Zingers sound like the gloating of a bully

The mercenary Deadpool, as a "Merc with a mouth", spouts pop-culture references, even in mid-battle.
The mercenary Deadpool, as a "Merc with a mouth", spouts pop-culture references, even in mid-battle.



108 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3.5 stars

The story: Special forces soldier Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with incurable cancer. A shadowy group, headed by Ajax (Ed Skrein), offer him a cure, which also gives him the power to heal himself with accelerated speed. But the price is a scarred face and body.

Whether you find this superhero origin story a worthwhile watch depends on how you feel about Ryan Reynolds at maximum snarkiness.

It can be hard to take.

The Canadian has little of the goofiness or self-deprecation of other good-looking actors with a comedic bent, such as Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, 2015) or Chris Pratt (Guardians Of The Galaxy, 2014).

Here, the protagonist is a joke-teller, in the style of an edgy stand-up comedian, in contrast to other laughter-tinged superhero movies that find humour in the hero's stupidity or naivety.

Deadpool's zingers, when combined with his superhuman killing powers, feel too much like the gloating of a bully. Reynolds' spot-on comic timing - as an actor, he cut his teeth being a funnyman - compounds the problem.

Even if edginess is new territory for a Marvel movie, this comes at a time when the bar has been set high for M18-rated action.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), for example, shows that extreme violence and smart jokes are not mutually exclusive.

The story here has Wilson scarred so badly he becomes a freak, hiding his face from everyone except his lover Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and friend Weasel (T.J. Miller, another actor known for edginess).

The disfigurement takes him down a peg, but Wilson never becomes the underdog. Deadpool as a character is vested with too much power, so the battle scenes are little more than body-count choreography.

But they are extremely well-crafted fights, thanks to first-time feature director Tim Miller's roots in computer graphics. Still, there is zero sense of threat to Deadpool, who faces villains who are strawmen, a problem seen in many Marvel properties.

When you are a "Merc with a mouth", as the mercenary Deadpool is supposed to be, you need comic foils. Weasel and Wilson riff in a passable Judd Apatow-like fashion when Deadpool is not spouting pop-culture references to the camera, mid-battle. Even the sex scenes with Vanessa become fodder for laughs.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wrote the very funny, genre-stretching Zombieland (2009), so they know a thing or two about finding absurdity in blood and gore. Deadpool has some of the wit and satirical bite of that 2009 movie - just enough to make up for the snark.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Zingers sound like the gloating of a bully'. Print Edition | Subscribe