The Netflix series Daredevil, with its dark storylines and neo-noir ultraviolence, originally struck me as a glimpse at the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But as it turns out, there’s a level below that one, a darker, bloodier, raunchier level, and that’s the gleefully incorrect Deadpool (2016).
Clever, crass, meta, and nonlinear, Deadpool tells the dizzying, antiheroic story of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a former Special Forces killer who makes his living as an intimidating thug-for-hire. Wilson is an unlikable jerk, but he delights in taking it out on even bigger, more unlikable jerks. Wilson’s match-made-in-heaven romance with snarky prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is interrupted by a cruel twist of fate, which leads Wilson into the employ of Ajax (Ed Skrein), an evil scientist who wants to unleash Wilson’s inner mutant. And thus, Deadpool—one of the MCU’s most entertaining assholes—is born.
Deadpool manages to both embrace and subvert the very formula that made it possible, and as such it’s a refreshing change of pace for the MCU…if you can use the word “refreshing” to describe something so rude, bloody, and full of taboos. It’s an R-rated Marvel film, filled with gratuitous language, nudity, and graphic violence, and while in some ways that makes it a departure from canon, it also feels like an inevitable consequence of the super-powered world in which it’s set. While meta in-jokes and fourth-wall breaks set it aside, it still benefits from the origin-story paces and messy, chaotic finale structure of the usual MCU fare, making it both of its milieu and beside it.
In retrospect, I found myself asking: do we really need another white, male antihero? The answer is a resounding no. Yet I find myself curiously defensive of Deadpool, who is slightly out of step with the antihero archetype. In a universe increasingly cluttered by similarly motivated heroes, Deadpool is an aberration, holding up his middle finger to them all—an unforgiving, foul-mouthed wild card. Reynolds seems game for anything, and goes all in on the role to hilarious effect. He’s matched kink-for-kink and quirk-for-quirk by Morena Baccarin, who is typically fantastic, although I wish her character hadn’t been quite so girlfriended. (Irritating to learn that her character was based on a superhero in her own right; sadly, there’s no evidence of that here.) They’re surrounded by a pro forma smattering of C-list Marvel characters who serve their various heroic, villainous, and comic-relief functions well enough.
Deadpool doesn’t break much new ground, and its smarmy offensiveness is likely to repel certain viewers, but it’s a funny, disgusting, in-your-face romp and I found it gloriously diverting.