Satire is one of the hardest genres to pull off, but one of the best when it’s done right. Masters of the rib-tickling art in the past have shown us through films like Airplane! and Dr Strangelove that satire thrives when handled with utmost subtlety, resorting to as few crass jokes and pop culture references as is possible. Tim Miller’s – and really, Ryan Reynolds’ – Deadpool brashly subverts these rules and adopts only those jokes and gags that draw out the most amount of ‘WTF’s from the crowd, and in doing so, gives us one of the most faithful comic-book adaptations to date. Deliciously meta and embracing the irresponsible, wisecracking persona of its protagonist (as well as the actor who portrays him), Deadpool is the kind of superhero movie that you will never see under another banner. It was a unique creation when it came to Marvel Comics in 1991, and succeeds in gleefully shocking cinema audiences in 2016.
Created by Rob Liefield and Fabian Nicieza as a parody of DC Comics’ Deathstroke, Deadpool is Wade Wilson, expert swordsman and mercenary who came out the other end of cancer with a regenerative mutation. Never one to play by the rules and armed with the Wikipedia of pop culture references, he is a character that just doesn’t care. In Tim Miller’s cinematic take, Wade (Ryan Reynolds) falls in twisted love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) – a match made in heaven, they way they seem to get each other so well. Sporting a wildly inappropriate bloodlust and an even more inappropriate sense of humour, Wade hangs out at an assassin’s bar run by Weasel (T J Miller), the closest thing he has to a friend. Then one fine day, when cancer comes a-knocking at his door, so does a mysterious man with the promise of curing his ailment in exchange for being part of a superhuman experiment. Anyone who knows a little about superhero film conventions or has watched an X-Men film knows exactly what happens next.
Deadpool follows a pretty straight-forward superhero plot, but the magic lies in how each beat of that narrative plays out. A large part of this is owed to Ryan Reynolds, himself born to play the Regenerating Degenerate, who has almost single-handedly resurrected the character from Origins: Wolverine hell, marking it as his own to play with. The dick jokes, the fourth-wall-breaking, and the delightful references – he’s got it all down to the dot, and we’re along for the ride, which is as entertaining as it ought to be. This is an incredibly self-aware film, perhaps even the most self-aware one there is, landing meta punches right from the opening credits and not letting up till the protagonist shoos you out of your seats in the post-credits scene. Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds could not have asked for better timing with this film, as 2016 cements the superhero genre in the future of cinema for years to come. Created as a snide jab at the idealistic heroes with a ‘code’ to live by and faces constantly frozen in brooding stares, Deadpool manages to pick on the obvious trends that plague the genre today, from clichéd hero landings to franchises that birth confusing timelines. Are the villains pretty generic? Yes. Does the plot hit all the usual beats of a superhero film? Yes. But it doesn’t matter, since it’s how Deadpool reacts to each of these things that makes this film genius.
The biggest blessing that Deadpool has received so far is the nod from the studios for an R-rating, a usually suicidal leap that just goes to show how much faith Fox placed in the team. Being a character notorious for his unmatched ability to creep out Wolverine and uncanny dedication to opening young Peter Parker’s mind to the most deviant perversions, the red-clad prankster cannot be done justice without removing all stops. However, the R-rating isn’t here to simply service the crass humour, but to stay true to Deadpool’s other character essence – his gleeful bloodlust, showcased to the maximum in the highway sequence toward the beginning of the film. Above and beyond his regenerative mutation, what makes this wise-cracking antihero a force to be reckoned with is his way with guns and swords, coupled with a conscience that is the polar opposite of Batman. Deadpool makes full use of the faculties of its protagonist and delivers to us meaty, excellently directed action scenes that blend gore and comedy so well that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen.
Regardless of the number of raunchy quips (of which there are plenty) and bloody slice-and-dice, what makes Deadpool work as well as it does is its splendid comic timing, a credit that truly goes out to the ‘real heroes’ of this feature, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. When Deadpool walks onto screen and wins the cheers of a crowd holding their sides with laughter, know that he is more armed with a relentlessly hilarious script than anything else. The most interesting moments in the film are the refreshingly fresh exchanges between various characters and Wade, each next one drawing out a wilder and more daring side to him than the last (look out for the 127 hours reference). Another idea that might not sound as good on paper as it looked on screen is the animated mask that flexes and emotes for Wade’s face beneath, straying far away from the realism of modern films in order to fully realize the ethos of the character. Masks severely cut down on the emotions displayed by the hero, which is the reason why Spiderman 2 is arguably the best Spiderman film (he spends most of it in rejection of his powers and suit), and also why almost none of the Avengers wear masks unlike their comic-book counterparts. In taking these restrictions out of the equation, Deadpool elevates its action sequences from pure spectacle to visual comedy.
Deadpool is a film that should never have been made, but the world’s a better place for its existence. Redeeming the ‘merc with a mouth’ after one of the most colossal failures in cinematic history is one thing, but to hit the nail on its head with an adaptation that both serves the original source and invites new hordes into its fandom is a rare and special thing. Accompanied by the contrastingly sweet Colossus and the mean machine that is Negasonic Teenage Warhead (how cool a name is that?), Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool carries the film and packs enough punches to take you off your guard every time. Tim Miller’s adaptation is no masterpiece of filmmaking, but does enough to be remembered as a ‘milestone’ of tasteless satire and to influence the future of the superhero film landscape. Films need only be judged on how well it succeeds in what it set out to achieve, and Deadpool hits the mark every time – it’s as if lifted straight out of the pages of its comicbook. And there couldn’t possibly be a greater praise.