Deadpool is a Marvel comic adaptation with a David Beckham joke in it. It is not an especially funny joke but at least it is there. As Marvel movies are made for ever bigger budgets, with ever more portentous storylines and overblown special effects, this is an entry in the cycle that makes a virtue of its relatively modest scale. The driving force isn't the action but the relentless sarcasm of the hero himself. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) may be "super" but, by his own admission, he isn't really a hero. He challenges us to guess "whose balls" he had to "fondle" to get his own movie. His humour may be self-deprecating but that doesn't stop him taking sideswipes at other targets, including Beckham, for his squeaky voice, and Sinéad O'Connor, for her close-cropped hair.
The joshing tone is set at the outset, during the opening titles, in which are listed all the stereotypes and genre clichés the film intends to rehash. These include the mandatory "British villain". The storytelling style is deliberately choppy and episodic, with heavy-handed flashbacks and frequent winks at the audience.
Films to watch in 2016
Films to watch in 2016
1/30 Hail, Caesar - 5 February
The Coen brothers' latest film might be their most ambitious yet. Telling the story of a Hollywood fixer struggling to keep A-listers in line, it has a movie within a movie, an amazing cast, and, judging by the first trailer, some luxurious visuals
2/30 Deadpool - 12 February
Comic book superhero movies have been getting slowly more self-referential and self-parodic lately, and Deadpool looks to be taking itself even less seriously than Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man. It looks as though fans will finally be getting the comic book-faithful, foul-mouthed version of the character they wanted, but it remains to be seen whether Deadpool will actually be funny, or just descend into toilet humour
3/30 Zoolander No. 2 - 12 February
Zoolander's return was derailed somewhat by backlash over a trans/gender fluid character played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The long-awaited sequel will no doubt do well at the box office, but I'm not sure if the fashion industry is as fertile for satire now as it was in 2001, and the trailer relies too heavily on honouring old gags rather than creating new ones
4/30 Knight of Cups - 4 March
A new film from Terrence Malick should have been a huge cause for celebration, but Knight of Cups has been swimming in post-Cannes purgatory for months now. In March it will finally get a theatrical release. Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, it sees a man return home from New York and get sucked into the hollow hedonism of LA, fighting to extricate himself from it
5/30 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - 4 March
Based on journalist Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this dark comedy sees Tina Fey play a foreign correspondent reporting in the Middle East during Operation Enduring Freedom, where she develops a weird relationship with a fellow journalist played by Martin Freeman
6/30 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - 18 March
The wind seems to have gone out of the sails of the Man of Steel series in spite of the addition of a new Batman, and there's a more palpable anticipation for Suicide Squad (which arrives later in the year)
7/30 Everybody Wants Some - 15 April
Coming off the back of multi-Oscar winner Boyhood, this Richard Linklater film looks a lot like Dazed and Confused if it was set in the 80s, albeit pitched more towards comedy
8/30 The Jungle Book - 15 April
Disney is trampling on its own hallowed ground with this live action remake. Elf and Iron Man director Jon Favreau is a fairly safe pair of hands though, and Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito and Bill Murray are all on board
9/30 Money Monster - 13 May
'Financial TV personality Lee Gates, who offers up stock advice on his hit show "Money Monster," is held hostage by a viewer, Kyle Budwell, who lost all of his money following a bad tip from Lee during his show'
10/30 Snowden - 13 May
Platoon director Oliver Stone takes on a very important and timely story. But can he make it entertaining the way The Big Short did with the financial crisis?
11/30 X-Men Apocalypse - 27 May
2016 will see a ninth X-Men film. Ninth. Every cast member you would expect will be back to collect their paychecks, which might require a crane
12/30 Finding Dory - 17 June
The Finding Nemo sequel will focus on Ellen DeGeneres' forgetful blue tang fish. It's expected to have an anti-SeaWorld message, which should make it strike a chord with parents as well as children
13/30 Independence Day: Resurgence - 24 June
Will Smith isn't in it. Moving on
14/30 The BFG - 1 July
There's still a lot of love for Roald Dahl's stories, and this one is being adapted by none other than Steven Spielberg. There hasn't been a huge amount of buzz around it but it's early days, and Mark Rylance is an interesting casting for the titular Big Friendly Giant
15/30 La La Land - 15 July
There's a lot of expectation on director Damien Chazelle's shoulders following the success of Whiplash, one of the smallest films ever to have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. La La Land will certainly be different, a musical comedy-drama about a young pianist and an actor played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively
16/30 Ghostbusters - 15 July
This is something of a question mark. On one hand, it's landed a cast of incredibly funny actresses, but on the other, another reboot? Really? There's also thought to be a very meta all-male version in the works from the creators of Jump Street, set in the same universe as Men In Black no less
17/30 Star Trek Beyond - 22 July
If you thought Abrams' Star Trek films were bad, feast your eyes on the trailer for the next one from the director of the Fast & Furious franchise. Expect major face-palming from Trekkies in July. Hopefully the new TV show will offer something a bit less action-orientated and a bit more cerebral
18/30 Untitled fifth Bourne film - 29 July
The Bourne series completely went off the boil with Jeremy Renner as its lead, but now both Matt Damon and original director Paul Greengrass are back to steady the ship. This might well be Jason Bourne's last outing, so I hope they send him off in style
19/30 Suicide Squad - 5 August
Harley Quinn was one of the most popular Halloween costumes this year, despite the holiday falling months before the release of the film she's in. That says a lot about the hype over this comic book adaptation, which revels in the villains rather than the heroes for once and sees Jared Leto step into Heath Ledger's size 58 boots as the new Joker
20/30 Sully - 9 September
Friendly-looking dad named Chesley Sullenberger who saves a plane load of people? Tom Hanks is your guy. Clint Eastwood will direct this biopic, about an airline captain who was hailed as a national hero in the US after successfully executing an emergency water landing on the Hudson River off Manhattan
21/30 Bridget Jones’s Baby - 16 September
It's 2015 and Bridget is now pouring her soul into an iPad rather than a diary. This sequel might perfectly skewer the frustration of growing up in an increasingly youth-orientated world, or it might just serve to tarnish the originals like with Sex and the City 2
22/30 The Magnificent Seven - 23 September
I'm not convinced there's the demand for Westerns that Hollywood seems to think there is. We'll find out in September with Antoine Fuqua's remake of 1960's The Magnificent Seven. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are among the gang
23/30 Masterminds - 30 September
Based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North Carolina, this comedy comes from the man behind Napoleon Dynamite. Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis form a strong cast, but there are no trailers to go on yet
24/30 The Girl on the Train - 7 October
That book everyone was reading on the commute inevitably makes it cinemas in October, with Emily Blunt playing Rachel Watson, an alcoholic whose husband left her for his mistress, and who witnesses a murder and starts to realize that she may have been involved in the crime
25/30 Doctor Strange - 4 November
Doctor Strange might not have been the most obvious character to take to the big screen, but by this point Marvel could make $1billion at the box office from a comic an exec once scrawled on a piece of toilet paper
26/30 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - 18 November
J.K. Rowling makes her screenwriting debut adapting her own book here, with a film that takes place in the Harry Potter universe but is well removed from Hogwarts
27/30 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - 16 December
Disney is releasing a Star Wars movie every year between now and 2020. This first standalone 'anthology' film centres on a Death Star heist, but may prove to just be filler while Star Wars 8 is in production
28/30 Passengers - 21 December
'A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 60 years early. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he eventually decides to wake up a second passenger'
29/30 Jumanji - 25 December
Is nothing sacred? Everyone is so pissed about this remake of the Robin Williams cult hit that it will be a miracle if it escapes a critical drubbing
30/30 Silence - sometime in 2016
Martin Scorsese's next film doesn't have a mafioso or corrupt banker in sight. Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield star, playing two Jesuit Portuguese Catholic priests who face violent persecution when they travel to Japan to seek out their mentor and spread the teachings of Christianity
Deadpool, directed by Tim Miller, is considerably more violent and salacious than the average Marvel adaptation – which is one reason why it has a 15 certificate instead of the usual 12A, which would allow in the younger audiences that bigger-budget blockbusters usually depend on. The disappointment is that the film is never quite as hardboiled as it pretends to be. Strip away the ironic jokes, and Reynolds' character isn't all that different from Captain America – and hardly any more sardonic than Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man. Deadpool may refuse to sign up with the X-Men but when the heroine is in peril, he starts behaving just like all the other superheroes. The plot, likewise, becomes increasingly formulaic the closer the final-reel showdown looms.
The film's DNA is all over the place. The early moments play like something out of last year's Keanu Reeves action movie, John Wick. Deadpool is an urban warrior out for revenge against the mutant British villain Ajax (Ed Skrein), who experimented on him in the labs. He has forgotten his ammo bag and so only has a handful of bullets with which to kill multiple villains. (His solution is to go about his bloody task daisy-chain style, lining up all his enemies like ducks in a row so that a single shot passes through several at once.) This early mayhem is shot in a very stylish way, with slow-motion and freeze-framing. Its impact is lessened by the fact that both Deadpool and Ajax are well nigh indestructible. If the former loses his hand, we know that it will very soon grow back again. If the latter is impaled on a blade, that counts only as a minor inconvenience. Their miraculous powers of recovery strain away any tension from the fight sequences.
From the cartoonishly violent opening, Deadpool lurches into love-story territory. We're cast back in time to before Wade Wilson was turned into Deadpool and had to learn to squeeze his body into red spandex. Wilson, a former Special Forces operative, was minding his own business, working as a wisecracking thug for hire. During these halcyon days, he fell in love with Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), a street hustler from an even more deprived background than his own, and who could out-trump him when it came to double entendre-laden one-liners.
The episodes involving Wade and Vanessa's courtship play like something out of a screwball romcom and provide many of the film's best moments. Reynolds and Baccarin have an easy comic rapport. It is as if we've escaped momentarily from the Marvel universe. The film-makers are taking the time to establish their characters and to make us care about them. This interlude is too good to last. After a brief diversion into sentimental, Terms of Endearment-style melodrama, we're thrown back into the action. After grim torture scenes in labs, and lots of fire and explosions, the upshot is that Wilson assumes his new identity as superhero (or super anti-hero) Deadpool.
Certain plot elements don't make much sense. Deadpool is supposed to be hideously ugly beneath his mask but he is no elephant man. On the rare occasions when he does peel off his mask, he looks scarred and his skin is flaky but he isn't especially badly disfigured. The screenplay (by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese) is so busy serving up one-liners for Ryan Reynolds that its attempts to make us believe in Deadpool's deeper feelings soon founder. Given that he jokes about everything (including sex, death, blindness and terminal illness), it is too much of a leap to accept that he could ever be heartbroken. He is such a flippant character that you struggle to believe that he could be so set on revenge. Reynolds plays him in just too appealing a way for us to get any real sight of the darkness in the character.
The scenes with his accomplices, the punkish Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and the gigantic Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), don't help. They are so obviously one-dimensional comic-book characters that, whenever they are on screen, the film begins to seem like an episode of a creaky old kids' TV show along the lines of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. There is an obvious tension between Reynolds's sophisticated Deadpool, riffing away in his voiceover like a stand-up comedian, and the other characters, who seem to have stumbled out of some B-movie matinee.
For all the creakiness of its plotting, this is a Marvel adaptation mercifully shorn of bombast. There is far more bite in its humour than in last year's Ant-Man. Reynolds plays the lead role in an enjoyably freewheeling fashion. It's just a pity that the film itself never quite has the courage of its own cynicism.