Deadpool is a gratuitously violent, excessively profane comic book movie that rammed through the roadblocks of my cinematic preferences, my common sense, and my values as a human being. You know you’re not in for typical PG- or PG-13-rated comic book fare when the opening shot has the camera weaving through the horrible destruction of a spectacular car crash frozen in time, and we see such memorable images as a cigarette lighter emerging from the charred, blistered mouth of a screaming man and the title character grabbing hold of another man by the elastic band of his underwear.
Nor is it typical for the credits to roll during this carnage or for the names of the cast and crew to be replaced with broad, occasionally off-color descriptions. We get credits such as The Hot Chick, The Moody Teen, and The Gratuitous Cameo, while the screenwriters are referred to as The Real Heroes and the director as A Hollywood Tool.
When this is over, we see bloody stabbings with samurai blades, brains getting blown all over the pavement, and limbs getting severed. We also hear dialogue that’s inundated with references and innuendos that would be over the top in even the crudest teen sex comedy. And then there are repeated moments of self-referential humor; not only will the title character repeatedly break the fourth wall and address the audience, he will make it known that we’re watching a movie, that it was made possible only because it’s a spinoff of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that that film’s star was Hugh Jackman, and that both Jackman and Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds were declared Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. The title character even notes that the film doesn’t feature more than two X-Men characters because the studio couldn’t afford other guest appearances.
How is it possible that a film like this can lower my defenses, but not similar R-rated films such as Kick-Ass and Kingsmen: The Secret Service? I had to think about this all throughout the screening. Then, right around the time of the climactic final fight sequence on an abandoned aircraft carrier, it finally came to me: Lurking beneath the gore, the vulgarities, and the in-your-face wisecracks, there was a real story with a character we’re actually given a reason to invest in. It’s not crude just for the sake of being crude. It is, in fact, a dementedly sweet story about a man who does what he does for love. I now understand why the film is being released in time for Valentine’s Day, and why the print ads have predominantly featured the title character with his hands together in the shape of a heart.
The first act is intentionally structured to interweave the story proper with extended flashback sequences. We learn that the title character began as Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces operative turned lowly mercenary, whose jobs consisted primarily of roughing up and scaring the hell out of unsavory ex boyfriends. He met and and fell in love with a prostitute named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) at a real sleazy dive, and one year later, after moving into an apartment, they got engaged. Their happiness was short lived; Wilson soon thereafter fell ill with terminal cancer, which had spread to pretty much all areas of his body. Soon after that, he was approached by an elusive agent-type and offered a cure. He accepted … but only after making the painful decision to leave Vanessa.
Wilson was indeed given an authentic cure, but not in a sterile, brightly lit hospital with clean white walls; it was given in a grungy, dimly-lit back-alley laboratory, where recruits were unwillingly being experimented on and turned into mutants by sadistic mad scientists. One would end up becoming Wilson’s nemesis: Francis Freeman, a.k.a. Ajax (Ed Skrein), a muscle-bound monster who has been genetically altered to feel no pain. After subjecting Wilson to a series of incredibly cruel and dehumanizing procedures, Wilson ended up cancer free – and physically transformed. Apart from having gained the ability to repair damaged tissue and regrow limbs, the entirety of his skin was turned into a gigantic canvas of scar tissue. At a later point, he’s described by his bartender friend (T.J. Miller) as looking as if Freddy Kruger … ahem … “had sex” with a topographical map of Utah. After adopting the name Deadpool and donning a red and black costume, Wilson made it his mission to (1) take revenge on Ajax, and (2) find a way to return to Vanessa without his appearance getting in the way.
It wouldn’t be a comic book movie without the appearance of superheroes, and indeed, the Deadpool character eventually teams up with two mutants from the unseen Professor Xavier’s school. One is a Russian behemoth (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) made entirely of metal; in spite of his herculean strength, he has an incredibly moral disposition. The other is a teenage girl with a shaved head (Brianna Hildebrand), who freely alternates between a badass warrior and a disaffected youth. And since Deadpool is based on a Marvel comic, you can count on a cameo by Stan Lee and a post-credit sequence. As for the latter, I wouldn’t want to give away what it shows or who it features. Let it suffice to say that, in a good way, it won’t be what you’re expecting. I’m surprised that I can say the same thing about the movie as a whole.