Silver Screen: Deadpool ***1/2
Marvel’s iconic wall-crawler Spider-Man was born when a radioactive spider bit an ordinary teenage boy. Deadpool, Marvel’s newest spandex star, seems to have been created when some schlub was bitten by a radioactive teenager.
Deadpool’s powers include rapidly accelerated healing, but more notably superhuman apathy, a perpetual-motion machine of a motormouth, and the ability to find a dumb sex joke in anything.
Deadpool isn’t entirely a departure for the latest crop of superhero films. The self-awareness, snark, and carnage is familiar from the similarly super-sophomoric Kick-Ass movies. This is, however, the first time something so off-color has been directly linked to one of the massive corporate franchises that rumble like megafauna through the cinemascape. These franchises have come to be so carefully tended and micromanaged as to all have the same flavor, or rather, one of two flavors: either the monotonous corn-syrup treacle of the Marvel empire or the affected bitterness of DC.
Deadpool is apparently technically an X-Man, unregistered or not, and thus belongs to the adjunct Marvel movies of Fox. (This is what an interest in film gets you in 2016— the obligation to keep track of which studios own the rights to which stables of cartoon characters.) In other words, he can run across Wolverine and his pals, but he and the Avengers don’t swing in the same circles.
And he does run into the X-Men, or an X-Person and an intern, anyway. Second-string muscleman mutant Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) plays straight man to Deadpool’s wiseguy.
Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is formerly Wade Wilson, a snarky mercenary who found a reason to live just before he received a death sentence. His new, black-humored love Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) urges him to fight a terminal-cancer diagnosis, which prompts him to enlist in a secret science experiment.
If you’ve seen a Marvel movie, you know how those go. You get injected with something that makes you angsty and strong, and then the bad guy injects himself with the same thing but goes nuts. Deadpool sticks close to the company formula, even if the execution is distinct enough to give it some novelty. Thus the handsome hitman Wilson mutates into the disfigured but unkillable Deadpool at the hands of his tormentor, a former fellow test subject who calls himself Ajax (Ed Skrein).
Zombieland cowriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick hit upon a clever conceit: They posit Wade’s refusal to lose his sense of humor as his act of heroic resistance. It lends some character to the one-liners, which range from groan-worthy to great. Reynolds unleashes them in a barrage, as if hoping you’ll be laughing hard enough at one good one to overlook another two duds. For the most part, it works.
The irony of Deadpool’s R rating is that few movies have ever been so perfectly suited for thirteen-year-olds. Director Tim Miller gratuitously revels in the R rating, apparently wowed at the sheer notion of boobs and superheroes together in the same frame.
The unambiguously adolescent energy has its downsides. Like any given teenage boy, the movie is equally fascinated by and scared of women. Deadpool’s lady love is a hooker— of course— who’s strong willed and independent, but just enough that when he vanishes she’s only able to graduate to cocktail waitress at a strip club.
Despite its faults, Deadpool succeeds at exactly what it sets out to do— mash up comedy and unhinged violence into a live-action superhero cartoon. The terrifically funny Reynolds succeeds at channeling the artful insanity of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, as well as a standup comic’s timing.
Maybe making a hyperviolent superhero comedy sounds like a limited ambition, and perhaps it even is. But consider that, despite the glut of superhero fare, so few of these movies have distinctive personalities. Deadpool feels like a deliriously dirty little adventure playing out in some shabby corner of a bigger, shinier blockbuster universe— but one that’s sneakily more fun than the main event.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillerComedy.