If ‘Deadpool’ were an emoji, it would be a winky lick. It’s your sexy, bitchy millennial friend who you see once a year to distract yourself from the fact that you, the sensible one, put on a tie and joined the system. It tells you to ‘shut the fuck up’ in an affectionate way; it never passes the opportunity for an willy gag; it concludes its sentences with ‘#LOL’. And yet, after a while, your occasional, disbelieving belly laughs make way for polite titters as you realise how exhausting it is to be with someone so predictably unpredictable.
Rather awkwardly, you have met Wade Wilson AKA Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) before, and much of this film has been about ‘getting it right’ after the misstep of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’. In that spin-off, Deadpool (still Ryan Reynolds) famously had his motor-mouth sewn shut, becoming a half-naked, double-bladed drone with multiple abilities and zero personality. Understandably, geek hearts were shattered, and not allayed by Reynolds’ next attempt at a superfilm, ‘Green Lantern’, which left their faith in comic-book adaptations starring Canada’s sexiest man (sorry Biebs) very much in the darkest of nights.
It speaks volumes about ‘Deadpool’ that both Ry-Rey duds are mockingly referenced throughout, as the writers expiate the wrongdoings of the past and give the character back the snarky, narcissistic tone of the comics. So, Deadpool doesn’t only break heads (bloodily and violently), he also breaks the fourth wall, making us complicit in his bonkers bildungsroman. This trope is frequently used to good effect: Deadpool seems to have written his own credits (starring ‘A Hot Girl’ and ‘A CGI Character’), cues his walk-on music (DMX, obv), and even creates a sixteenth wall break (a wall break within a wall break), as the writers prove that meta is better.
Aside from the shock value of a swearing, pan-sexual super, this is actually a rather safe and predictable origin story about revenge and winning back the hot girl, told largely through flashback. In its violence it owes a little to ‘Kick-Ass’, while its incongruous soundtrack borrows from ‘Watchmen’, but it lacks the depth and satirical eye of those films, instead opting for shamelessly diverting superficiality. Sure, it’s largely entertaining fare, thanks to Reynolds’ zing, but after viewing any scars left on the audience quickly heal over, much like Deadpool’s mutated body.
Take the supporting cast, for example. There is no doubt that this is Reynolds’ film, but it is almost as if Deadpool himself wrote the other characters so that they wouldn’t steal his thunder. Wade’s girlfriend, Vanessa, comes off best, offering sexy stoicism amid her boyf’s cancer diagnosis, but spends most of the final act locked in a box. Elsewhere, you would think that a wise-cracking hero would need a wise-cracking villain, but instead we have Ed Skrein’s Ajax, whose mutant power is the ability to be completely forgettable. In fairness to Skrein, his character doesn’t feel pain, so he isn’t really required to do anything more than find the best angle for his cheekbones.
Weirdly, someone has decided that naughty, 15-rated ‘Deadpool’ needs some continuity with the X-Men universe, and so Xavier’s team of gifted youngsters turn up to bookend the film. Well, two of them do: a now computer generated Colossus (a giant metal Russian) and a human Insta-page Negasonic Teenage Warhead (yes, you read that right) aid Deadpool is his quest to climb onto a freighter ship in the film’s climax. If that sounds slightly dull, that’s because it is; for all its bombast, ‘Deadpool’ actually falls rather flat in its action scenes. The slow-motion is fine, but it’s rather difficult to care about decapitation and disembowelment when the executor is invincible. It is actually in the sections before Wade has mutated that the film is most interesting; his torture by Ajax’s respiratory device is truly uncomfortable to watch and reminds us how valuable it is to see fragility in our heroes.
Ultimately, the brief running time and high joke frequency just about keep ‘Deadpool’ afloat. Despite numerous gags that fall flat with the weight of Colossus’s testicles, the frequent ribbing of Hugh Jackman and anarchic tone mean that, if you want an antidote to the anodyne Avengers, then Weapon X gon’ give it to ya.