Lewdness Can't Mask Tired Story At The Heart Of "Deadpool"

By the end of “Deadpool,” its titular anti-superhero (played with aplomb by Ryan Reynolds) is a picture of exhaustion – as well he should be. It’s not just the fistfights, the swordplay, the shootouts; such Herculean amounts of pandering to comic book fans would do anyone in.

The 20th Century Fox release is most often a conveyor belt working at warp speed to deliver what it thinks adult comic book readers are missing in their movies (hyper-violence, four-letter words words, sex jokes), backslapping itself with each vulgarity. In other words, it’s a walking, talking Spencer’s Gifts.

Accordingly, “Deadpool” supposes – on a molecular level – that R-rated superhero adventures are its own invention, as if James Gunn didn’t make “Super,” Matthew Vaughn “Kick-Ass,” or Zack Synder “Watchmen,” all of which are ideals of innovation in comparison. (That’s not to mention the trailblazing “Blade” series, which Reynolds inexplicably namedrops in one of the picture’s hundred throwaway pop culture references.)

Its presumption of originality is such a flagrantly disingenuous starting point that some will mistake it for ingenuity; fair enough. No single movie should have to bear the burdens of its ancestors. But the film is inarguably enchanted with itself, proudly unloading filthy quips like a Netflix-obsessed sixth-grader parroting Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious.” Some of it hits, naturally, but most of it is about as subversive as a Green Day song.

Credit to first-time filmmaker Tim Miller who does a swell job in fitting the picture with a sense of style and cogency. The opening action scene and wryly self-aware credits that accompany it are shockingly confident for a newbie director, deftly expanding upon the proof-of-concept short that earned the project a greenlight in the first place and making a visual mission statement that most of the rest of the film lives up to.

Reynolds’ work as Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson, mercenary-turned-mutant) is equally inspired, even if his automatic-weapon-style delivery becomes tiresome almost instantly. He’s all in, not just as star and producer, but as true believer.

The sight of a costume-wearing, crayon-toting weirdo bobbing his head to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” makes it crystal clear: Reynolds adores what he and his co-conspirators are doing. If not wholly infectious, it’s endearing, spiritually righting some of the actor’s past wrongs (“Green Lantern” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” where Reynolds’ take on Deadpool was so confused that it was long assumed the character would never get another crack at the big screen).

Wade’s support is solid, too, from a predictably underused T.J. Miller as Weasel, our lead’s best friend and bartender, to Morena Baccarin as the token love interest who threatens to become more every time she appears.

But beneath the lively performances, swear words, and graphic violence is one of the decade’s most conventional superhero yarns, one that nukes any preconception of “Deadpool” being something to get excited about.

Wade’s transformation from dishonorably discharged Army Ranger to soldier of fortune to terminal cancer patient to regenerative crime-fighter isn’t just familiar – it’s downright banal. The decision to go full-on origin story with Deadpool makes sense given his last screen appearance, but it doesn’t make the screenplay any less of a bummer.

The screenwriters follow the “tragedy, experiment gone wrong, quack villain, thirst for revenge” template that’s been done to death (Spider-Man, Wolverine, RoboCop) and roll it into a sloppy burrito with every other subpar superhero movie of the past two decades (Ghost Rider, Daredevil, et cetera).

With trope piled on top of trope, there’s only so much Miller and his cast can do to keep energy and stakes high. By act three, it’s not much.

Appearances from two lesser known X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) are welcome, as are Deadpool’s wisecracks to the effect that Fox couldn’t afford anyone else. But their presence only underlines the picture’s place as a mirage of subversion. Its anarchic luster is purely cosmetic, an edgier “X-Men” film that struggles to conceal its dud of a story that has nothing new to offer to anyone but middle schoolers.

The smoking gun is that the movie tells us over and over again how evil its main character is while celebrating him at every turn, evidencing that “Deadpool” is with spirit but without gumption, smarts, or conviction.

If Ryan Reynolds has finally found the role he was born to play, his substantial charisma calls for a better movie around him. And stronger one-liners.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: February 12, 2016
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Tim Miller
Screenwriter: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Ed Skrein, Brianna Hildebrand
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity)