Subversion, thy superhero name is Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds).
Well, more currently at least Deadpool 2, which has roared into cinemas, dragging the entrails of its genre conventions, social niceties and a truckload of witty oneliners and devastatingly clever pop culture references in its sassy, and oft times, surprisingly heartfelt wake.
This is not your grandmother’s Marvel movie – strictly speaking it’s not an official Marvel movie at all since the film rights still sit with 20th Century Fox but hey, he’s a comic book compatriot of Iron Man and Captain America so close enough – unless of course your nanna is the kind of person who rejoices in a cavalcade of jokes so wonderfully beyond the pale that there’s likely no good taste GPS coordinates where they reside.
That is, of course, the joy of the Merc with a Mouth, who, with help from writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, shreds every single last superhero genre trope into a thousand blood-soaked pieces – the gore and violence is the film is both cartoonish and wince-inducing – while somehow, and this is impressive part, very much honouring the universe it inhabits (not, we hasten to remind you again, the big, bold MCU one of which Disney is so fond).
Time and again, Deadpool smashes the fourth wall, addressing the audience with wisecrack-laden observations about the dearth of X-Men in Xavier’s mansion – there’s a brilliant scene where all the other X-Men, which Deadpool deadpans is a cultural metaphor for race from the ’60s and a misogynistic term to boot, spot our hilariously foulmouthed anti-hero and close the door on him – the use of music and camera angles, and a slew of other genre commonalities that we take for granted but which are, on closer inspection, more than a little silly.
The crowning glory of all this self-referential hilarity comes at the very start of the film – it comes in hard, fast and unapologetically brazen and doesn’t let up until the very funny mid-credits scene (do not wait until the very end of the credits for something extra; it does not exist) – when Deadpool, lying atop drums of test fuel and seconds away from lighting a bonfire of suicidal death, sets a Logan dead on a spike music box off-and-running, quipping that “Guess what, Wolvy: In this one, I’m dying too.’
Even in death Deadpool is funny, and given that this particular superhero has ridiculously hyper-healing abilities, you know that any dismemberment, and it is, true to form for a film that is determined to upset the sensibilities of the squeamish and ill-at-ease, is not going to last too long.
But while the act may be temporary, what leads to it and from it, is not, with some fairly emotional-intense moments sitting cheek-by-jowl, heartrendingly so at times, with the quips and the jocular visual shenanigans.
That is, in part, why Deadpool 2, and Deadpool as a character, works so well.
It knows full well that people are there for the bare-boned, in-your-face witticisms such as “So, mission accomplished? … Well, in a George W. kind of way.” and “I love your shiny suit. It really brings out the sex trafficker in your eyes”, and that, full-on though they are, they define the character to a large, likeable degree – he may be confronting but goddammit only to the bad guys who deserve it – and it plays to that with cheeky, unstinting bravado; but it never forgets that what gives the movies substance, and this one in particular, is its willingness to wear its heart daringly on its all-too-often ripped sleeve.
You see it time and again whether its reacting to some fairly resonant events surrounding Deadpool aka Wade’s fiancée Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) or in his protective care for aggrieved mutant teenager Russell Collins aka Firefist (Julian Dennison) who’s on a murderous path that will define him and the loved ones of those he kills, and the character arc of villain Cable (Josh Brolin) who turns out to be much more layered than the bad guys and gals of more conventional Marvel and DC Comics films (speaking of the latter, there is a quip about the seriousness of the universe of Batman and Wonder Woman that is damn near worth the price of admission alone).
Deadpool 2 may play and loose with conventions and sensibilities (The Family Guy-esque joke-telling pushes the envelope to bursting point and trust me, you won’t regret a moment), but it’s not a joke-spewing monster, and wouldn’t be have as much fun to watch if it was, and its inclination to embrace moment of raw, gut-wrenching emotional intimacy add so much potency and depth to the manic insanity of much of the rest of the film.
And manic it most certainly is.
We race from Wade’s apartment bursting into life ending/not ending flames to the Icebox where mutants are kept away from humanity – who are the real monsters here? Deadpool 2 makes it clear that it’s not the advanced humans, save for a few select douchebags, thank you very much – and to a climactic battle at an orphanage where unspeakable atrocities have taken place (and yes, Deadpool is more than happy to talk about them in jokes both hilarious and deeply-affecting) and our favourite anti-hero joins with new friend Domino aka Neena Thurman (Zazie Beetz), old pals Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), whose girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna) is a delight, and Colossus (Stefan Kapičić), his taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) and yes, Cable who, as noted, is way more nuanced that initial appearances might suggest, with fluid ferocity.
Yet, for all this pell-mell craziness and endless upending of tropes and conventions, and more pop culture references than a summer convention – cited, among many others are Say Anything, Interview With the Vampire, Terminator, Yentl, RoboCop, Dave Matthews, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the most inventive use of songs like Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and Cher’s “Turn Back Time” that you’ve ever seen (containing the best The Green Lantern joke of all time, pun intended) – Deadpool 2 has an incredible amount of humanity and soul, a wisecracking blood and vengeance fest that never loses sight of the winning complexity of its protagonist.
He is not, nor has he ever been, a cardboard cutout, flimsy joke projector; rather he is layered, heartfelt and all too aware of the darker places in life – there is a crack at one point about masking pain with humour, which is Deadpool to the core – and this depth of character, and a more complete and robust narrative than the first film, mean that Deadpool 2 is that rare satire which manages to be more meaningful and reflective of the best of its genre than films that takes themselves way more seriously.
At its heart, Deadpool 2 is a ridiculously rewarding mix of fourth-wall breaking, foul-mouthed wisecrackery, pop culture reference-littered, meta-rich, heartfelt storytelling that is fun and deeply serious all once, a frenetic blend that is both intelligent and scatalogically childish all at once, and never less than ferociously, insightfully clever, and endlessly, guffaw-worthy funny.
If only all superhero movies were this cool.