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Ryan Reynolds strikes a pose after killing a bunch of bad guys in Deadpool.

With Deadpool, the Marvel Comics movies definitively burst into their decadent phase. Other superhero films (including some of Marvel’s) have riffed comically about the absurdities of stories and movies involving superheroes, but this one doesn’t let up from the opening credits, which read in part: “Produced by Asshats. Written by The Real Heroes Here. Directed by An Overpaid Tool.” The humor in this profane and blood-soaked action-thriller is incredibly obvious. Still, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t explode into laughter more than a few times.

The story is based on a character created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza. Ryan Reynolds portrays Wade Wilson, a dishonorably discharged ex-Special Forces soldier who has become a low-rent mercenary intimidating stalkers and other creeps. He falls for an improbably beautiful barfly named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and proposes to her just in time to be diagnosed with terminal cancer. Desperate for a cure, Wade falls into the hands of Francis “Ajax” Freeman (Ed Skrein), a sadistic doctor who gives Wade healing superpowers that make him borderline unkillable but also tortures him for fun and leaves him with permanent, angry-looking chemical burns all over his body. The vengeance-consumed Wade makes himself a costume, rechristens himself as Deadpool, and goes on a vigilante rampage to relocate the elusive Ajax.

Hyperself-aware jokes abound here, many of them about either Green Lantern, Reynolds’ failed superhero vehicle from four years ago, or about the X-Men series that the current movie is a tangential part of. Early on, Deadpool turns to the camera and tells us, “You’re thinking, ‘Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?’ … His name rhymes with ‘Polverine.’ ” When Deadpool isn’t joking about other films, he’s joking about the one that he’s in. “Hey, it’s a fourth-wall break within a fourth-wall break!” he observes during another address to the camera. “That’s, like, 16 walls!”

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Some viewers will undoubtedly find all this to be too much of the same thing. However, overpaid tool Tim Miller, an animator directing his first feature film, does a terrific job of managing the tone here — amid all the comedy comes an extended scene in the middle conveying the horror of Wade’s torture at the doctor’s hands. (Skrein has some fun with a potentially clichéd villain role, too.) The accomplished fight sequences encompass both Deadpool’s brutal climactic showdown with Ajax, who has some healing powers of his own, and an extended slapstick set piece when Deadpool tries to fight the X-Men’s Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and just hurts himself worse every time he hits the metal giant.

Somehow neither the violence nor the humor jars with the emotions at the center of this story. Deadpool informs us at one point that this movie is a love story, and we see what he means when the dying Wade sees how draining his illness is on Vanessa. Against all odds, this movie turns into a surprisingly effective film about cancer in those early moments. After his conversion into a superhero, Wade turns into a stalker, preferring that Vanessa believe him to be dead rather than face her disfigured. Deadpool’s mask is basically two eyeholes, and yet the CGI animators do a splendid job of manipulating the eyeholes so that we see what he’s feeling. I could have used more emotional material and fewer meta jokes. Still, Reynolds does well by the part of an annoying guy who compulsively wisecracks to hide his fear. This is pretty much the perfect vehicle for the actor’s blend of physicality, soulfulness, and snotty humor.

[box_info]Deadpool
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and Ed Skrein. Directed by Tim Miller. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Rated R.[/box_info]

The jokes, too, are more than just of the “can you believe this superhero crap?” variety. For all the pop-culture references here to Yogurtland and David Beckham, Miller is willing to just let his cast sit around and ad-lib like Judd Apatow actors, as when Wade and his bartender friend (T.J. Miller, who’s no relation to the director) discuss his new appearance. “You look like an avocado fucked an older, more disgusting avocado,” says the barkeep. “And not gently, either. More like they had an unhealthy relationship and needed to hate-fuck to get it out of their system.” The romantic montage of a pre-illness Wade and Vanessa spending various holidays together quickly veers into some decidedly non-vanilla sex. The sex they have during International Women’s Day puts Deadpool in a position you won’t find any other comic-book superhero in. The dirtiness that Deadpool injects into the squeaky-clean Marvel universe makes it into an energizing and eminently quotable blast.

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