R-rated superhero movies have always been a touchy subject with studio executives. They are seen as money sinks — unnecessary cuts into larger demographic markets of teenage superhero fans and casual adult moviegoers. As a result, filmmakers have mastered the art of squeezing as much violence and profanity into films — a surprising amount at this point — without exceeding the coveted PG-13 rating.
But that was never going to be possible with “Deadpool.” The theatrically offensive shenanigans of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) stood no chance of being coerced into the PG-13 format, and any attempt to do so would have likely caused more of a backlash from the comic-book community than commercial success. As a result, this film has been in the pipes since 2004, constantly being considered, canceled and tossed around. Finally, at the push of Reynolds, a test sequence was filmed to show executives. When it leaked and the entirety of the Internet responded in demands for production, Fox finally pulled the trigger.
Led by first-time director Tim Miller and Reynolds as lead and executive producer, “Deadpool” is a film that knows exactly what it needs to be and succeeds entirely. It succeeds because it isn’t just in dialogue with its source material; it’s in love with it. A lot of that comes from Reynolds, who has discussed extensively his commitment to making sure a “Deadpool” film wouldn’t be butchered.
The film revolves around Wade Wilson, an ex-special forces mercenary who carries out mob-esque shakedowns to earn a living. He meets the love of his life and then discovers he has metastatic cancer. In a last ditch attempt to survive, he subjects himself to a torturous program at the hands of Ajax (Ed Skrein) who promises to make him a superhero and attempts to kickstart any dormant mutant genes in his DNA (we can say the M-word, this is Fox). And while he is left with super-healing powers that keep his cancer at bay and essentially make him immortal, he is also left disfigured.
Ultimately, the plot is just a scaffold on which Reynolds builds the richly layered humor of Deadpool’s character. There are the normal one-liners and witty retorts, and then there are the self-referential jokes and the overt references to whose balls Wade had to fondle to get his own movie deal. The film shatters the suspension of disbelief in its characters, too. As Deadpool is dragged by Colossus (Stephan Kapicic) to the X-Men headquarters, he looks up and asks “So, McAvoy or Stewart?”
Wilson’s dialogue weaves in and out of the narrative — and in and out of the Marvel universe — blurring the lines between fiction and reality with a finely tuned ease that never feels forced or overdone. Wilson also talks directly to the viewer, a tactic that would almost certainly fail in any other context. Here though, he gets away not only with breaking the fourth wall, but with breaking the fourth wall within a fourth-wall break. “Wow, that’s like, 16 walls!” he remarks glibly. These constant reminders that you are watching a film, while normally the downfall of fantasy universes, opens up the world of humor to all the pop culture references and inter-studio ridiculousness that Marvel fans have witnessed, and the result is applause and laughter from the audience several times throughout the film.
Is there gratuitous violence? Yes. Is there inappropriate sexual humor? Of course. But this is an R-rated comedy that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be R-rated; rather, the inappropriateness arises naturally from well-developed characters. Not only that, “Deadpool” has as surprising degree of emotional depth for a film that can’t take anything seriously, a testament to a character written as a sarcastic, witty human being rather than a one-dimensional joke dispenser. It was a movie that had a lot riding on it and every opportunity to go horribly wrong. Instead, it was the “Deadpool” film that everyone had been waiting for. So much so, as it were, that Fox has already green-lit the sequel.