Meet Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the unstoppable potty-mouthed mutant mercenary in the crimson costume. Maiming and murdering his way through legions of gun-toting goons, our irreverent antihero is after Ajax (Ed Skrein), the evil agent-cum-mad scientist responsible for transforming the erstwhile Wade Wilson into a hideously disfigured albeit borderline indestructible meatbag. Which is why Wilson believes he can reunite with the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Just when it looks like Deadpool has finally got the drop on his nemesis, along come the X-Men's Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) to spoil his day, prompting a flashback to explain how things got so bad for Wade.
Controversial comic artist Rob Liefeld co-created the Deadpool character for Marvel Comics back in 1991 along with co-writer Fabian Nicieza. Had Marvel stuck with Liefeld's original concept it is possible Deadpool would have remained another embarrassing comic book relic from the Nineties, but a succession of writers and artists came to expand and redefine the character. Writer Joe Kelly introduced the fourth wall-breaking gimmick later expanded upon by Christopher Priest who made self-awareness and nihilism integral aspects of the Deadpool mythos. Eventually Deadpool's metatextual nature made him as much a generation-defining character for millennials as Spider-Man's eternal angst resonated with kids of the Sixties or Wolverine's badass fighting skills won fans in the Eighties. Just ask the legions of cosplayers that flock to ComicCon each year. One of the merc with the mouth's most fervent admirers just happened to be Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds.
Reynolds first portrayed Deadpool to lukewarm results in the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) then campaigned long and hard for his own feature film. The result fittingly was a low-budget underdog, by Hollywood comic book film standards anyway, that beat the odds to become one of the highest-grossing films of 2016. Embraced by comic book fans across America the Deadpool movie had a more muted reception elsewhere where some found its metatextual antics, ultra-violence and dick jokes too grating by half. Yet what the naysayers failed to notice was that while Deadpool revived a certain R-rated crowd-pleasing combo of sex, splatter and sick humour unseen since the heyday of Robocop (1987), the film also successfully pulled off some disarming, almost sweetly old-fashioned messages. Seemingly outdated ideals like 'love conquers all' and 'it's not what you look like on the outside but what you have inside that counts' took on a new resonance sandwiched between layers of otherwise cynical satire and irreverence.
Right from the hilarious opening credits Deadpool establishes an irreverent tone even more extreme than Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Thereafter the film pokes affectionate fun at the superhero genre itself, the increasingly convoluted nature of the X-Men franchise ("McAvoy or Stewart? Those timelines are confusing"), Hugh Jackman and even Ryan Reynolds himself including his failed Green Lantern (2011) movie. Tim Miller does an outstanding job orchestrating all this metatextual mayhem but the real star is the script. Pithy, punchy and laden with heart, this has screenwriters Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick draw a surprisingly engaging love story. The anguish of the disfigured hero unable to be with the woman he loves had been handled before, most notable in Sam Raimi's oft-underrated Darkman (1990). Yet the relationship between Wade Wilson and Vanessa came across far more believable and nuanced than the average comic book couple, laden with layers of warmth and pathos further energized by terrific chemistry between the actors. Morena Baccarin will make a lot of Firefly fans happy, and not on account she looks lovelier than ever in racy fetish gear nor her showstopping sex montage (well, not solely anyway) but rather inhabiting a love interest with a personality more vivid and outspoken than is the norm. At the same time Ryan Reynolds happily finds his signature role, one that united the two aspects of his screen persona: wiseass and action hero. He is quick with a quip but also disarmingly vulnerable or impassioned where he needs to be. Elsewhere the icing on the cake is the inclusion of special guest X-Men Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead - whose name causes Deadpool no end of amusement although their relationship unfolds in downright charming fashion. Admittedly the rationale behind their pursuit of Deadpool does not entirely add up but the characters are arguably drawn more accurately and endearingly than in many an X-Men film. Bonus points for the finest use of a Peter Cetera song in cinema history.