Jokes and bullets are tossed like confetti in “Deadpool,” a feverishly eager-to-please comic-book movie about a supervillain who suits up like a superhero. In uniform, the title character, an ordinary mercenary turned freakishly powerful mercenary, may look a little like Spider-Man, at least to the comic-book agnostic. But Deadpool is far more psychotic than heroic, which he cheerfully establishes by painting the screen red with one kill after another. He points, shoots, jokes (repeat), often while cracking wise right into the camera.
The filmmakers do a lot of winking and rib poking; they sell “Deadpool” so hard that you might wonder if Marvel has started to pay on commission. The sales pitch starts with the opening credits, which consist of a series of genre clichés — “hot chick,” “British villain” and “comic relief” — instead of the usual headliner cast and crew names. It’s one of the best sequences in the movie, partly because it’s a bit complicated. At that early point, the audience can pretend (wink, wink) that it doesn’t know whether “Deadpool” is going to deliver on each of those clichés, from the requisite babe (Morena Baccarin, appealing and age appropriate) to the regulation British baddie (Ed Skrein). But what else would an entertainment juggernaut like Marvel deliver in a movie like this? Surprises?
The opening credits are worth lingering over because they’re enjoyable and because they’re a clever pre-emptive strike. By immediately announcing the clichés that they will soon deploy, the filmmakers at once flatter and reassure the audience even as they lower any expectations that what follows will be new or different. You can almost hear the studio suits whispering in your ear: “Come on, we all know that these kinds of movies rely on silly stereotypes — that’s part of the fun!” And seriously who doesn’t like fun? Yet to laugh (as I did) at these self-mocking credits is to give in to a somewhat compromised pleasure. Because, among other things, you are also laughing at your willingness to settle for the same old, same old, which suggests that the joke is on you.
It is or it isn’t. Much depends on whether you’re down with the Marvel imperative no matter what transpires on-screen; whether you find Deadpool’s Jim Carrey-style logorrhea hilarious or tedious; whether you think watching people (oops, fictional characters) get roughed up, impaled, shot, tortured and liquidated in scene after scene for laughs is just another night at the movies. It also depends on whether you don’t mind that “Deadpool” soon makes good on its opening credits. Because, as promised, the filmmakers trot out the usual character types (the hot chick, the comic relief, etc.), along with the familiar beats, even as they briefly fold in some nicely played home-front melodrama which, for a few scenes, makes “Deadpool” genuinely more ambitious than most works of this kind.
These sections push the story forward, laying the foundation for the existential divide that defines every superhero, even a putative roguish outlier like Deadpool. And while the tears salting these scenes may be cynical given the movie’s embrace of a what-me-worry nihilism, they offer a necessary break from the strained patter and violence. They also show that the director, Tim Miller, and Mr. Reynolds can do more than hit the same bombastic notes over and over again. It’s no surprise that the teams hired to bring a property like “Deadpool” to the screen know how to keep the machine oiled and humming; it’s the ones who somehow manage to temporarily stick a wrench in the works, adding something human — a feeling instead of another quip — who are worth your attention.
“Deadpool” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bangs, booms and splatter. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.