Hollywood is perhaps best understood as a fancier version of professional wrestling. And in Hollywood, like in professional wrestling, there’s a whole coterie of relatively bland guys that the industry is trying to “put over”—that is, make audiences care about and cheer for them to succeed. Sam Worthington and Jai Courtney, for instance, are actors without anything resembling star power or charisma. Hollywood, for years, has tried to make them “a thing.”
Ryan Reynolds is sometimes lumped in with this category of actor (see this piece, for example), and it’s always irked me. Unlike the other folks in this realm, Reynolds has generally struck me as genuinely charming. And, sure, smarmy. But it’s a sort of charming smarm, or smarmy charm. “Schmarm,” if you will. Ryan Reynolds, in movies like Van Wilder and Waiting and Just Friends, came to embody schmarm.
But it’s undeniably true that I’m in the minority here, as Reynolds has never been able to break through with audiences in a real or enduring way. Every effort to turn him into a legit action star has been met with stony silence, if not open contempt.
It hasn’t helped that the vehicles he has been attached to are, generously speaking, garbage. Blade III is the worst entry in that series by far. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is arguably the worst iteration of that series, and made very poor use of Reynolds’ schmarm while introducing the world to Deadpool (more on this in a moment). Green Lantern was one of the biggest flops of the superhero era, grossing just $116 million domestically on a $200 million budget and netting a 19 percent fresh rating from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes. For a solid decade, Reynolds just couldn’t catch a break.
And so it is with some joy that I relate to you the following: Deadpool is not only fun and silly and entertaining, it is also poised to become a huge box office hit. Ryan Reynolds has finally found his star vehicle.
Reynolds is Wade Wilson, who, we learn in a series of flashbacks, is a mercenary that beats up bad guys for money. He used to be a Special Forces operator but now is content to whale on stalkers and the like for cash. After falling in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a hooker with a heart of gold and a filthy mouth, Wilson discovers he has cancer and undergoes a dangerous experiment in order to spur a mutation that he hopes will cure him and allow him a few more years on this planet.
This Wade Wilson bears little resemblance to the Wade Wilson Reynolds played in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a fact that may have something to do with the universe-deleting/reordering effects of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Or, perhaps, the studio just said “screw it, forget about X-Men Origins, here’s a new version of the character.” Fans of continuity may be a trifle annoyed or confused, but the retcon is played for laughs within the film itself—at one point, Wilson holds a toy that resembles the bastardized version of Deadpool seen in X-Men Origins and chuckles something to the effect of “it could always be worse.” So maybe audiences will simply recognize the absurdity of getting worked up over it and won’t care.
Continuity isn’t the only thing that’s played for laughs in Deadpool. Reynolds portrays the “merc with a mouth” to perfection, breaking the fourth wall so frequently that it sometimes feels less like a feature film and more like a meta-movie commenting on superhero films. Fortunately, the critique is more about entertainment than intellectual impact: It would be hard to take seriously a film that delights in treating human bodies like so much road kill.
Not for the squeamish (or the kids), Deadpool earns its hard-R rating with copious and gratuitous violence as well as relatively explicit sex scenes. And, honestly, that’s one of the refreshing things about it. Deadpool never feels dangerous, exactly—it’s too silly and content to revel in its own sense of immaturity for that—but it does feel different from its predecessors in the Marvel movie world.
And given that this is the first of approximately 487 comic book movies to hit screens over the next year or so, “different” is quite welcome.