‘Deadpool’: How It’s Saving the Superhero Genre From Itself

Ryan Reynolds in 'Deadpool'

Source: 20th Century Fox

Every generation has a movie that perfectly nails the tired genre of its time to the wall. In the ’80s, the disaster movie craze gave us Airplane. 2 years after Pierce Brosnan’s role as James Bond in Goldeneye, we got the first Austin Powers movie. Now at the height of Hollywood’s superhero craze, we have Deadpool: The movie the comic book genre both needs and deserves right now. Most reviews you read will correctly describe it with words like “irreverent” and “subversive,” and they’d be entirely accurate in doing so. But to call it those things doesn’t even scratch the surface of what makes Deadpool so special.

Here we have a movie that couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time. Superhero films are just starting to stop taking themselves so seriously, a trend brought on first by Joss Whedon’s Avengers, honed by The Flash on the CW, and peaked out by James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But even all those pale in comparison to what Deadpool managed to accomplish over its tidy 107 minute runtime. It’s certainly no storytelling masterpiece, and it all honesty, it has no business even trying at that. Instead, it’s a meta-commentary so far up its own nether-regions that it comes full circle as a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Without spoiling too much, let’s dig into the lengthy to-do list Deadpool had going in. Because of its relatively insane source material, it had to pay lip service to an incredibly vocal and devoted built-in fanbase. The disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine then gave it the task of redeeming a story that many dubbed as one of the most egregious sins in comic book cinema this side of Catwoman. On top of all this, it had to playfully blend comedy elements with cohesive action scenes, all while fitting neatly into the already-established X-Men universe. Needless to say, director Tim Miller more than had his work cut out for him.

We’ll come right out and say this right away: Deadpool knocked every single one of these requirements out of the park, across the street, and all the way into the nearest ocean. The first scene shows our titular merc with a mouth diving headfirst into breaking the fourth wall, and from there it only gets crazier. While “irreverent” might be one of the more overused descriptions of this movie, it’s still nothing short of inappropriate. From the opening credits on, Deadpool earns every bit of its R-rating, delivering a healthy serving of foul language, full-frontal nudity, and violence that borders on Tarantino-esque.

For Ryan Reynolds, it’s a long-awaited redemptive effort from an actor who’s been the victim of both Origins and the ill-fated Green Lantern movie from DC. Deadpool utilizes Reynolds’s considerable comedic talent to its fullest, spurred by solid writing, a skilled directorial hand, and a commitment to staying as true to the source material as you can without crossing too far into some of the even crazier elements of the comics. And not for nothing, we get a series of not-so-subtle winks to the Deadpool persona created by Rob Liefield and Fabian Nicieza, in the form of well-placed action figures, offhand comments about Reynolds’s spotted superhero past, and frequent Hugh Jackman references.

What’s most refreshing about Deadpool isn’t found in any of that though. What sets it apart from all of its decidedly more serious contemporaries is that it has no illusions about what it’s trying to be. It’s not a commentary on good and evil, it’s not trying to tell us about what heroes are made of, and the stakes are relatively small by comic book standards. At the same time, it captures all the clever parodic elements of spiritual predecessors like Airplane and The Naked Gun, while still building a story about someone that we’re actively rooting for when it’s all said and done.

Deadpool isn’t supposed to be anything but a well-timed subversion of an already saturated superhero genre, and it achieves that goal in spades. Everything from the ambitiously creative marketing campaign to the well-earned R-rating came together to make a movie that exists far outside the normal scale of what makes a “good” superhero movie. There are definitely better comic book films out there: The Dark Knight, Guardians, and the first X-Men just to name a few. But there are few that as well-timed and important as Deadpool, having arrived just in time to save the superhero genre from itself. As T.J. Miller so aptly put it in his role as best friend to Wade Wilson, “now that sounds like a franchise.”

Deadpool releases nationwide Friday, February 12.

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