Beneath the crude jokes and over-the-top violence lurks a serious film.
Okay, not exactly, but Deadpool works because it takes its source material seriously.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson a former special forces operative turned mercenary with a heart of gold. Just as he meets the girl of his dreams and finds the happiness that's eluded him all his life, Wade learns he's developed terminal cancer. A mysterious organization reaches out with the promise of a cure. Wade accepts, but the cure carries at a steep price. Presumed dead, Wade embarks on a mission of vengeance, complete with running color commentary.
Deadpool plays as a self-aware comic book film. The first time I watched it, I laughed so hard I missed most of the jokes. Besides the non-stop non-sequiturs, we get jokes about the plot, jokes about the other X-Men films, and jokes about the limited budget. They're not belittling the genre, just mining it for laughs.
And these laughs come wrapped in a solid origin story. The film invests time in Wade and his relationships, making him more than a clown.
Most of the credit goes to Reynolds. His deadpan comedy proves the perfect match for the character's gallows humor. He doesn't just carry the film, he propels it along with his considerable charisma. This despite having essentially a voice-over role for most of his scenes.
It's said one can mark a genre's end when it devolves into comedy, as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) ended the Universal Monster era. But that needn't be the case. Rather than transplant genre characters into a comedic film, Deadpool takes a genre film and adds liberal doses of comedy. It's a subtle but important distinction. Deadpool may be hilarious, but it's a comic book movie first, and a comedy second.