Deadpool targets low expectations, hits bull’s-eye, pretty much wins

The superhero genre has been ripe for parody for a long time. And no, I don’t mean the self-righteous Hollywood pity party of Birdman or the adolescent wish-fulfillment of Kick-Ass. What’s overdue is a gleeful, straight-up swipe at the well-worn tenets of the 21st-century superhero blockbuster.

Against all odds, Deadpool is that movie — mostly.

In an era when we’ve agreed to make appointment-viewing premium cable out of the stuff of an average 15-year-old boy’s wet dreams — looking at you, Game of ThronesDeadpool is the R-rated trash we deserve: devoid of subtlety, proudly frivolous, heavy on violence and nudity and profanity. And after 15 straight years of formulaic PG-13 movies about do-gooders in tights, it’s also an awful lot of fun.

Since his first appearance as a botched version of the Marvel Comics character in 2009’s awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, star and producer Ryan Reynolds has all but willed Deadpool into existence, vowing to get the character right this time. Somehow, various false starts, rewrites and budget changes over the years may have actually helped him keep his word. Deadpool, clocking in at an efficient 108 minutes, never strays from its one streamlined idea: Ex-Special Forces soldier Wade Wilson (who will become Deadpool) may possess great power, but every time a decision requires great responsibility he makes the wrong choice.

The comic-book character was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefield in 1991 at least partly to spoof of Spider-Man, so it’s appropriate that the movie world is already five web-slinging movies deep as a cinema Deadpool comes along. And if you think getting bitten by a radioactive spider is a ridiculous origin story, wait until you hear Deadpool’s: He is tortured until his deeply buried mutant powers reveal themselves. Huh?

In any other film, one might be able to say with a straight face that we should read into that some sort of comment on Guantanamo Bay or “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Not here, buster. No, this is a movie that opens with a 360-degree, slow-motion tracking shot in which our anti-hero gets his face buried in a bad guy’s crotch and gets shot in the ass.

That opening sequence, set ironically to Juice Newton’s easy-listening hit “Angel of the Morning,” sets the tone. (First-time director Tim Miller also helped create the CGI opening of David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so he’s no stranger to memorable set pieces.) Besides the numerous visual gags, the credits promise “Some Hot Chick,” a “Gratuitous Cameo” and an “Entirely CGI Villain.” Yes, Miller knows this territory well.

Reynolds, who rose to fame as a smarmy, hard-partying college layabout in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, is absolutely right here as a motormouthed smartass who hurls creatively dirty insults and breaks the fourth wall. The nonstop wisecracks can be grating at times, but the script, by Zombieland writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, mostly strikes the right balance of impudence and reverence. This is especially true when it’s poking fun at the X-Men franchise, which — improbably — it is also somehow part of. The shared universe notwithstanding, Deadpool comes off as a winking audition for the big leagues: When a couple of minor X-Men (Colossus and Teenage Negasonic Warhead) appear here, Deadpool jokes that they were the only two the movie could afford.

This brings up another key to Deadpool’s success: The entire meta affair has an underdog quality to it that’s pretty irresistible. Because it spoofs so many superhero plot conventions, it’s easier to swallow the fact that its own story is entirely conventional. If you’re going to present a standard revenge tale and weave in the thinnest of romantic subplots (Wilson’s girlfriend is even more clichéd than “Some Hot Chick” — she’s a hooker with a heart of gold), at least do it with a self-mocking attitude and swing for the fences.

If Reynolds’ ambition is truly for Deadpool to join the X-Men, it seems like it would be a pretty tough challenge, given the narrative specificity set up here. Maybe they could do two cuts of the same movie, one with an omniscient POV and another that keeps all the sly commentary and asides from our favorite anti-hero. Two movies for the price of one? That’s a franchise idea 20th Century Fox could probably get behind.