Someday, in the midst of explaining “how things used to be” to our children and our children’s children, those of us old enough to remember Y2K may be called upon to explain an unimaginable era when comic books – even those featuring superheroes – branded their readers as social outcasts. Along with concepts like “keyboards” and “glaciers,” this idea may be tough to grasp in 20 or 30 years, but we’ll try to convey a different time and the shift in culture. We’ll recall how the age-old battle between Marvel and DC moved to the big screen, and we’ll debate whether Twilight was the downfall of Comic Con. Then, when our robot children ask us when we truly knew that comic books had come to live in the trendier part of the mainstream, we’ll tell them about Deadpool. Because whether or not you end up liking Deadpool, there is absolutely nothing nerdy about this film. From the very beginning of the marketing, this is a movie that was made to be cool.
Deadpool, for those who missed or were confused by the marketing, is this weekend’s submission to the super human (but not necessarily superhero) film genre. The titular character is part of the Marvel/X-Men universe and, played by Ryan Reynolds, made an appearance in 2009’s Wolverine. Aside from a few winking jokes about Hugh Jackman, Reynolds has the screen to himself this time around, and the role fits him like so much red and black spandex. Whether Reynolds as Deadpool is a fit for you is going to depend very much on what you think of the actor’s style; both fans and detractors of Reynolds are likely to get exactly what they expect.
I don’t want to spoil anything since the movie skips around in time to reveal the story gradually, but the basics are that Wade Wilson (the guy who becomes Deadpool) is faced with a choice that will impact his life and his finance, does the risky thing (because love). When he gets lied to and kind of screwed as a result, spends a lot of the movie seeking vengeance. Bloody, bloody vengeance. The only thing Deadpool has more of than violence is humor. Often the two overlap, which works better once you train your brain not to think that hard about it.
In crafting the movie Deadpool would – and would not – become, screenplay writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Tim Miller did their homework and learned from some of the comic-based movies that came before. Guardians of the Galaxy is not only one of the most successful franchise kick-offs in recent years, it’s also one of the funniest, and the team behind Deadpool was paying attention. Deadpool’s humor, tone, and style are consistent with the original comic, as is Deadpool’s inclination to break the 4th wall. But a movie with this much focus on jokes instead of, say, social allegory or inner turmoil might have been a tougher sell five years ago.
Deadpool also uses its soundtrack in some of the same ways as Guardians. The music in Deadpool isn’t era-specific, but sprinkling recognizable hits by everyone from Salt-N-Pepa to Neil Sedaka through the movie is much more reminiscent of a comedy than a superhero origin story. Also, Miller has some experience with visual effects and title sequences (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), but based on the way the opening credits are shot, the much-lauded slow motion scene featuring Quicksilver in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past didn’t escape his notice either.
Perhaps the most significant lessons Deadpool takes from recent films in the genre are not the successes, but the disappointments. Specifically, Deadpool will never be accused of being excessively dark and humorless, which is a criticism of some of the recent DC-universe films in particular. The film takes very seriously the practice of not taking itself seriously and has no interest in gravity of any kind. The Deadpool character isn’t trying to save a city or prevent an intergalactic catastrophe – he’s just a pissed-off, sarcastic mercenary who wants to destroy the guy who wronged him. Aside from possibly his relationship with his fiancée Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Deadpool’s relationships are convenient and shallow, and everyone seems pretty ok with that. There’s not really any heart in this movie, but the filmmakers – and probably most of the audience – wouldn’t have it any other way.
Deadpool is a violent and irreverent take on the comic-book-based action movie, free of depth, and instead full of manic jokes that come fast and furious. Not all of those jokes land, but the fact that the movie comes close to being as clever as it thinks it is means it’s cleared an awfully high bar.