“Deadpool” is one of those movies that’s all the more successful for how easily it could have gone so very wrong. It’s suffused with an arch, self-aware wit — its titular hero violates the fourth wall more than Groucho Marx, Bugs Bunny and Ambush Bug put together — yet it takes its romance and revenge storylines just seriously enough to keep us engaged.
It’s a film that’s amused with itself, but thanks to a screwball screenplay by Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick (“Zombieland”) and a charmingly snarky lead turn by Ryan Reynolds, that amusement is both thoroughly earned and completely contagious.
If you loved the way “Guardians of the Galaxy” turned the standard superhero formula on its spandex-covered ear — and you’re old enough to handle some very R-rated language and violence — “Deadpool” delivers a similarly delightful surprise.
Deadpool is a mercenary with a heart of, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, brass. Created in the comics by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza — and previously, problematically, brought to the screen in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” — he’s a mouthy antihero, unbound by the rules of superheroism and frequently prone to quip about the fact that he is a character in a movie, one who would like nothing more than to get his hands on Ajax (Ed Skrein, “The Transporter Refueled”).
Ajax, you see, took a cancer-stricken Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) and turned him into the indestructible Deadpool, but the process involved continued torture that would make even the “Zero Dark Thirty” crew blanch. Since escaping from Ajax’s clutches, Deadpool has sworn vengeance, with the help of his roommate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams — yes, that Leslie Uggams) and bartender Weasel (T.J. Miller, playing the comedic straight man for once).
The person Deadpool wants to keep out of this vendetta is Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, “Gotham”), the love of his life — Ajax’s treatment gave Wade powers, but also turned his face into a cross between raw chuck and two miles of bad road, so Wade would just as soon have Vanessa think he’s dead.
It’s the chemistry between Reynolds and Baccarin that gives “Deadpool” most of its stakes; a lesser film would be undone by the hero’s constant looking at the camera and referencing the fact that this is all a movie, but we genuinely care about whether or not Deadpool will reveal himself to Vanessa, and whether Ajax will use her as a way to capture his nemesis, and that gives this self-conscious movie some necessary grounding.
And if you’re here for superhero shenanigans, director Tim Miller (making his feature debut) doesn’t skimp on that, either, bringing in X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand, Sundance entry “First Girl I Loved”) to skirmish with Deadpool before the three team up to take on Ajax and Angel Dust (Gina Carano, who’s an ass-kicking special effect unto herself).
A movie that both features a powerful mutant in tights and contains quippy references to Juice Newton and “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” rides a fine line in turning off comedy and comic-book fans simultaneously, but for me, “Deadpool” hit the sweet spot of entertaining violence – there’s nothing like an R-rated superhero movie to underscore the ludicrousness of this genre’s bloodlessness – and disengaging humor. “Deadpool” shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does.
The Evolution of Marvel Movies: From Dolph Lundgren's 'Punisher' to 'Ant-Man' (Photos)
"Howard the Duck" (1986) - In this Marvel-meets-George-Lucas sci-fi comedy, a human-size duck is propelled to Earth from outer space as the result of a scientific mishap. Emphasis was placed on special effects and portraying Howard as a less cynical duck than that in the comic.
"The Punisher" (1989) - Dolph Lundgren donned a signature skull shirt for a violent adaptation of the story of vigilante Frank Castle, a.k.a The Punisher
New World Pictures
"Fantastic Four" (1994) - Legend has it that Roger Corman produced this low-budget adaptation so that a producer could retain the film rights to the comic. Though never released theatrically, it is available on YouTube.
"Generation X" (1996) - Hoping to capitalize on the popular “X-Men” animated series of the '90s, “Generation X” was a TV movie that aired on Fox about a school for the gifted run by Emma Frost and Banshee.
"Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." (1998) - David Hasselhoff donned Nick Fury’s eye-patch long before Sam Jackson in this made-for-TV-movie that premiered on Fox.
Fury Productions/Fox Network
"Blade" (1998) - Wesley Snipes headlined as a half-man, half-vampire fighting against an evil bloodsucker intent on taking over the world
Marvel/New Line Cinema
"X-Men" (2000) - Hugh Jackman achieved international fame as Wolverine in the story of the famed Marvel superhero team
Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox
"Hulk" (2003) - Ang Lee's much maligned story of Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) as he struggles to control the raging monster within himself
"Daredevil" (2003) - Ben Affleck earned plenty of scorn for his portrayal of the blind defender of Hell's Kitchen. Nevertheless, the film earned almost $180 million globally
"The Punisher" (2004) - Thomas Jane took over as Frank Castle in this ultra-violent vigilante tale that also starred John Travolta
"Elektra" (2005) - Jennifer Garner reprises her role as Elektra Natchios, an international assassin, in the spin-off from the more successful 2003 film, Daredevil.
Twentieth Century Fox
"Man-Thing" (2005) - Marvel tried its hand at horror with the “Man-Thing,” loosely based on Stan Lee's swamp monster comic from '71. It features a swamp-monster whose touch burns people who feel fear.
Lions Gate/Artisan Entertainment
"Ghost Rider" (2007) - Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes starred in the story of a motorcycle daredevil (Cage) who sold his soul to the devil.
"Iron Man" (2008) - The movie that launched the MCU into the stratosphere starred Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire Tony Stark, a weapons manufacturerer who decides to defend the innocent who are caught in the path of the very weapons he once designed
"The Incredible Hulk" (2008) - Edward Norton took over the role of Dr. Bruce Banner in the setup to the eventual "Avengers" crossover
"Captain America" (2011) - Chris Evans took up the red, white, and blue shield of the First Avenger as he fought against Hydra head Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)
"Thor" (2011) - Chris Hemsworth played the hammer-wielding god of thunder as he battles his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), for control of the mythical realm of Asgard
"The Avengers" (2012) - The superhero team assembled for this blockbuster as they fought to prevent an alien invasion of Earth. Mark Ruffalo took over the role of Bruce Banner from Edward Norton
"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) - Chris Pratt proved himself to be an action superstar as Peter "Star-Lord" Quill in this intergalactic sensation that grossed almost $775 million
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015) - The Avengers assemble once again as they try to stop Ultron, an A.I. built by Tony Stark that wants to destroy humanity
"Ant-Man" (2015) Paul Rudd plays a thief just out of prison who stumbles on a suit that shrinks him to microscopic size -- all the better to prevent Corey Stoll's evil executive from using the same technology for warfare.
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Marvel adaptations have gone from cheesy fun films to guaranteed hits and box office gold