Fox’s X-Men franchise has been around for 16 years now, and lately the studio has shown a surprising willingness to deviate from formula and expectations. From the broad sci-fi of X-Men: Days Of Future Past to the (largely) grounded action of The Wolverine, it’s tough to know what to expect of the X-Men franchise in terms of storytelling or quality. And that goes double for Deadpool, a character who proves divisive on the page and has already appeared in the one X-Men franchise disappointment (2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Despite this, Ryan Reynolds is back as the wise-cracking, gun-toting, hyperviolent mercenary with a penchant for one-liners, having pledged to do the character justice the second time around. It’s fair to say that he manages it. Probably the best praise you can give this movie is that it completely translates the appeal of Deadpool to the screen, and if you’ve got even a passing fondness for the character’s brand of comedy then you’ll have a grin plastered over your face for the whole running time.
Fans of Deadpool’s motormouth humour will find little to disappoint them here, thanks to the sheer volume of gags it packs in. They don’t all work, and some of them aren’t worked as hard as they could be, but it’s not like it’s a latter-day Adam Sandler movie with guns. It’s as often smart as it is puerile. You get the dark Looney Tunes-style quips, but you also get sight gags, slapstick, and meta-humour. As someone who holds zero truck with the character in his comics incarnation, I was almost surprised to find myself enjoying it. That makes me think there’s crossover appeal, in which case it’s going to do for Deadpool what the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie did to the Guardians of the Galaxy.
In terms of the existing superhero movies, it most closely resembles Kick-Ass, which probably comes as no surprise to fans of both properties. It goes considerably further with its sexual content than that movie does and it’s a lot less sentimental even at its emotional heights, but it’s trope-aware, super-flippant and pumps out an unconventionally pop-heavy soundtrack over its action in a way that makes it music-video cool.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the film is quite how heavy on X-Men content it is. You’re expected to be franchise-literate before you see the movie in more ways than one. Comics fans will delight at the inclusion of one very accurate-looking character, even if he is there as a straight-man punchline for Deadpool. For me, the very best part of the movie was when they showed Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s costume, which is as close to a trainee X-Men uniform as we’ve seen. The fact that these things are in the film show that it’s being made by people who care about the details of their adaptation, and with that comes a Marvel Studios-style helping of goodwill.
That said, one of the things that distinguishes it from most of Marvel’s output – and welcomely so – is the shape of the film. If you’re sick of seeing superhero movies with the same basic structure, you’ll be glad to see Deadpool weaving a large chunk of its narrative around just one action scene, using it as a framing device and hopping back and forth in time. It’s clearly a device to keep the action up during the period where he doesn’t have superpowers, but it works.
The problem with a movie that has so much thrown into it, tonally and narratively, is that some stuff just doesn’t land. It takes a while to find its feet with the narration and fourth-wall breaking humour, and the complex structure hides the fact that the plot is paper-thin. There’s enough going on that you can forgive some of its weaknesses, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re there.
The one area where the movie falls short is in its characters. Wade says becoming Deadpool changed him, but there’s no line between him before and after the procedure that turns him into Deadpool. His girlfriend, Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa, is like fresh air as far as superhero love interest archetypes go, but she’s still stuck in that framework and has little in the way of an interior life. The villain, Ajax, is charismatic but uninteresting. Were it not for his accent, there wouldn’t be a single memorable quality to him.
Still, on the bright side, there is Negasonic Teenage Warhead: a fairly minor character who’s surely destined for franchise stardom. A shaven-headed, gives-no-shits trainee X-Man with a visually impressive power set, she’s a great tonal fit for Deadpool and probably the character you’ll leave the movie wanting to see more of, if not Wade Wilson himself.
Yet in a strange way, Deadpool is actually less subversive than it suggests. For all the character’s talk of being a villain, he’s still someone you root for. He says he’s not a hero, but he does heroic things, and he follows a heroic arc. As a character he’s not immune to romantic attachment, but the film makes it his driving force in a way it isn’t in the comics.
The movie’s a blast, but it lets itself down at times, to the point where we can’t quite recommend it unreservedly. The one thing we can say is that Deadpool fans will love it – and it’s going to make a whole lot more of them.
Deadpool is out in UK cinemas on the 10th February.