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February 12, 2016

Most superhero movies are aimed squarely at a PG-13 rating. Despite the work Marvel has been doing on engaging more serious issues, particularly in some of the Captain America movies, they’re still primarily “kid stuff”, and aimed at the widest possible audience to clean up teens’ disposable income. Deadpool is not, and it’s probably fair to say that no adaptation of this source material could ever be anything but R-rated.

Which is not to say it is in any way mature. Deadpool was a product of the ’90s, when comics decided that the way to financial stability lay in chasing “grown-up” material, ever more violent and prurient. What sets Deadpool apart from the rest is that it plays this all for comedy. In fact, it pushes things so far that it becomes a form of self-parody. And that leads to probably the only high-brow part of this schtick, which is also its most recognizable trait: Deadpool is “meta”, aware of its own status as a comic, and thus more able than others to directly comment on the conventions of the genre as a whole.

As a movie, Deadpool takes this and runs with it, right from the get-go. We open by slowly panning across a freeze-frame that will show up later — the kind of thing that would be a big, full-page piece of art in a physical comic book, highlighting a key moment in a big action set-piece. And, at the same time, the opening credits roll, introducing the lead as “God’s Perfect Idiot” (Ryan Reynolds), his girlfriend Vanessa Carlysle as “A Hot Chick” (Morena Baccarin), his nemesis Francis “Ajax” Freeman as “A British Villain” (Ed Skrein), mutant backup Colossus as “A CGI Character” (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead as “A Moody Teen” (Brianna Hildebrand). Directorial credit, naturally enough, goes to “An Overpaid Tool” (Tim Miller), with a screenplay by “The Real Heroes Here” (Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese). Just a few minutes in, and we know this is going to be fun.

The story itself is pretty simple for the most part: Wade Wilson, A.K.A. Deadpool, is out for revenge against Francis, which leads him into one spectacular fight followed by another, even more spectacular fight. Of course he’s talking directly to us in the audience the whole time, leading to a series of flashbacks that explain how he met Vanessa, got basically all the cancer, turned into an indestructible and heavily-armed antihero, and got a cantankerous old blind lady as his roommate (Leslie Uggams, appropriately enough better known among the target audience for a throwaway line in a Family Guy episode than for winning a Tony), all threaded together with Deadpool’s self-aware stand-up routine.

Reynolds himself nailed the part, since he really is a gifted comedic and character actor, though his dashing good looks too often blind casting directors into treating him like a leading man. Interestingly enough, his other great recent performance in Mississippi Grind also involved ruining his face, that time with a particularly unfortunate mustache.

But, to bring this down to Earth a bit, the comedic sensibility here is thoroughly sophomoric, built mainly around bodily functions and violence. About the only teenage-boy humor trope missing is, interestingly enough, the gay jokes; there is no moment where the joke relies on “this guy is gay and that’s funny, and so he’s stereotyped to the hilt which is even more funny”. If anything, Wade and Vanessa’s relationship involves some boundary-pushing experimentation, which may throw a few of the 14-year-olds sneaking in for a loop.

So if you’re one of those 14-year-olds sneaking in, or if you’re in touch with your own inner 14-year-old, there’s a lot in here to love. It’s fine and fun, but a whole movie like this may be reaching the edges of the joke. On the other hand, if you’ve already grown up beyond this sort of stuff and have been rolling your eyes this whole time, maybe you could stand to be a little silly and childish for two hours.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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