Through its marketing, Deadpool has been sold as a game-changer to the superhero genre, which sees itself in a state of stagnation due to constant reboots, origin stories, recycled tropes, and sequels that don’t bring anything new. With an R-rating and a superhero that is more akin to a supervillain, Deadpool is indeed a fresh take on the superhero genre. This is due in most part to the titular protagonist’s care-free nature. That’s to say, because Deadpool is a goofball assassin who constantly quips, both towards characters in the film and towards the audience, the film is one that doesn’t take itself too seriously; the latter statement being a folly the majority of superhero films which showcase characters in tight spandex fighting villains to save the world display.
By doing away with the grandiose nature of the superhero genre, Deadpool gets right to the point: action, comedy, and romance; it’s escapism in its purest form because of the self-reflexivity of the film. The audience is in on the joke and so is the film. Granted, Deadpool is falling in line with conventional film genres, it’s not so much as the film pointing towards the fact that it knows this so much as what Deadpool does with it. It is not enough to create a satire that’s supposed to be bad for the sake of irony. This in itself is lazy because it allows the film to be below the standard just because of a sense of self-awareness. Unlike Kingsman: Secret Service, a film Deadpool is comparable to, due to both films’ nature of violence and play with tropes, Deadpool is able to take the next step in its satire because the film is not pretending to be better than its other superhero counterparts. Everything in the film becomes a punch-line, one that is contingent on a certain amount of knowledge on superhero pop-culture. Oddly enough, this makes Deadpool comparable to the films of the French New Wave which constantly referenced either inspirations or films by other contemporary directors.
For example, during an early fight-scene Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is batted aside, crashing into a car. As he is flying, the camera freezes the frame and Deadpool quips that at least the situation couldn’t be worse. The next shot is a flashback, and the image presented here is a close-up of a small Deadpool toy, although not the Deadpool from this film. The Deadpool in question is the character’s appearance in an earlier superhero film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an appearance that was lambasted by fans for being a far-cry and terrible representation of the hero. The comedy here is working two-fold and it’s not that watching Deadpool is contingent on having seen a slew of other superhero films but that for those who do get all the references, Deadpool attains a pop-culture complexity that makes the satire funny, a feat which Birdman, ironically a film with homages to Jean-Luc Godard, attempted and failed to do.
Deadpool’s story begins with two different narratives. The first, which opens the film, follows Deadpool on his hunt for Ajax (Ed Skrein), a supervillain mutant who is responsible for giving Deadpool his powers but also responsible for permanently disfiguring Deadpool’s entire body in the process. The second narrative is a series of flashbacks that are intercut with the first narrative, and the point of this second story is to show who Deadpool was before he became Deadpool.
In essence, the second narrative is an origin story where the audience learns about Wade Wilson: a mercenary who falls in love, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and finally undergoes an experimental procedure to cure his cancer in exchange for superpowers. The experiment goes wrong and Wilson is forced to flee from his previous life, adopting the moniker Deadpool before beginning a manhunt for the man who disfigured him.
Deadpool’s use of flashback sequences sets a tonal balance with the rest of the film. The opening scenes employ action tinged with slapstick-like humor, whereas the flashbacks are more akin to a romantic-comedy film. The result is that despite being an origin film, Deadpool is action-packed from the start with expunges of exposition carefully coming in through flashbacks. Unfortunately this balance can only last so long. After a certain point the critical moment of the flashback sequence is reached, and a lengthy amount of time is given towards showing how Wilson became Deadpool. This portion of the film is then just an origin story and it’s not that this is a fault in itself but rather since Deadpool is a film that seeks to do away with the conventions of the superhero genre, this portion of the film forces Deadpool to enact out those same tropes.
Deadpool is otherwise quite successful in poking fun at the superhero genre and sets this tone from the start. The credits take the form of a long-take that satirizes not the genre itself but the production of the genre. Rather than normally list the credits, the film bills its cast as, “hot chick,” “British villain,” so on and so forth. Unsurprisingly, the film delivers its promise on the stereotypes but as stated earlier, Deadpool does more than initially point out its own flaws for laughs but carries the satirical humor throughout the film by not taking itself too seriously.
Deadpool’s lackadaisical atmosphere is the film’s greatest strength. It’s when Deadpool is not taking itself seriously that the film is no longer necessarily a super-hero film. While Deadpool does contain a plethora of jokes that are contingent on super-hero pop culture knowledge, many of the film’s jokes are also based on the situations at hand, thus allowing Deadpool to temporarily transcend the stereotype of its own genre.
Ultimately, Deadpool is the love-letter to the character fans have been waiting for while simultaneously being enjoyable outside of its own niche. Tim Miller fuses the action in the film with comedy and then directs it with a patience that gives the jokes, and subsequently the audience, room to breathe.