Reynolds Does Right By His Merc With a Mouth in 'Deadpool'

Directed by: Tim Miller; Runtime: 108 minutes
Grade: B+

X-Men Origins: Wolverine suffered a number of issues upon its release, from a leaked workprint to middling reviews from both critics and comic-book aficionados alike. Yet, that reputation might've been the strongest reason why Deadpool actually got made, which could twist its legacy around in a bizarre sort of way. One blunder in Gavin Hood's take on Wolverine came in the handling of this "Merc with a Mouth", thinking it was a good idea to manually silence Wade Wilson -- and, by extension, Ryan Reynolds -- later on in the film. It was a creative risk that didn't pay off, but the response to this problematic take of the character led to a surge in attention towards getting Deadpool right, exacerbated by leaked studio test footage that proved somebody out there knew how to get it done ... and the fan response proved it's something they wanted. After years of tweaks, campaigning powered by Reynolds, and debate over the trickiness of an R-rating, the fruit of that labor is born within the gleefully violent and blatantly subversive Deadpool, and its fusion of fourth-wall-breaking and sentimentality exceeds expectations.

Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don't try to complicate matters with an elaborate plot, deliberately modifying the structure of an origin story with comical -- and surprisingly affecting -- nudges and winks at what the audience might be expecting. Yes, the focus falls on a down-and-out antihero, Wade Wilson (Reynolds), whose military experience has derailed into a life of semi-valiant deeds as a mercenary, specializing in punishing bad guys with his brutality and snarky charm. Things were going well for Wilson, even leading to a tender relationship with a local escort, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), until he discovers that he has terminal cancer that's spread throughout his body. Desperate, Wilson humors a proposition from a suspicious individual claiming that his procedure -- to be performed by svelte back-alley scientist Ajax (Ed Skrien) -- will not only cure the cancer, but empower the mercenary with new abilities. What Wade doesn't know is the methodology, the underlying reason for the program, and the degree to which the process will transform his body, leaving him barely-recognizable and seeking a cure from those who made him like that.

That isn't where Deadpool begins, though, which actually starts in the moments before our red-and-black, spandex-wearing hero chats with the audience before unleashing his fury upon a fast-moving SUV, a modified take on that test footage that truly ignited interest in the character's standalone film. Director Tim Miller pieces together Wilson's origin story through a series of flashbacks amid brutal bouts of violence, unafraid to lop off heads, demolish limbs, and chalk up a bodycount while the Merc with a Mouth happily unloads a stream of expletive-ridden commentary. There's no denying the juvenile slant of it all, going places with its vulgarity and bloodshed that'd make most other comic-book adaptations blush and/or roll their eyes, yet there's a smart reason behind Wade Wilson's filthy mouth: he combats his crappy luck by sustaining the overblown humor he exhibited -- that earned a woman's unyielding love -- before his diagnosis and transformation. Whenever he cracks one of many jokes that run the risk of overstaying their welcome, it's easy to give him a pass simply because of the determination at the root of it all.

Thankfully, while Deadpool messes around with the machinations of a standard superhero origin story (not unlike that of Wolverine's, oddly enough), the humor rarely falls flat. Despite this being a story about a guy with terminal cancer and a murderous streak, it rarely takes itself seriously. Powered by Ryan Reynolds' pitch-perfect comedic timing as the jubilant Wade Wilson, the character's rancorous conversations with his enemies and toward the fourth wall achieve their desired result, drawing the audience to laugh at how he's meta-contextually poking fun at the genre status quo -- even at himself -- instead of relying on the method as nothing more than a gimmick. Ever pointing out that he's not an everyday hero, Deadpool eventually collides with a pair of semi-traditional X-Men, Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), putting him face-to-face with abandoning his vigilantism for a greater good. The ways he resists and turns the tide on that nobility probably aren't things that younger comic-book audiences should be absorbing, but there's a lot of wit in how Deadpool rebelliously navigates the valiant CG man of metal and a "reformed" gloomy teenage firecracker.

There is something Deadpool does take seriously, though, and that's relationship between Wade Wilson and his girl, Vanessa. From a clever (and sexy!) progression through the seasons of their budding romance to the mercenary's response to hearing about his cancer diagnosis, the script fleshes out the emotional core of this idiosyncratic superhero with care, ensuring that there's enough substance underneath the suit to keep him from being nothing but crass quips and bloodshed for the hell of it. Deadpool's insistent charisma actually makes those rare windows into his turmoil far more poignant when they slyly slip into the story, kicking into gear once Vanessa's livelihood is threatened by her man's enemies. Morena Baccarin's reliable cheekiness and allure make for a divinely down-to-earth object of his affection, ever the fuel for his murderous rampage while ratcheting through the genre's standard benchmarks: developing a costume, confiding in his only ally from his past life, Weasel (a predictably sassy T.J. Miller), and piling together a ton of guns to save the day.

Deadpool operates in a constant state of escalation and volatility, whether it's the action or the meta-commentary spilling from the Merc with a Mouth, never sitting still across its well-paced rush up to a chaotic conclusion full of flying blades, energy bursts, and a very irritated Gina Carano. Director Miller telegraphs shrewdly-photographed combat and impressive visual effects that defy a modest $60-million budget, filled with plenty of bluster within the film's constrained scope and a lot of smart, restrained computer work in bringing the powers and appearances of the mutants to life. The action continues to deliver in spades across its 110-minute runtime, but so does the writing as it stays true to the spirit of the antihero, complimenting each uptick in brisk activity with another interjection of Deadpool's unyielding style and absurdity, even being so bold as to mock the film itself. The unpredictable end result resembles what has made the comic-book character rise in popularity over the past twenty-plus years, striking that delicate balance between parody and working well as an installment in its respective genre. This chimichanga was worth the wait.

Film review also appeared over at [Click Here]


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