a crazy good time during Deadpool, and even though it may be bound to inspire copycats that will ultimately work to cheapen any effect this one has, I give it all the credit in the world for daring to stay true to the anarchic nature of the source material, and producing something that's not just another generic, character free, hodgepodge romp of what may as well be anonymous actors in different colored tights fighting each other for no reasons that carry any weight or feelings of satisfaction. This one has real flavor to it.
* * * 1/2