Does constantly making fun of your many faults excuse your many faults? Is a hyperaware meta posture a catchall Get Out of Jail Free card? Are farts funny when they are knowing farts?
These are the questions that “Deadpool” — the lead-role movie debut of Marvel’s mouthy cult superhero — poses again and again. The answer to such questions is, “Sometimes, but mostly no.”
To be fair, a self-effacing quality is a big part of why Deadpool has endured as such a popular comic book character. And this movie gets that.
Since he was created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza in 1990, the red-clad antihero has become the comic spokesman for not taking oneself seriously.
In the comics, Deadpool constantly breaks the fourth wall to let you know he knows he’s in a comic book. In the movie, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) constantly breaks the fourth wall to let you know he knows he’s in a movie. Then he breaks the fourth wall with a double fourth wall break to let you know he knows he’s a character breaking the fourth wall in a movie.
Shortly after that, Deadpool makes a dig at Ryan Reynolds’ acting ability. The convoluted “X-Men” movie timelines are roasted. As is the dreadful first “Wolverine” movie’s dumb handling of Deadpool. And don’t forget Reynolds’ misbegotten “Green Lantern” movie.
The self-targeting snark is often funny. But “Deadpool” overplays it. This movie just can’t stop high-fiving itself.
When the meta qualities of “Deadpool” aren’t insufferable, they’re fitfully amusing. The movie’s highlight is actually the opening credits sequence, wherein the camera slow-mo swivels around the battered bodies and bullets bouncing about a flipping SUV as Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” plays. Instead of the credits reading “A Film by Tim Miller” and “Ryan Reynolds,” we get “Some Douchebag’s Film” and “God’s Perfect Idiot.”
After that, “Deadpool” begins near the end, with our running commentary track of a superhero killing a bunch of dudes in the film’s one thrilling action sequence.
Then the movie flashes back to Deadpool’s interminable origin story: Mercenary Wade Wilson falls in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) before being diagnosed with terminal cancer before getting an offer to be part of a cure-all lab experiment by a shady organization before being given superhuman mutant healing powers that make him immortal but also gruesomely ugly.
Wilson adopts the Deadpool costume and persona to get revenge on the bad guys (Ed Skrein, Gina Carano) who made him into this unkillable monster. Mostly he just wants to be handsome again. Is there, like, a science-y fix for that?
The movie toggles back and forth in time between the opening action sequence and the origin story before catching up in the narrative. The purpose of this is blatant lipstick-on-a-pig-ism.
It’s a story-scrambling rigmarole in place solely to disguise how conventional the script is. For all of its protag’s eccentricities, “Deadpool” is just more superhero business as usual: wronged hero, kidnapped girlfriend, climactic battle drowning in computer animation.
The ultraviolence is what sets “Deadpool” apart, though its exploding heads and dismemberments are no more shocking and much less inventive than the bloody action of recent hard-R comic adaptations like “Kingsman” and “Kick-Ass.”
There’s actually not that much action in this movie, relative to what you’d expect. This can be attributed to the movie’s comparatively modest budget of $58 million; “Avengers: Age of Ultron” cost about five times as much.
With most of its spectacle bookended, “Deadpool” gives over the bulk of its running time to gags and one-liners, too few of which land with any regularity.
The funniest thread in the film is Deadpool’s occasional run-ins with two B-team X-Men: the steel-skinned Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and the surly Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) — the movie acknowledges 20th Century Fox’s inability to get more (and better) X-Men in the movie.
Colossus and Negasonic’s do-no-harm moral code doesn’t jibe with Deadpool’s homicidal mania. And their efforts to stop him — and his efforts to thwart them — lead to some fun, grotesque physical comedy.
Also weirdly successful is the love story, thanks more to Reynolds and Baccarin than what the screenplay gives them to work with. On the page, Deadpool’s girlfriend is little more than a compilation of heterosexual male geek fantasies made flesh. But Baccarin’s megawatt charm helps mask that fact.
Obviously, hardcore “Deadpool” fans will find more to like here than I did. And your mileage will vary on Reynolds’ incessant chatter. Mine wasn’t high. When the villains told Deadpool, “You are so relentlessly annoying,” it felt like the movie speaking to me.
I appreciated this moment of sympathy, even if it was just another instance of “Deadpool” trying to excuse its lazy obnoxiousness by pointing out its lazy obnoxiousness.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano
Director: Tim Miller
Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Alamo Drafthouse, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Midtown, Oakview, Regal, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads