We have, of course, met Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool before — scrapping with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, retractable swords melded into his arms and, in a leftfield creative decision, his mouth sewn shut. The “Merc With A Mouth” reduced to simply the merc, his reason for being taken from him, the character rendered impotent.
This Deadpool is different (and more like the comics) — talkative, quick-witted (if knob gags can be classed as wit) and with a fondness for breaking the fourth wall. The film’s set in the same universe as the X-Men franchise, but has an anarchic spirit that sticks a middle finger up to Bryan Singer’s oh-so-serious sensibilities. And smirks to itself as it does so.
The film starts with Wade Wilson already having chosen his super-name, in costume and midway through a scrap on a freeway. That’s interspersed with flashbacks showing him pre-disfiguring mutation, falling in love, being diagnosed with terminal cancer, through to being tortured by Ed Skrein’s main antagonist Ajax (named after the cleaning product). It’s a smart structure, one that neatly sidesteps the major issue with origin stories: the suited-up main attraction being absent for the first hour.
What Deadpool is up to is less important than the quips he makes as he’s doing it.
In this case, because you don’t have time to dwell on it as it’s playing out before you, it also disguises how slight the main mission is (a fight, a kidnapping, a rescue attempt, roll credits). But Deadpool is a perfect example of a character who doesn’t need world-threatening danger to foil. Wolverine or Superman require something interesting to do — for the most part, what Deadpool is up to is less important than the quips he makes as he’s doing it. Of course, that means those quips had better be good.
And this is where the film isn’t entirely successful. It’s at its best in its moments of meta-humour — Deadpool wondering whether it’ll be James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart in charge at the X-Mansion, or bemoaning the budgetary reasons that mean the only two X-Men he ever gets to actually meet are metallic giant Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and sullen youngster Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). But its comedic currency tends to the less cerebral, and your reaction to the relentless stream of jokes about masturbation and oral sex will depend how high Van Wilder: Party Liaison is on your list of favourite Ryan Reynolds films. (The closer to the top, the better, naturally.)
With comic-book films currently so popular, and after Green Lantern failed to ignite a franchise for him, it’s obvious why Ryan Reynolds has tried again. But in such a crowded market, the question is whether Deadpool can make his smutty voice heard.