At last there’s a movie for anyone who really wants a cheap R-rated X-Men movie. Deadpool, a comparatively low-budget and almost entirely disconnected spin-off of Fox’s superhero mutant team-up franchise, follows a sampler of the exploits of a smart aleck mercenary (Ryan Reynolds) who is cured of cancer and given regenerative powers like Wolverine’s. Ah, but the mad scientists who do it (led by the new Transporter Ed Skrein and Haywire’s Gina Carano) have vague and nefarious ulterior motives. This leaves the guy left for dead a scarred and burned mutant with a bad attitude. He’s out for revenge, putting on a tight red suit and mask and calling himself Deadpool, determined to kill everyone who wronged him. That doesn’t sound very heroic, and indeed he resists the label the entire way through a movie of nonstop profanity and violence interrupted only by its protagonist’s wall-to-wall interior monologue. He turns to the camera and speaks directly to the audience in a motormouthed outpouring of cynical snark, as if winkingly calling out its own shortcomings and relentlessly lampshading the usual superhero formula will inoculate it against criticism.
It’s faithful to the original comics creation, presenting an arrogant self-aware fourth-wall breaker engaging in huge amounts of potty-mouthed violence. He talks to us, dictates some edits, calls for needle drops, and even moves the camera at one point. Mostly he just comments on the events in progress with juvenile wisecracking, or spits out cultural references and self-deprecating comments. He tells us the budget was cheap, Reynolds is a bad actor, and nods towards the franchise’s knottiness. (He throws out an action figure from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and upon hearing a reference to Professor X he asks, “McAvoy or Stewart?”) The movie goes out of its way to smarmily flatter the audience for catching the references.
But for all the screenplay (by Zombieland’s Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) literally protests that this isn’t the usual superhero movie – taking potshots at the competition while admiring its own casual vigilante gore, filthy language, and mind-in-the-gutter exploitation – this is a movie undeniably built on the bones of a thoroughly exhausted and totally predictable origin story structure. It opens with a nasty fit of bloody action – crunching cars, flying decapitations, and viscera splattering on road signs – before flashing back to happier times that slowly catch us up. It fills in details of his pre-power days, introduces his comic relief buddy (T.J. Miller) and his lost love (Homeland’s Morena Baccarin), and the wrongs done to him. Then it’s back to the action, as X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), stepping in as if from a better, brighter movie, reluctantly join superpowered fights hammering toward a conclusion.
The edgier elements may be turned up to 11, but the more it loudly and repetitively claims to be something new and innovative, the less it seems true. The movie is terminally impressed with itself, convinced putting blood, boobs, and bad words in a standard superhero revenge actioner inherently makes it better. The script, and the chatterbox commentary from Deadpool, has the wit of a particularly unimaginative adolescent boy, preoccupied with bodily functions, focused on sexual and violent fantasies, and punctuated with four-letter words and bullying insults. Puerile and putrid, it finds sex acts, gory kills, and vulgarity equally giggle-worthy.
As a result, Deadpool is irritating, repetitive, and deadening. It’s a smug, smutty, and self-satisfied movie as ugly as it is off-putting. It drains all natural charisma from its performers, sending them through bland effects sequences dirtied up with extra splashes of strained irreverence and material trying so hard to offend it’s just sad. Give director Tim Miller (an effects’ artist making his feature debut) some (very small) credit for wanting to stretch the superhero movie a bit, but maybe we should stop complaining about the genre’s homogeneity if this is what passes for trying something different. The characters are thinly sketched. The look is flat, flavorless, and grey. The tone is a swamp of pointless nihilism laughing at itself. The plot is too thin for narrative propulsion, and too hobbled by its smirking protagonist for emotional investment. Everything’s a bad joke, and nothing is worth taking seriously, although the movie has enough bravado and posturing that it’s clear it convinced itself it’s a hip puncturing of the genre instead of a mean-spirited affirmation of its nastiest impulses.
And then there’s its repellent, often disgusting, love of violence. The movie revels in it, not the choreography or the spectacle but the visual fact of innards spurting from wounds, projectiles ripping flesh, and blades impaling organs. There’s an extended slapstick gag about Deadpool breaking his hands and legs and wobbling around in pain before he heals himself. It’s loud, overextended, pointless, and uncomfortable, but par for the course in a movie that treats a gunshot to the head as a punchline – not once, not twice, but every time. It’s no funnier than the tired improv insults and cheap shots that pass for humor in the rest of the movie. This all adds up to an interminable experience, none of the best parts of superhero movies and all of the worst, plus a whole bunch of added irritants.