Our “new” gods are superheroes. Flying, indestructible men (mostly) who save humanity that appear in the theaters every few months where we worship them by spending millions on movie tickets along with scooping up their merchandise and connected comic books. The movies are, for the most part, super serious and dour in their pursuit of “justice” and the whole thing is wearing a bit thin. We need to be reminded that these new gods are fallible and look pretty silly running around in their tights and armor.
And that’s where Deadpool, the “merc with a mouth,” comes in. The character, created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, first appeared in the X-Men books in the ’90s as a smart-assed anathema to the overblown world of muscle-stacked superheroes. In the comics, Deadpool regularly breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader as a confidant and accomplice. He is us and we are him.
Deadpool routinely mocks and annoys his fellow superhumans like a costumed Bugs Bunny, another notorious fourth-wall-breaker. He laughs at the gods and exposes the flaws of their universe’s logic.
One way to understand Deadpool is to consider what the Pueblo peoples call koshare—sacred clowns who routinely mocked the gods at sacred ceremonies. While the kachinas, spirits in Pueblo cultures, paraded around in unison in their ornate clothing, the hastily painted koshare would disrupt them and teach the people about balance in life. Deadpool is our koshare—a parodist. Someone to lighten the mood. As Deadpool’s creators readily admit, Deadpool’s an over-the-top parody of the rival DC universe’s serious villain, Deathstroke. Deathstroke is an indestructible mercenary named Slade Wilson. Deadpool is an indestructable mercenary named Wade Wilson.
And as we gear up for a spring and summer season of more serious superhero films, Deadpool, played impeccably by Canadian wag Ryan Reynolds, is a palate cleanser. Former Green Beret Wade Wilson remains a foul-mouthed, self-serving prick who has little regard for human life other than his stripper girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and Weasel (T.J. Miller) who runs a bar for mercenaries here. This is an R-rated superhero parody—as it should be. After he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Wilson agrees to undergo a special treatment that promises a cure. Little does he know that he’s going to be a guinea pig for a shadow organization seeking the mutant gene in former soldiers and remaking them into killing machines. The so-called Weapon X program is the same organization responsible for fellow mutant Wolverine. Wilson’s mutation gene is a little more hidden than most and requires severe torture by Ajax, played by scene-chewing Brit Ed Skrein, who’s impervious to pain, and his mute female powerhouse Angel Dust, played by professional Muay Thai fighter Gina Carano. One of the tortures they inflict upon Wilson wakes up his mutant gene, which like Wolverine allows his cells to regenerate, thus making him pretty hard to kill, but also destroys his skin, making him pretty fucking ugly in the process. Wilson breaks free and destroys the Weapon X lab but loses to Ajax who pins him to the floor, leaving him for dead of course. What follows is a pretty standard revenge flick only this one’s on acid: Wilson lives, gets his Deadpool moniker, and makes his suit red to hide the blood when he gets shot, hacked, and sliced throughout the film.
The suits at Fox wisely let writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who penned “Zombieland,” director Tim Miller, and Reynolds run wild with the character. Reese and Wernick chose the X-Man stalwart Colossus, righteous Russian man of steel, who keeps lecturing Wilson on the true ways of the superhero, as Deadpool’s “Kachina.” During one scene after Wilson destroys about a dozen henchmen, he stops the steel giant mid-lecture with the withering line “I don’t have time for your X-Men bullshit, Colossus.” They also cleverly cast Brianna Hildebrand as the teen goth hero Negasonic Teenage Warhead, a powerful mutant who, when not running around as a fireball, lives on her phone and literally “can’t even.”
If you go into the theater thinking this is your run-of-the-mill superhero flick, you’re going to be disappointed and a little confused. “Deadpool” is the “Airplane” of comic book films. Like “Deadpool,” the Zucker brothers’ “Airplane” was a response to years of deadly serious disaster films. And it was a huge success because people were tired of the genre. Reese and Wernick acknowledge our exhaustion with superhero films by setting the final battle on what looks like a downed, rusted S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier from The Avengers films, poke fun at the X-Men movies, and even rib Reynolds’ turn as Green Lantern—DC’s only superhero bomb to date.
At the same time, you feel for Wilson as he tries to get back to his girl back despite his new deformities. It’s a delicate balance and one of the better comedy scripts to come a long in recent memory. They even get all the way through without resorting to potty humor, something seriously rare in modern comedy. Similar to their cult hit “Zombieland,” the writers take a tired genre and turn it on its head. Even the opening credits are a tongue-in-cheek breath of fresh air. Viewing Fox’s “Deadpool” after the stinker that was their mega-bomb from last year “Fantastic Four” is like a D student suddenly coming home with an A on his report card. How did this happen?