In the animated closing credits for Deadpool, a roughly sketched version of our costumed hero rides around on a unicorn, stroking its not-so-majestic horn until it ejaculates a rainbow. That this image nicely encapsulates the tone of a movie that openly revels in juvenile provocations should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen one of its trailers. That it also evokes the gleefully trollish Internet culture that seemed to midwife this strange new superhero franchise into existence serves as food for thought.
First off, yes, Deadpool is offensive. You could even apply the label “problematic” if you like, but before you do, understand that that would be to play into the movie’s hand. This is a film that wants to offend. It wears its walkouts like a badge, holding up its arms and bellowing to its core fans, “Are you not entertained?!” But it’s a movie that, ultimately, would rather win people over than have them walk out.
In a case of cinematic Manifest Destiny, Ryan Reynolds plays the “Merc with a Mouth” (as Deadpool’s known in the comics), a part he’s clearly been preparing for his entire career. And he totally nails it. Like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Reynolds is so perfectly suited to the role it’s now impossible to imagine anyone else doing it. He plays Deadpool with a giddy “I can’t believe I get to do this!” enthusiasm that extends beyond the boundaries of the screen. Regularly breaking the fourth wall, he’s like a Saturday Night Live star who’s earned enough respect that the audience is willing to laugh with him as he loses it during a scene.
Hardcore fans will be thrilled to find their beloved character makes it to the screen satisfyingly intact. In terms of tone, this might be the most faithful comic book adaptation ever made — silliness, vulgarity, and even pathos survive the transition.
Reynolds starts the movie as a low-life mercenary with a spotty past who falls in love with someone equally messed up, Morena Baccarin as a prostitute named Vanessa. They meet cute at a seedy bar and proceed to flirt by one-upping each other with tales of childhood sexual abuse, a tactic we can only hope no one actually tries after seeing the movie. The two are soon engaged in an epic sex montage that’s simultaneously steamy, funny, and sexually fluid — not every superhero is secure enough in his masculinity to be “pegged” onscreen.
The party’s over when Wade finds out he has late-stage cancer and will soon die, but is saved by a shady organization looking to turn him into a super-powered slave. The procedure works, but he’s made horrifically ugly, and thus a hero is born.
From there, we get this weird mix of over-the-top violence and slapstick that feels like Bugs Bunny with buckets of blood. First-time director Tim Miller actually makes that feel tonally coherent, something I’m almost positive I won’t be able to say about Suicide Squad later this year. If anything, that star-packed megabudget “bad guys saving the world” movie is doomed to live in Deadpool‘s shadow, critically hobbled by a budget so large it’s too big of a risk for the studio to allow it to hit theaters with an R rating.
Something about that R-rating is cathartic, by the way. One of the most commonly voiced complaints about the superhero movie craze is that they’re all PG-13. Wolverine impales people with metal claws and nary a drop of blood is seen. Superman destroys half a city, and the body count is implied, never illustrated. When Deadpool kills, we get blood, decapitations, splattered bodies, and, in one memorably gory scene, a naked Ryan Reynolds impaled in a burning building. Finally, here is a comic book movie that revels in its source material’s violence and irreverence instead of acknowledging it with a coy wink.
In the grand scheme of things, Deadpool‘s shock value is shallow — the kind of thing Tipper Gore would cluck her tongue at, but not the kind of thing that leaves its audience with emotional scars. It’s a shock value that’s fun for those who decide to roll with it, and exhausting (not traumatizing) for everyone else. Deadpool the character is an equal opportunity offender who pulls off the rare trick of being offensive while not coming off as a closeted bigot.
In the coming years I predict I’ll find myself annoyed by this movie’s most hardcore fans, but still giggling at its grossest gags. My only complaint has nothing to do with offensiveness or provocation — no, I just wish the plot was as unconventional as the script. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool lives and dies by its tone and style while resolutely sticking to a time-honored hero structure that short-changes its chaotic protagonist with boring predictability. So my advice for the already-greenlit sequel is this: Get weirder.