A guy I grew up with had the superpower to make anything dirty. No matter what you’d say to him, he’d manage to make it about his dick, or about anal sex, or about how girls — so he had heard — smelled like fish. I asked him what he was seeing when I ran into him at a movie theater once, and he replied, “Happy Spillmore.” His best still make me laugh. “I am sick of all your innuendos,” our bus driver said. He played dumb in response: “Tonight you want me to come in your window?”
Deadpool is the movie he probably hoped Happy Gilmore would be. Its hero, Marvel Comics’ “Merc With a Mouth,” is a sort of shock-jock Spider-Man, with the Punisher’s arsenal, Wolverine’s healing powers, and the dialogue of one of those open-mic comedy dudes who believes it’s some kind of courageous truth-telling to point out that men like blowjobs. Onscreen, he can’t go a minute without delivering a one-liner about jerking off or calling the bad guy a “cock thistle” or a “wheezing bag of dick tips.” In a tense moment in his pre-costume life, talking with his love (Morena Baccarin) about how he’ll deal with the cancer that’s killing him, he spouts, with some wistfulness, “If I had a nickel for every time I spanked it to Bernadette Peters…”
And between the patter it’s splatter, some of it memorable: Deadpool pinballs the severed head of Mook A to take out Mook B, and he cheerily loses the use of every limb, Monty Python and the Holy Grail–style, fighting the immovable Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), on loan from the X-Men movies. It’s all too much, by design; it’s also by design that carping about it makes you feel like a killjoy. Go ahead and go nuts if your life has a void in it that can only be filled by a superhero who gets an eyeful of Gina Carano and immediately declares that she must have a “wang” — and later compares her to Rosie O’Donnell. You just can’t pretend it’s radical, on-the-edge comedy when the hero picks the same joke targets as Donald Trump.
So Deadpool is his film’s own junky, retrograde RiffTrack, cracking endlessly about balls and gayness, about burn victims and Nineties bands and the conventions of superhero movies. It’s Ryan Reynolds in the tights, and he plays Deadpool like the man suffers from some kind of manic logorrhea, like he just can’t stop. He expectorates three jokes in a row, in one shot of one scene, and never looks like he cares whether any land. That distancing occasionally makes the film play like something more interesting than it is: a study of a man who transmutes pain into relentless hostility we’re supposed to excuse as comedy. Deadpool is essentially a comment-thread joker with an actual mission — tracking down the Evil Marvel Scientist (Ed Skrein) who gave him superpowers via the Wolverine torture-lab method.
Some of the jokes hit, especially in the opening, in which false credits promise us that the film was “Produced by Asshats” and stars “Some Idiot” and “A Hot Chick.” The joke at first seems to be that Deadpool himself has penned these, and that they reflect his in-the-know perspective on the way studio executives think. But then comes the kicker: “Written by The Real Heroes Here.” That’s funny, but it also makes it clear that, no, this isn’t from the madman’s perspective: Deadpool isn’t satire. It’s instead another of Hollywood’s Stan Lee Variations, one where the dude hero lampoons every familiar story beat but still gets to prove he deserves the love of a great beauty by saving her from the bad guys.
Still, for those of us who don’t find every deviation from hetero life a riot, Deadpool at least offers some relief from superhero solemnity. This is an origin story told through twining flashbacks, and (as the hero himself points out) it sometimes pushes unpredictably into other genres: There’s fifteen minutes of goofy, horny love story, plus an effective descent into medical horror, and a satisfying superhero team-up at the end. Reynolds gamely takes ribbing about his wretched Green Lantern and being named People‘s sexiest man alive, and it’s welcome when the movie (and not just its hero) rouses itself for a big joke: One montage of villain-pounding keeps cutting back to one bleeding baddie crawling slowly across an ice rink while Deadpool pursues him in a barely moving Zamboni.
Deadpool benefits from an intimate story with more heart than you would expect, but also a go-for-broke zeal, edging at times into Naked Gun–style parody. (Even then, though, the targets are easy: blind people, Ikea furniture.) The crossover business with X-Men Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) is especially strong, as they actually get to talk back — and they’re both funnier than Deadpool. Like Ant-Man, from Marvel-Fox’s rival Marvel-Disney, the movie gets wilder and better as it goes, and its creators get two things right that that last Avengers botched: The fights all feel personal, and the final battle has many of the best gags. Deadpool might even stand as one of the strongest and most inventive films of the high-early-late superhero baroque — if we could just turn off its built-in commentary track.
Directed by Tim Miller
20th Century Fox
Opens February 12