Released: 8 February 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $58 million
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, and Stefan Kapičić/Andre Tricoteux
After mercenary for hire Wade Wilson (Reynolds) contracts terminal cancer, he turns to Francis Freeman/Ajax (Skrein), who subjects him to round-the-clock torture to activate his latent X-Gene. The experiment is a success, transforming Wade into a near-immortal Mutant but also horrifically disfiguring him and leading him on a bloody quest for revenge.
Deadpool was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld back in 1991; originally an antagonist who featuring in the duo’s New Mutants comics, the self-styled “Merc With a Mouth” gained significant popularity over the years, especially once he became self-aware and began breaking the fourth wall. This popularity eventually led to his own solo title, a series of team-ups with other Marvel heroes, appearances in Marvel/X-Men-related videogames, and even a cameo appearance in the beloved X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997). Deadpool made his live-action debut in the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009); here, the character was expertly portrayed by Ryan Reynolds (who had been eyed for the role as far back as 2004) and his inclusion was intended to setup a solo spin-off for the character.
After X-Men Origins was critically panned and following the poor reception of the Reynolds-led Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011), however, 20th Century Fox (who had bought the film rights to the X-Men franchise some time ago) got cold feet about producing an expensive superhero film full of violence and cuss words. Yet, after director Tim Miller’s early test footage mysteriously leaked online to an overwhelmingly positive response, Fox committed to releasing the film as the director and actor wished but with a much smaller budget than traditional superhero films. As it turned out, however, the studio was wrong to be apprehensive and right to produce the film on a tighter budget as Deadpool eventually brought in over $780 million in worldwide gross which, alongside it’s overwhelmingly positive critical reception, more than justified the greenlighting of a sequel and a continued investment in the character on their part.
As described by Deadpool himself, Deadpool is, at its heart, a traditional love story of boy meets girl, boy contracts terminal cancer, boy acquires superhuman powers, boy gets girl. It’s the classic, age-old tale we’ve all come to know and love…just with more crotch shots and gratuitous violence than you might remember.
Right off the bat, Deadpool opens with an impressive slow-motion shot right in the middle of Deadpool unleashing the carnage on a busy highway while Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” plays and numerous sight and visual gags fill the screen (the majority of them poking fun and the cast and crew of the film and setting up Deadpool’s trademark crude humour). This highway sequence acts as a bridging device as Deadpool, directly addressing the camera and through the power of voiceover, explains his origin up to that point and we continuously return to the highway to see Deadpool blowing the brains out of Ajax’s men and skewering them with his blades.
It turns out that Deadpool was just as childish and sadistic before he acquired his powers; as a mercenary for hire, Wade took on a variety of jobs issued to him by his kind-of-sort-of friend/business acquaintance Weasel (Miller). While he is characteristically coy about the exact specifics of his past, using dark humour to twist the exact truth of his background, he openly admits to having a “soft spot” and wishing to make some kind of small difference to people’s lives.
It’s in the midst of this cavalier lifestyle that he meets Vanessa (Baccarin), an absolutely gorgeous woman who appears to be just as snarky and unhinged as he. The two immediately hit it off and spend an entire year doing little other than screwing like animals and falling in love. Right as Wade begins to feel alive again, though, he (literally) falls ill with terminal cancer and, unwilling to drag Vanessa into that “shit show” (as he calls it), packs up and leaves to die alone.
For a character who is known for little more than cutting people’s heads off, spouting crude jokes and nonsensical one-liners, and engaging in mindless violence, Deadpool is a surprisingly tragic and relatable character even after he has become a nigh-unstoppable one-man-army. Reynolds excels in the role and I literally cannot imagine anyone else bringing as much humour, heart, and snarky bad-assery to the role. It’s easily the part he was born to play and you can tell that he relishes every last blood-soaked moment of it.
Opposing Deadpool is Ajax, a role that demands little more from Ed Skrein than to be a stereotypical “British villain” but which he brings such a slimy arrogance to that you can’t help but want to see Deadpool get his hands on him. A former patient of the same facility Wade ends up in, Ajax’s mutation leaves him incapable of feeling pain (or anything else) and not only superhumanly strong but completely sadistic as well. As a result, he’s not only the perfect kind of amoral asshole but also a formidable threat in his own right since he can’t feel pain and Deadpool can heal from any injury, allowing the two of them to just go absolutely nuts on each other once they finally face off.
Ajax is joined by Angel Dust (Carano), a Mutant who is superhumanly strong; as is the crutch of the majority of the henchpeople in X-Men films, the role doesn’t really require much from Carano other than to stand around looking intimidating and bring the pain when required but it’s refreshing to see a woman in the role of the “muscle”. Her presence is inoffensive enough and she even manages to work in a few subtle character traits of her own here and there (she constantly chews on toothpicks and is even somewhat flustered in her fight against Piotr Rasputin/Colossus (Kapičić/Tricoteux)).
Speaking of Colossus, this isn’t the underutilised character you know from previous X-Men films as portrayed by Daniel Cudmore; instead, Colossus is a colossal (pun intended) fully computer-generated character and always shown in his organic steel form. Sporting a true Russian accent and portrayed as a veteran of the X-Men, Colossus acts as Deadpool’s conscious and would-be-mentor figure as he attempts to persuade Wade away from the blood-soaking path he has put himself on and become a true hero as an X-Man.
Joining Colossus is an entirely new character to these films, the preposterously-named Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Hildebrand); a typical moody, anti-social, and rebellious teenager, Negasonic mainly exists to be the butt of Wade’s numerous pop culture references, to spout equally-mean comments back to him, and to explode in atomic bursts for the film’s finale. While they could have used any other teenage X-Man for this role, the filmmakers specifically selected the character based on her striking name and had to negotiate with Marvel Studios in order to include her. While her powers may be different, she’s a decent enough character in her own right, especially coming into her own in the battlefield.
What separates Deadpool from other superhero films, though, is its presentation. Superhero films have been violent before; they’ve had swearing and killing and blood but they’ve never quite been like Deadpool. The film is an action/comedy, full of visual gags, constant one-liners and insults, and more violence than you can shake a stick at. Deadpool is relentlessly brutal in his methods, blowing brains out, splitting guys in two, and even cutting his own hand off to escape custody. He’s an insatiable killing machine, full of righteous anger but also with a surprising amount of pathos built into his character. While it’s hard to believe that the damage done to his face is enough to truly turn off any woman, much less one as devoted to him as Vanessa, the way his monstrous appearance affects his usual bold-as-brass confidence is affecting and it’s easy to buy into his quest for revenge against Ajax.
Deadpool is a brisk, non-stop action piece; the film hits the ground running and even in its slower, more poignant moments, it never drags or feels extraneous. Rather than worry itself with the disastrous continuity of the X-Men films, Deadpool exists instead in its own bubble that is adjacent to, and directly inspired by, the existing X-Men franchise but very much its own thing and it never shies away from poking fun at the films that have proceeded it or the mess Fox made of their continuity.
Speaking of which, the film goes out of its way to not only mock the treatment of Deadpool in X-Men Origins (Deadpool clearly acts as though that film never happened or was some kind of awful nightmare) but also Reynolds’ experiences on Green Lantern. Very little escapes the film’s humourous grilling, either; Deadpool references having to perform sordid act on Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in order to get his own film, regards Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) as a bad father for always allowing his family to get taken, stages its entire finale on what is clearly the remains of a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, and features two incredibly fun “cameos” from Jackman himself.
Having a smaller budget really benefitted Deadpool; it meant that what little money it had had to be put to good use rather than on elaborate special effects and gratuitous CGI. It also allows the film to tell a far more grounded and focused story; the spotlight is on Deadpool the entire time, as it should be, and though it does include the X-Men they are used sparingly and in service of the film’s greater narrative rather than clogging the film’s runtime up with pointless cameos and fan service. Deadpool’s wise-cracking nature, jokes, and violent actions are fan service enough and, thankfully, remain the central hook for the film from start to finish.
I wasn’t really the biggest fan of Deadpool going into this film; I find X-Men comics very dense and nearly impenetrable so I hadn’t really read too much about him beyond what I saw online. This actually benefitted me in a lot of ways; it meant I wasn’t too bothered by how badly 20th Century Fox neutered the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and it meant that I would be seeing the film without high expectations. And, yet, Deadpool exceeds those expectations continuously the more I see it. I honestly find it difficult to talk about Deadpool; comedies are a difficult genre to really describe at the best of times, I find, and the only way you can really appreciate Deadpool’s humour and appeal is to just watch it for yourself. It really is an impressive and incredibly enjoyable action romp; even if the film hadn’t been full of gratuitous violence or swearing, there would still be loads left over to enjoy, I think, but the fact that the filmmakers just went in balls deep and decided to do an unapologetically true adaptation of Deadpool’s unique character is truly admirable. I honestly thought that the one-two-punch of Deadpool and Logan (Mangold, 2017) would open the doors for R-rated action films to once again be successful in Hollywood. That resurgence didn’t really come to pass, unfortunately, but we did get a pretty decent sequel out of it (I honestly struggle to pick my favourite of the two and often settle for just watching both back to back) and that doesn’t dilute the fact that Deadpool is an incredibly bad-ass and hilariously enjoyable experience from start to finish.
What are your thoughts on Deadpool? Do you feel it did a better job of capturing the character’s essence than X-Men Origins: Wolverine or were there parts that disappointed you? What did you think of Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal and can you think of any other pitch-perfect castings in films? What was your first introduction to Deadpool and what do you think of him as a character? How are you celebrating Deadpool’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on Deadpool, and the X-Men, drop a comment below.