★★★ / ★★★★
“Deadpool,” written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, offers wickedly funny and savagely creative entertainment that turns by-the-numbers superhero pictures over their heads and bleeds them out a bit. Although the action sequences showcase bone-crunching and brain-splattering realism, what makes the film effective—and quite special—is the trash-talking, motormouth of an antihero named Wade Wilson, played with charisma and glee by Ryan Reynolds, who accepts a proposal from a stranger (Jed Rees) in order to be cured of cancer. Expectedly, things go horribly awry.
Right from its faux opening credits, its in-your-face bravado is refreshing. The background images and various camera angles employed force the viewers to orient their eyes to what is possibly going on while the texts on the foreground function as ticklish foreplay. It sets up the tone and mood of the picture—that just because nothing is meant to be taken too seriously does not mean substance must be sacrificed in order to make us laugh. Mainstream comedies within and outside of the superhero genre can learn a thing or two from this film’s approach.
Its sense of humor has range. Although pop culture references and allusions within the Marvel universe are abound, the script does not rely on these elements as its sole source of comedy. Through well-placed and well-timed flashbacks that pervade the first half, we get the impression that Wade, who embraces the name Deadpool after his most unfortunate and grotesque transformation, is an intelligent character with real thoughts, emotions, and motivations. He is silly but rough around the edges, witty but his big personality is rarely off-putting. Because we relate eventually to the protagonist beyond a fundamental level, what he finds humorous is funny to us, too. We like Wade before and after he becomes the masked antihero.
Action sequences are appropriately cartoonish, violent, and bloody. I admired that the picture is unafraid to show limbs being cut smoothly like warmed up butter, bullet holes going through heads and various body parts, and kicks and punches land hard without the camera moving too much and softening the blows. As a result, there is a consistent level of tension during the action scenes. Equally impressive is the film’s ability to remain true to its sarcastic and sardonic identity during the more kinetic moments. There is a persistent balancing act and so the material is never a bore.
The picture’s weakness is in its treatment of the lead antagonist. Although Ed Skrein plays Ajax, née Francis Freeman, with solid enthusiasm and a real presence, the character is never written as if he were the protagonist’s equal. This is a mistake because even though the film satirizes its own sub-genre, it belongs in that category nonetheless. Thus, a well-written, complete, and memorable villain must be established and fully fleshed out. There are numerous moments when Ajax feels too much like a villain-of-the-week rather than an antagonist so formidable that he is there to wreak havoc all season.
Directed by Tim Miller, “Deadpool” is outrageous, very funny at times, and has seemingly effortless creativity coursing through its darkly comic veins and arteries. The material surprises by finding different ways to be fresh and taking risks, qualities that must be cabled to its inevitable sequel.