Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a bounty hunter with a big attitude but a tiny soft spot. He rarely goes so far as to kill his quarry, although he is also unafraid to defend himself, if necessary. He spends his off-hours in a bar specifically catered to other mercs, where he shoots the shit with the bartender, Weasel (T.J. Miller). One evening, he runs into a beautiful prostitute named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a woman who his match in almost every way. They quickly fall in love and have a blissful, if not exactly squeaky-clean, relationship.
Then Wade gets diagnosed with cancer. He is recruited by a creepy-looking man in a black suit to take part in an experiment that will cure his illness and also imbue him with super powers. Wade reluctantly abandons Vanessa to a life without a terminal partner, figuring that he has nothing to lose by taking part in the experiment. It becomes apparent that Wade stands little chance at surviving the tests, due to the sadistic wiles of Ajax (Ed Skrein), who tells Wade he will be permanently disfigured if he doesn't die first.
Wade makes it through, although he ends up looking like a "testicle with teeth," and he attempts to destroy the facility and Ajax along with it, using his new indestructibility and super-strength. He fails, but resolves to find Ajax and kill him at all costs. Wade reinvents himself as Deadpool, donning handguns, twin katanas and red Spandex to cover up his deformities and to hide when he bleeds from the many injuries he sustains.
This is the main thrust of the film, and although it sounds more or less like a typical revenge flick, Tim Miller's Deadpool is anything but that. Based on the Marvel superhero also known as the "Merc with a Mouth," Deadpool transfers many of the quirks and idiosyncrasies introduced into the otherwise self-serious comics by the character. Deadpool is aware that he is in a comic and frequently breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it. Likewise, Deadpool speaks to the audience of the film not only through narration, but also by talking to the camera, and even pushing the camera out of view when he is about to commit particularly gruesome violence.
Reynolds is the platonic ideal to play this character. He is rather limited as an actor, otherwise, but it is hard to imagine someone with his exact combination of snark and screen presence who could really sell this despicable-yet-lovable anti-hero. Baccarin is also well-cast as his lover, a woman who seems like she can take care of herself, but is unfortunately forced into damsel-in-distress mode. Skrein, coming off his big-time debut as low-rent Jason Statham in the Transporter reboot, is charismatic and menacing, although he is far from the most interesting of the super villains we have come to encounter in the age of cinematic ubermensch. Miller demonstrates that he is better suited to playing deadpan to the zaniness of the people around him, making me hope he takes a similar direction in his performance as Ehrlich on HBO's otherwise terrific Silicon Valley.
The real star is the script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, which takes the tropes of the origin story and throws them into a blender, probably without the cover on. Reese and Wernick take advantage of Deadpool's liberty with fictional boundaries by telling the story out of order, flashing back constantly and seemingly in the character's stream-of-consciousness. In the first half hour, the film will frequently stops and rewinds itself to provide context for the wholesale slaughter that opens the story. The characters also make constant allusions to other movies, particularly those set in the same universe, such as Blade and X-Men. Indeed, two characters from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters appear in significant roles, although Deadpool himself hangs a hilarious lantern on the conspicuous absence of other, more famous mutants.
The film is also one of the few recent superhero movies to receive an R-rating, a designation Deadpool wears proudly. The characters are vulgar, profane and petty in their near-constant use of swear words and sexual innuendo. We spend a decent portion of the film dwelling on Deadpool's nether regions, and also see some actual skin in a sex scene, for once. Most importantly, these characters bleed. Deadpool takes pleasure in the inventive and efficient manner in which he executes his enemies, and we get a front-and-center view almost every time. Despite conventional wisdom that dictates real money is made with PG-13 ratings, Deadpool has become one of the most successful R-rated pictures of all time.
Deadpool should provide a blueprint not only for future comic book movies, but also action movies in general. While its direction never comes to close to the dizzying heights established by last year's Mad Max: Fury Road, it is nevertheless an impressive and engagingly brutal extravaganza of violence and mayhem that is mixed seamlessly with witty, albeit occasionally puerile, comedy.