Trigger warning: Parental permission is required for viewing by those
under the age of 17; sensitive college coeds should avoid it as well.
"Deadpool" is the story of a character who first appeared in the X-Men comic books in 1991. It explains how he turned into an indestructible killing machine and sets the stage for future movies and a hoped-for new film franchise.
The movie telegraphs its attitude in the opening credits, which describe the scriptwriter as "an asshat" and the director as "an overpaid tool."
We have a long tradition of smart-alec heroes in our cinema -- Groucho Marx, Bugs Bunny and a number of characters played by Jack Nicholson.
Now we have a smart-alec superhero. If you think about it, it's surprising that it took so long for a movie like this to be made.
Deadpool is very funny and a refreshing addition to its oeuvre. But his humor is like the violence in superhero movies, which is to say, exaggerated. These films occupy a different universe, one without normal people living everyday lives but with many heavily armed men and big-breasted young women -- naked ones in bars, in the "Deadpool" case.
If you met someone like Deadpool at a social event (unlikely, I know, but stick with me here), you would leave the premises immediately. Onscreen, however, he will entertain and amuse anyone who enjoys gross vulgarity. In our current culture, that's a big potential audience.
"Pool, Dead," as he describes himself initially, was formerly Wade Wilson, a crack Special Forces killer who left the military and became the Merc with the Mouth. (A merc is a mercenary.)
"I'm just a bad guy who gets paid to fuck up worse guys," Deadpool tells the audience in one of his first asides. In theater and film, this is called breaking the fourth wall.
We learn the (thin) story of how he got his name and how he fell in love, or at least extreme lust, with a wisecracking prostitute and how that love led to marriage plans.
Then, deathly ill with untreatable cancer, he receives a life-saving mutant-style treatment that also makes him immortal but renders him very unattractive.
"I look like a testicle with teeth," he explains in another aside. So he adopts the red spandex outfit and the new name.
After the bad guy scientist/cancer healer kidnaps Deadpool's fiancee, the title character goes into superhero mode. The story gets a little schizzy on motivation at this point -- rescue, revenge, facial reconstruction -- but this does not interrupt the action.
From beginning to end, the plot is peppered with punch-ups, jujitsu battles and elaborate fights with exotic blades. Squads of machine-gun toting bad guys appear out of nowhere on various occasions. These conflicts advance the story sometimes, but not always.
Two virtuous and non-sarcastic X-Men characters show up to help Deadpool fight his mortal enemy. Deadpool's attitude toward his allies calls to mind Groucho's view of Margaret Dumont.
Somehow it all gets resolved, sorta, but I don't want to ruin the suspense for those who have not seen the movie yet.
The R Rating
We are used to long summers punctuated by comic book-derived superhero movies. Most of these come from Marvel Studios, now a Disney subsidiary, that puts out PG-13 fare to capitalize on the audience of teen-age boys as well as that of grown men.
Deadpool first appeared onscreen several years ago in a small role in a poorly received X-Men movie. No one expected him to carry a film of his own until a group of creatives created a reboot story for the character and shot a reel of test footage to accompany it last year.
When the proposal was shown to 20th Century Fox executives, their reaction was hesitant, apparently because the film was sure to receive an R rating. The last R-rated comic book movie, "The Crow," had been released in 1994.
Then the footage was leaked online and shown at the big Comic Con convention in San Diego. Fan enthusiasm won over the doubters, and the film was made.
("Deadpool" is rated R, for "strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity," but my guess is that any motivated 15-year-old could wangle a ticket, even over his -- it would be a "his" -- mother's objections.)
We know what happened next. "Deadpool's" off-season opening on Feb. 12 was the most successful first day ever for an R-rated film.
Its worldwide gross came to $673 million after just three weekends and despite an outright ban for graphic violence that kept it out of China, the world's second largest movie market. There is talk of a possibly watered-down "Deadpool" version making its way to the Middle Kingdom later.
Naturally a sequel is in the works.
The movie's star, Ryan Reynolds, has found his niche. Deadpool could make him as rich as Iron Man has made Robert Downey Jr.