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Wise-cracking Superhero

As snarky anti-hero Deadpool, former Golden Boy-to-be Ryan Reynolds may just rise above the ashes of his movie flops

This is not Ryan Reynolds' first time on the spandex carousel.

In 2011, he was Hal Jordan, also known as The Green Lantern, the superhero in a commercial flop that The Straits Times reviewer Boon Chan called "lame".

Five years on, the Canadian actor seems grateful for the second chance at a superhero character. The issues that plagued The Green Lantern will not return because this time, he says, he is personally invested.

"One thing I took from making Green Lantern was that I had to take control, without being a bully or barbarian," says the 39-year-old to The Straits Times at a recent press event in Taipei.

"The big part of Deadpool for me was that I got to shape the conversation of how we were going to make the movie."

One thing I took from making Green Lantern was that I had to take control, without being a bully or barbarian... so Deadpool was healing for me.

RYAN REYNOLDS on helping to shape Deadpool, unlike Green Lantern, where he was just an actor

Reynolds talks about how he started reading Deadpool comics in 2005 after he had been tapped to play the mercenary with extraordinary self-healing powers.

The actor, who found fame playing the snarky, good-looking guy in comedies such as Van Wilder (2002) and the 1998-2001 sitcom Two Guys And A Girl, was struck by the dark humour of the comics and became a fan.

He loves comedians such as Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor and saw himself in Deadpool. Like Reynolds, Deadpool uses humour as a defence mechanism, much like "a teenager who never grows up", he says.

Reynolds was so keen on the project that he signed on as co- producer, shepherding the project through development, making sure the script kept the irreverent edge of the comics.

The film opens in Singapore tomorrow with an M18 rating for sex and violence.

"In Deadpool, I was involved from the ground floor. For Green Lantern, I was just the actor. I signed on because it was a great opportunity, with a studio that makes great movies. But we really didn't have a script or any idea as to what the project really was. We had a poster and a release date.

"So Deadpool was healing for me," says the actor, who wed actress Scarlett Johansson in 2008 before divorcing in 2011. He has been married to actress Blake Lively since 2012.

Reynolds' Deadpool, real name Wade Wilson, premiered as a side character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

To the actor's horror, studio meddling in the midst of a writers' strike turned the mouthy anti-hero into a mute fighting machine, a move he considered a betrayal of the trust of comics fans. "It was a nightmare," he says of his stint in the X-Men movie.

The development of the Deadpool movie took a strange turn in 2014 when test footage leaked online.

At the time, the fate of the project was uncertain. Fans went wild for the clip. Soon, an online campaign to get the film made took shape and the studio listened. "The movie would never have been if not for the leak. The fans took ownership of it," he says.

As a producer, he could enforce the rules of the Deadpool universe. Among them - only Deadpool was aware of the meta-joke, that everyone was in a movie. Specifically, a superhero movie.

He says: "Nobody else could be in on the joke. Everything has to be constructed the same as The Avengers, but it's Deadpool who pulls the rug out from underneath and winks at the audience."

The wise-cracking mercenary points out superhero tropes as they happen, often by speaking to the camera.

Reynolds thinks that this sort of self-awareness is the next stage in the evolution of the genre. "It's a game changer," he says.

"In the 1990s, superhero movies were campy," he adds, referring to the time when Batman movies featured cartoonish villains such as Danny DeVito's Penguin (Batman Returns, 1992) or Arnold Schwar- zenegger's Mr Freeze (Batman & Robin, 1997).

"Then they became very dark," he says.

It changed in the 2000s when director Christopher Nolan made Batman (Christian Bale) a very grim Dark Knight in Batman Begins (2005).

The X-Men, too, are torn between putting mutants like themselves first or helping all people in a moral dilemma set up to mirror current events.

Deadpool's less-than-respectful take on the genre "breaks the mould", says Reynolds. That does not mean throwing out all Marvel traditions, however.

Legendary Marvel comics creator Stan Lee, 93, does a cameo in Deadpool, as is his custom in Marvel movies, playing an emcee in a strip club.

Reynolds confirms that Lee was indeed there in person, in a room with several semi-nude women.

"We got him out as quickly as possible because standing in front of that many strippers might have killed him. I don't want to be responsible," he says.

  • Deadpool opens in cinemas here tomorrow.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Wise-cracking Superhero'. Print Edition | Subscribe