The gap between what a film wants to be and what a film is doesn't get much finer than it does with Deadpool, which I suppose makes it a success? It's hard to imagine a film less prone to leaving audiences disappointed: the thing you walk into it expecting it to be is completely and in all ways the thing that it is. This can be taken as both a good thing and a bad thing.

The most commercially-successful film based on a Marvel superhero to be released by 20th Century Fox to date (handily eclipsing the entire X-Men franchise to which it is adjacent, even adjusting for inflation), Deadpool adopts a non-stop, fourth wall-breaking attitude to the entire genre of superhero movies that is, if nothing else, a refreshing change. Mind you, it's in absolutely no way, shape, or form a meaningful challenge to that genre, and I'm fairly sure it's not gunning to be - Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's screenplay happily mocks itself, the X-Men movies, star Ryan Reynold's notoriously ill-fated starring role in DC's stillborn X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but at the same time it oh-so-neatly lays the grounds not just for its own sequel, but for a new phase of movies in the X-Men universe, which is currently set to run out after this summer's contract-fulfilling X-Men: Apocalypse. Deadpool can make fun of the lazy tropes and bloodlessly commercial attitude of comic book cinema all it likes; it's still, ultimately, contributing to them, functioning as a completely straightforward origin story built around a vigorously R-rated, but otherwise completely sincere romantic plot.

As my regular readers are fully aware, there's not better way to irritate me than to play the "because we know that we're making a stupid movie, it's no longer stupid" card, and Deadpool does itself no favors by showcasing a one-note sense of humor: Deadpool says something sexually vulgar to embarrass bad guys, or sometimes he just says "fuck". The word "fuck" is funny, right? We're all 12 years old? And cursing in incongruous settings is bracing and hilarious?

The saving grace of Deadpool is that, in fact, it kind of is. Comic book movies have become so ossified in their approach of late (is it humorless and ugly? Warner Bros. released it. Is it shiny, quippy, and totally devoid of a personality or any sense of internal stakes? Disney released it. Does it feature people doing nothing while waiting for Hugh Jackman to deliver his lines? Fox released it), that anything to shake things up is welcome, and what the hell, florid vulgarity will suit as well as anything else. Reynolds, thankfully, is tremendously good at it, shifting from high-pitched sarcasm to tender (albeit smutty) humanity with very little effort, though God knows what proportion of "his" performance, almost entirely behind a full-body suit, is CGI or stuntmen. And weirdly, the Deadpool mask is one of the most enjoyable expressive pieces of costuming I've ever seen in a superhero movie, doing the whole "solid white eyes" thing while also building in enough flexibility that the character can act with his face, just like they do in actual comic books.

I did laugh, neither often nor deep; but the vivaciousness of the crudity, and the pitch-perfect befuddled responses by cameoing X-Man Colossus (played by an array of mo-cap artists and visual effects techs, but voice actor Stefan Kapičić is the one who shows up in the credits), give the film a good cheer that works well enough for a first-quarter release. Am I looking forward to more adventures with Reynolds's Deadpool? Eh. More than I am to a lot of films starring a lot of superheroes, at least. It's trashy, harmless fun, and that's better than nothing. Still, the fact that this will end its run as the highest-grossing comic book adaptation in history not starring Batman, Iron Man, or Spider-Man is totally baffling.

Reviews in this series
X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009)
X-Men: First Class (Vaughn, 2011)
The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014)
Deadpool (Miller, 2016)
X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016)
Logan (Mangold, 2017)
Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018)
Dark Phoenix (Kinberg, 2019)
The New Mutants (Boone, 2020)

Other films in this series, yet to be reviewed
X-Men (Singer, 2000)
X2 (Singer, 2003)