Review: ‘Deadpool’ is the world’s most violent and vulgar Bugs Bunny cartoon

To be honest, I can't believe this movie even exists.

It's not like Deadpool is some impossible to decipher art film, or like the plot is impossible to follow. It's more a case of “Fox has never been this loose or this adventurous with any of their franchise superhero properties, and I'm not sure how anyone convinced them to do this,” and if for no other reason, I salute the studio for taking this particular chance.

And while superhero films are enormously popular and the X-Men franchise in general has been a steady performer for the studio, make no mistake: Deadpool represents a genuine roll of the dice. Aside from the R-rating, a first for this franchise, it's also just plain weird. Structurally, I can't think of another film quite like it. It's two scenes as well as some flashbacks and connective tissue. That's it. In one scene, Deadpool attacks a bunch of cars to find a guy. The guy gets away and, in the second scene, threatens Deadpool's girlfriend so they fight. That's it. That's the entire story. It is almost preposterous how little “plot” there is in the film.

What it has in spades is attitude, and right up until the moment the film began, I was afraid It was going to be so juvenile and filthy that I would end up annoyed by it. Instead, from the very beginning of the opening credits, it is clear that director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have crafted something deeply silly that isn't remotely interested in playing by the conventional rules of what we've come to think of as “the superhero genre.”

One of the things that is becoming clear as we enter another year and kick off another slate of very different films all united by superpowered characters in brightly-colored costumes is that this is less of a genre and more an overall umbrella under which all sorts of different stories can be told. What Deadpool does well is demonstrate that the voice with which these stories are told is what really matters, and more than ever before, I am convinced that if you're going to bother buying one of these properties to turn into a film, then the single best decision you can make is to actually use the character that people will recognize. For so long, comic book films made the fundamental mistake of buying characters, then immediately changing anything and everything recognizable about them. The perfect example of that would be the version of Deadpool who showed up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He's pretty much as fundamentally wrong as a screen version of a character can be. Looking at how different this is, even with the same person playing the part, it's clear how easy it is to miss the mark, and how important it is to start simply by honoring what already works.

After all, Deadpool is about as weird a character as there is in the Marvel stable, at least in the way he behaves. He's Bugs Bunny with swords and a healing factor, constantly talking, constantly snarking, and not taking anything too seriously. Because he doesn't, we don't, and in a film like that, you can't tell us the standard issue “superhero has to save the world” story, and thank god for it. Ultimately, this is the story of a bad guy with a dumb nickname who is very upset that Deadpool won't call him by his dumb nickname. That's it. Those are the stakes. There's 100% no chance the world ends in this film. It's never a threat. This is entirely personal, and that's fine. I'm more interested as a result. By making the stakes so small, it gives the film permission to let Deadpool be as self-interested and ridiculous as he wants to be. Reynolds simply isn't as good at sincerity as he is when he's playing absurd, and the film plays to those strengths. Every time the movie even vaguely threatens to get serious, either a joke or a sight gag or simply the way Reynolds delivers a line explodes that seriousness, and the movie's better for it.

Karan Soni scores some big laughs as Dopinder, a cab driver who helps Deadpool on a few occasions, and TJ Miller's never been given an easier lay-up of a role than he has as Weasel, who is the bartender at the mercenary club where Wade Wilson originally picks up his assignments. Ed Skrein plays Ajax, the bad guy with the stupid nickname who is part of the project that gives Deadpool his powers. It's not quite the Weapon X program anymore, and before you protest that it undermines the X-Men connection, let me assure you… they couldn't make this any more explicitly an X-Men movie if they tried. Not only do we go to Xavier's mansion at one point, a familiar sight to any fan of the franchise, but we meet a brand-new mutant character in the form of Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and spend a good deal of time with Colossus, hilariously voiced by Stefan Kapcic. Colossus is such a great call by the filmmakers, because he's gigantic and super-square and a perfect foil for Deadpool in terms of attitude. Because he's in his metal form for the entire movie, Colossus is entirely CGI, and Digital Domain did a heck of a job with him, as they did with all of the movie's visual FX. I genuinely love every moment Colossus is onscreen, ostensibly trying to recruit Deadpool to join the X-Men, and I hope he's never successful. It's fun to see him out of his element while Deadpool swears and murders people, but I think it would be less fun watching the filmmakers try to tone Deadpool down enough to fit him into a PG-13 conventional superhero film. You know… like in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. One of the things that works in Reynolds' favor in this film is all the time he's tried to be a superhero in the past and failed. He is able to make a near constant stream of jokes about his own misfires, and every one of them only makes him seem more likable.

One of the things that's interesting about the film is the way it paints the relationship between Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, who has never been more appealing in any role) and Wade. “Your crazy matches my crazy,” she tells him at one point, and that seems like as great an explanation of love as you're likely to see in a pure popcorn movie. When they meet, they compare hard-luck stories, and immediately see that they are kindred spirits. There's a “romance montage” near the start of the film that features a gag that is both juvenile sex joke and genuinely progressive. What other mainstream superhero film can you think of where the lead character gets pegged, likes it, and it's treated as just one part of a healthy adult sexual relationship? Sure, it's a quick thing and a small thing, but I think one of the reasons I liked Deadpool as much as I did is because it avoided being the nihilistic dick joke that I was afraid it would be. Tim Miller's got a fun, clean visual style, and he knows how to sell a visual joke. The film is positively loaded with background jokes and small details, and I feel like a dummy for not realizing that the entire setting of the film's third act is a sort of Easter egg/tie-in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I'm not sure there's a franchise in Deadpool, because some of what I enjoyed here was the sheer surprise of it all, but I hope it does incredibly well. The message it sends is that you can push this stuff further than the studios have dared so far, and sometimes it pays off to take a chance. Best case scenario: Warner Bros. sees the success of this one and then Suicide Squad does well, and then someone decides to greenlight Robert Gordon's Bizarro screenplay. For now, I'll just marvel at the fact that Fox finally grew the jooblies to let this film happen.

Also, this is now the official Best Stan Lee Cameo ever.

Deadpool opens in theaters everywhere Friday, February 12, 2016.