You know you’re in good hands when the credits of a Marvel Comics movie list the actors as “Moody Teen, British Villain, Gratuitous Cameo, CGI Character” and end “Directed by An Overpaid Tool.”
Ditto when you cast 72-year-old Leslie Uggams, an embodiment of elegance through years onstage and in nightclubs, as Blind Al, a grumbling, foul-mouthed housemate with a huge drug habit.
Ditto when the mutilated protagonist’s sidekick sees him without his mask and says, “Oh, man. You look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado.”
“Deadpool” gives the superhero genre a kick in its pearly white teeth – and, for good measure, every other square inch of its pumped-up body. The title character, who has the ability to heal himself after a series of horrific experiments, spends the entire film telling us he’s not a superhero; he just wants to tear apart the guy who made him so hideous.
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Every time we start to feel sentimental, he says something gross or sarcastic. He leaves Blind Al alone with this parting shot: “There’s 116 kilos of cocaine buried somewhere in the apartment, right next to the cure for blindness. Good luck.” Often he addresses the audience directly. As a character drags him away in handcuffs, he looks at us and says, “Ever see ‘127 Hours?’ Spoiler alert.” Then he saws off his own arm.
This genre has needed deconstruction for so long that almost every joke works. The X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) ask Deadpool to join them in Professor Xavier’s mansion, but he replies, “That’s a big house. Funny that I only ever see the two of you. It’s like the studio couldn’t afford more extras.” When he sees Warhead blast an enemy, he quips, “I so pity the dude who pressures her into prom sex.”
The story’s actually a grim one. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) enters an experimental lab after getting cancer in multiple organs. Ajax, the scientist who runs it, submits him to extreme suffering, in hopes his genes will mutate enough to destroy the cancer – and, incidentally, release any superpower that might show itself under stress.
Sure enough, Wilson becomes self-healing. But when he learns he’s being turned into a super-slave to be sold to the country that bids highest, he busts loose and re-invents himself as Deadpool. He can’t go back to his beloved Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) looking like Freddy Krueger, so he pursues Ajax (Ed Skrein, who is indeed British) and his superstrong assistant, Angel Dust (MMA fighter Gina Carano).
The violence, all of it used for comic effect, can be extreme. You may grin or grimace when Deadpool uses one bullet to shoot three guys in a line through their foreheads, then watches the third one pull out the half-inserted bullet and come after him.
Director Tim Miller (who makes a remarkably assured feature debut) and the writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Warnick find everything amusing, no matter how nasty. Deadpool taunts Ajax by arranging the corpses of his henchmen to spell out his real, hated name: “Francis.”
Even a filmmaker with a smart sense of pacing can make this set-up work for only so long, and Miller stops at 108 minutes. That includes the credits, leading up to the obligatory final scene where Deadpool tweaks Marvel’s nose one last time. It’s impossible to envision a sequel with pleasure – this kind of lightning wouldn’t strike twice – but the first one could hardly be improved.
☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano.
Director: Tim Miller.
Length: 108 minutes.
Rating: R (strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity).