The biggest worry I had going into the Deadpool movie is that an outrageous character is often outrageous at the expense of somebody who doesn't deserve it — if only because the person writing that sort of character is going for lazy comedy. My personal worst case scenario was that Deadpool would be a fine movie made unwatchable because of a main character who'd been written as the so-called "equal opportunity offender." Punching everybody equally doesn't account for how some of the people you punched get punched all the time.
In the end I was happily surprised. Deadpool's action sequences have a palpable rhythm that gives them great clarity, its good guys are genuinely lovable and its comedy is predominantly on point. Were there jokes that missed the mark for me? Yeah. Do I wish the movie had pushed its ideas harder, so that it might have escaped the heavy gravitational pull of the superhero origin story? Yeah.
But while Deadpool could be better, it's in no way broken. In fact, it's doing a lot of things right.
As you might expect from a movie that only escaped four years of languishing in pre-production purgatory after a leaked proof-of-concept action sequence took the Internet by storm, Deadpool's action is one of its best qualities. It's clear and rhythmic, giving the viewer enough time to properly interpret what's happening. That's all the better for appreciating just how good the heroes are at kicking ass. We're all familiar with movies that set up the outcome of a fight before it happens in order to impress the audience with the cleverness of its hero. Deadpool pulls this trick twice — the first time in a hilarious opening credits sequence that calls out every role in the movie for being a tired trope — and makes a familiar action movie gimmick seem fresh and exciting.
Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick use many elements from that proof-of-concept clip as a clever framing device that allows them to snap back to a big, complicated action sequence before you have time to notice that the exposition has started getting predictable. About halfway through the film, however, not even the initial framing sequence can hold off the standard beats of the superhuman origin story, and Deadpool takes a long dive into backstory.
There are a few places where Deadpool becomes the very thing it's trying to make fun of
It's at this point that it becomes the basic superhero action movie that its own opening credits decry as being tired; with its hero, its "British villain," its "CGI character" and its teenage sidekick. The deft hopping between the framing device and the backstory in the early parts of the film also disguise the fact that Deadpool's plot is pretty thin on the ground.
Anti-hero (Ryan Reynolds) meets girl (Morena Baccarin). Anti-hero gets cancer, anti-hero gets superpowers that cure his cancer. Anti-hero loses the girl (or so he thinks), anti-hero gains a hankering for some old fashioned, screaming, bloody revenge against the guy who tortured the superpowers into him (Ed Skrein).
Once the device is gone, we're left with that thin line of story, and Reynolds' banter, though great, can't quite keep it aloft on its own. But, eventually the movie pays off in a big action finale that might be cinema's first superhero teamup.
You know, where a hero guest stars in another's story to help out, not where a team gets formed to ... Look, I know it's a subtle distinction, but it's there and I found it exciting. As the first feature from visual effects artist Tim Miller, Deadpool might also be the first live action film to properly translate some of comics' most widespread visual shorthand — expressive eyes in a full mask — to live action.
There are a few other places where Deadpool becomes the very thing it's trying to make fun of. Baccarin has a decent role... for about half of a romantic comedy. Inside an action movie, her character is a tired one: a love interest introduced and immediately established as "a confident woman" with show of violence against sexual harassment. She doesn't need a man to save her! Later, she gets kidnapped by the (boring) villain and requires rescuing even though she's based on a comics character who is a Mutant mercenary in her own right.
Personally, I also could have done without the gag that plays on the assumption that women are generally unfamiliar with superhero movies, or the bevy of fellatio-related insults that Wade levels at various opponents (most notably Colossus, a character who is canonically gay in certain long-running X-Men settings). And as long as we're on the subject, folks looking for the fabled Pansexual Deadpool will be disappointed, as the film neither confirms nor denies that the character is anything other than straight (at least outside of a single animated gag during the end credits). Is Wade genuinely hitting on men while he works, or is he so secure in his heterosexuality that he enjoys hitting on macho straight guys in order to make them uncomfortable? It's entirely up to interpretation.
I did not ever expect to see Ryan Reynolds' dick in Imax
On the other hand, Deadpool surprised and impressed me in a lot of other ways. Reynolds does a great job of juggling Deadpool's mania and Wade's fatalism while making sure that the character is still sympathetic in both modes. I love Deadpool's interpretation of the X-Man Colossus (an all CGI character voiced by Stefan Kapicic), with his homespun Russian-accented wisdom about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and his patient hope that Deadpool could one day clean up his act and become an X-Man. And that's without mentioning Brianna Hildebrand's Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
If you told me that 2016 was the year in which I'd see a superhero get pegged by his loving girlfriend in a wide-release film, I'd have laughed at you. And I'd have certainly raised my eyebrows at the idea of a mainstream superhero film that lets its male hero cry — sniffle, even — for something that isn't a joke, the death of a (probably female) loved one, or the turning point of his heroic arc. What bothers Wade the most about his diagnosis is that his slow death to cancer will cause Vanessa a lot of pain. Wade's mercenary heart of gold is established when he takes a job to terrorize a guy for stalking a teenage girl, even though it doesn't pay much. These are not expressions of masculinity that should be restricted just to folks who can get into an R-rated film. Well, the latter ones, anyway.
Deadpool is a breath of relatively fresh air
And speaking of the rating and things that surprised me, lemme tell you, I did not ever expect to see Ryan Reynolds' dick in Imax. The camera probably spends as much time admiring (not just showing, but actually admiring) his body as Baccarin's, if not more. And this may be the first Stan Lee Marvel Movie Cameo that would be inappropriate to describe to a child.
Marvel's Avengers are sliding into Phase Three, Warner Bros. is spinning up its Justice League hype machine and Fox will soon try to convince us that Apocalypse is a villain with mainstream appeal. If nothing else, Deadpool is a breath of relatively fresh air. It's past time that cinematic audiences were shown that there's moral space in superhero universes between the Hero Who Saves the Day (Even If Reluctantly) and the sadistic, all-life-destroying villain. Those characters often reveal more about the nature of superheroism than their nobler counterparts. And they're often a lot of fun.
PS: Deadpool does have an after credits sequence, and it's worth sticking around for.