Beginning almost literally with an Easter egg shout-out only hardcore comic book fans will get at the start of a winning ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ opening credit sequence that will be the envy of Hollywood comedy writers and producers, 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool makes quick work of announcing it’s a different kind of superhero movie … in a good way.
A faithful adaption of Marvel’s comic book property in spirit if not in tone (we’ll get to that in a bit), first-time feature director Tim Miller and producer/star Ryan Reynolds’s long-in-gestation love-child is a unique, welcome entry into a genre about to explode in what some would argue is over-population.
Comic book readers already know Deadpool is a hyper-violent descendent of Bugs Bunny – rascally and meta-aware, always ready to break the fourth wall to deliver a zinger about the action around him. And this is a must-see for that crowd. The rub for Fox is will more mainstream moviegoers get the joke?
Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick establish just the right pace and style for Reynolds to sink his verbally kinetic teeth into. Perhaps born to play the role (which is why he’s doggedly pursued it for so long), the one-time Green Lantern could hold his own in the rapid-fire quip department with Robert Downey Jr., but he also musters up just the right amount of underlying pain/menace to marry the film’s comedy and violence together.
And the very, very violent action is top-notch. The lack of a blockbuster budget – which of course Deadpool has his fun with – and lack of a grandiose special effects set piece actually serves the film and genre well. Deadpool’s prolonged opening action sequence on a city highway plays like the better, street-level scenes from Captain America: Winter Soldier. The entire film feels more grounded .. dare we say more “gritty,” than Bryan Singer’s X-Men films, and that’s meant as a compliment.
Then there’s the comedy - good enough that non-comic book fans will likely go along for the self-effacing ride, assuming they aren’t taken aback about how hard ‘R’ Deadpool really is.
Fox, Marvel, Miller and Reynolds just didn’t court a borderline ‘R’-rating for some fandom street cred and/or to separate it from the superhero pact. Forget flirting – Deadpool practically Tinders an NC-17 rating, going places even prepared fans might not expect it to go. When a now-gratuitous Marvel Easter egg occurs two-frames removed from full frontal nudity, you know all parties dove into the ‘blue’ without a second guess, which is maybe the surprise of the film.
Forget a possible second PG-13 version moms can take their eight-year olds to. Unless Miller is sitting on hours of additional footage from the cutting room floor, a PG-13 version of this movie would likely be 15 incoherent minutes at best.
The film flaunts its fixation with headshots, decapitations and sex, and that’s an observation not a criticism. That Fox and Disney/Marvel didn’t build more of a firewall between their PG-13 bread-and-butter brands and Deadpool is curious. Most of film’s best jokes are based its quasi-co-existence within the shared cinematic X-universe, and Marvel’s now-iconic red title card proceeds the first frame.
Heck, Marvel Comics has even recently introduced Deadpool into their flagship Avengers line just in time for the film. It’ll be interesting to find out of how the juxtaposition of this very grown-up adaptation within what’s mostly a kid-friendly marketing bubble will play itself out.
For comic books fans concerned with faithful adaptions of their favorite titles, you’ll have to be satisfied with a somewhat non-faithful version of Deadpool that never actually was, but maybe you always wish there had been. And if you’re comfortable with the rawness, go without reservation; you’ll be rewarded in a big way by one of the most simply fun superhero movies ever and probably left wanting for more.
And if you do take a younger fan, just be ready to squirm. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Deadpool opens in North American theaters February 12.