Pop quiz: You're a bigwig movie producer and you have a brand-new comic book adaptation to film. This one's risky, though; the main character's mouth is dirtier than a subway train and, in his own words, he looks like "a testicle with teeth." This cult property could blow up into a massively successful franchise, or it could blow up like the Hindenburg. Who do you hire to steer this highly combustible celluloid ship?
If you're the folks at 20th Century Fox, you hire Tim Miller: a guy who has never directed a movie before.
Before directing Deadpool, Miller was most well known for his work in animation and visual effects. He served as the visual effects supervisor on well-known video games, including Mass Effect 2, and created spectacular sequences for a handful of films, including the stunning title sequence for 2011's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Miller's roots in eye-catching images show in Deadpool—and not just because it, too, has an extremely memorable opening credits sequence (although that certainly doesn't hurt). Miller keeps the film clipping along at a brisk pace, and he keeps the blood and guts flying with a satisfying splat.
Deadpool isn't like other superhero movies, so it makes sense to fill the director's chair with fresh meat—and a fresh perspective. As a character, Deadpool's attitude isn't at all reverential when it comes to the comic book genre, either, giving newbie Miller free reign to shatter stereotypes and subvert the well-worn tradition of superhero movies. While he doesn't leave all of the genre's tropes behind—there's still a damsel in distress, there's still a big showdown with the villain—Miller's background in visual effects gives Deadpool a crisp, original feel that honors its source material's highly visual nature and gives Deadpool free reign to skewer everything and everyone else. Sometimes literally.
Let's cut to the chase: comic book movies aren't exactly known for their engrossing narratives. Sure, there are aberrations like 2017's Logan, which picked up an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. But that's the exception, not the rule. Generally speaking, superhero films are all about the action and special effects…and that's about it.
Deadpool, written Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is a different sort of exception to the rule. Reese and Wernick's story is pretty standard superhero stuff: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl to maniacal supervillain. Boy saves girl. What makes it different than the rest of the pack is the sheer density of jokes. Deadpool's nicknamed "The Merc with a Mouth" for a reason.
The humor is almost entirely sophomoric. Deadpool's never met a joke about the male anatomy, or, oddly enough, Sinéad O'Connor, that he doesn't like. While not all of the jokes land—even if half of them do—that's still a top-notch batting average for Reese and Wernick, whose previous credits as a writing team include Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The quips, asides, and direct addresses to the audience fill the screen like an avalanche.
Maybe that explains Ajax. You don't need a charismatic villain when you don't have room for him. (Ooh. Sick burn.)
This overload seems intentional. In Grandpa Shmoop's den, there's a tattered old Successories poster with a bald eagle on it that reads, "You'll always miss 100% of the shots you don't take." That uber-corny placard is right, and its sentiment feels like Reese and Wernick's guiding principle as Deadpool's scribes. Their script is stuffed with so many gags, and Deadpool is so over-the-top in his sarcasm, that it's nearly impossible for every audience member not to find something to laugh about. Deadpool's humor is as cutting as one of his twin katanas, but it's not cynical. The film doesn't wear its heart on its sleeve; it wears its funny bone there instead.
Don't worry…it's not nearly as painful as it sounds.
Deadpool is Ryan Reynolds' baby.
Not literally. That's not how babies work.
What we mean is: Reynolds had been trying to bring Deadpool to the big screen since 2004 when he met screenwriter David S. Goyer, who penned the scripts for all of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies as well as Man of Steel. In 2009, Reynolds' Deadpool dreams came true—kind of. He played the Merc with a Mouth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film that made some, uh, questionable choices with the character of Deadpool, like giving him hands that morph into swords and lasers that shoot out of his eyes, as well as sewing his mouth shut.
Yup. They made a Deadpool that couldn't speak. Predictably, comic book fans hate, hate, hated it. Most fans of good movies did, too.
The idea of a Deadpool movie was revisited by 20th Century Fox in 2011 and most of the film's major players hopped onboard, including Reynolds, first-time feature director Tim Miller, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. They shot a brief visual effects test that featured Deadpool breaking the fourth wall and beating up some bad guys…and then the project faded away again until 2014. (Source)
In the summer of 2014, that visual effects test mysteriously leaked, and the internet went wild. They loved it. Who leaked it? No one knows. Reynolds is "70 percent sure" that he didn't leak it himself. Regardless, that taste of Deadpool-mania was all 20th Century Fox needed to invest in a Deadpool flick. Production was off and running in the spring of 2015.
If 20th Century Fox was worried about how their R-rated comic book movie would do at the box office, especially given the fact that an R rating would keep kids away, they didn't show it. Instead, they pumped money into an aggressive ad campaign that included everything from sophomoric tweets and emoji-filled billboards to detailed testicular cancer awareness spots.
Deadpool sits in the https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Deadpool#tab=summary superhero movies of all time both domestically and internationally, and it's 20th Century Fox's sixth-highest grossing film ever behind Avatar, Titanic, and three Stars Wars flicks. Reynolds' labor of love raked in almost 14 times the amount of its production budget. Granted, as superhero movies go, its $58 million production budget was pretty slim. Don't let that fool you, though: By opening weekend, 20th Century Fox finally had faith in Deadpool—so much so that they greenlit a sequel before the first film even hit theatres, unofficially making Deadpool the bigmouthed little blockbuster that could.
By superhero movie standards, Deadpool is a pretty low-budget affair—and it shows.
The Vancouver-set production cuts corners wherever it can. Deadpool conveniently forgets to bring his duffle bag full of guns and ammo to both of his showdowns with Ajax, for example. With a wink, he acknowledges that it's weird that the movie only includes two of the vast stable of X-Men at Marvel's disposable, and that those two aren't exactly A-level mutants. "It's a big house," he says of the X-Men's mansion that also doubles as Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. "It's funny that I only ever see two of you. It's almost like the studio couldn't afford another X-Man." It is funny, and it shows that this flick was produced on a tight budget.
Deadpool also keeps its special effects to a minimum, which is very rare for a superhero flick. Colossus, with his "organic steel" body, is a splurge, but that's about it. The scrapyard where the final showdown between Deadpool and Ajax takes place—itself a low-budget action setpiece—isn't a monstrosity of CGI; it's the actual scrapyard underneath the Pattullo Bridge.
The overall film doesn't suffer for its modest mode of production, though; the real attraction here is Deadpool's skillfully profane mouth. When all is said and done, the pop culture references, insults, and innuendoes fly so fast and furiously that there's hardly any room left in the frame for fancy effects or extra X-Men anyway.
An unconventional superhero movie requires an unconventional soundtrack. While Dutch composer Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road, Man of Steel) handles the score, it's the film's use of pop tunes that really strikes a chord with viewers.
No pun intended.
The film's opening credits, which are displayed over a gnarly, hyper-violent fight, are set to "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, a super-earnest slice of early '80s cheese. Tonally, it doesn't fit with what we're seeing on screen, as blood and bullets fly. As a result, it accentuates the splatterfest taking place. It also fits with Deadpool's sense of humor, which is both nostalgic and heavy on the irony.
Neil Sedaka's "Calendar Girl" serves a similar purpose later in the film. The song is more wholesome than a glass of Vitamin D milk, and its lyrics wink at the rapid passage of time we see on screen during Wade and Vanessa's sex-through-the-holidays montage—a montage that is decidedly unwholesome. Other songs, like Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop" and DMX's "X Gon Give It to Ya" simply illustrate Deadpool's affection for ironic throwback jamz.
The smoothest jam of them all, though, is Wham's "Careless Whisper," which is used as an endearing callback. In the film's first act, Wade tells Vanessa he'll blast it at her in the afterlife, Lloyd Dobler-style, once the cancer's finished with him. Vanessa doesn't want to hear it: not the song, and certainly not the talk of dying. She shuts him down.
When the two are reunited at the end of the movie, Deadpool whips out his phone and fires up George Michael's buttery vocal. It's a playful reminder of the love they shared pre-Weapon X, and a saxophone-saturated suggestion that they've got a lot of life to live together after all.
Cinematically, Deadpool's relatively new on the scene, but this fast-talking killing machine has been around for over a quarter of a century.
Created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool made his comic book debut in 1991, when hyper-violence was all the rage in comics and heroes were armed to the teeth. His first appearance was in The New Mutants No. 98, and according to Nicieza, he made quite the splash:
"New Mutants mail increased—no kidding—by about 500 percent for New Mutants No. 98, and three-quarters of them said something along the lines of, 'Deadpool was funny, bring him back.'" (Source)
The creative direction behind Deadpool would change hands many, many times over the next several years, and readers' interest in him eventually waned, but 2008 saw an unexplained surge in Deadpool's popularity that has never tapered off. Between 2009 and 2012, for example, there were eleven different titles featuring Deadpool; starring in that many books at once is virtually unheard of, BT-dubs. He's been a merchandising marvel and a hit with convention-going cosplayers, too.
No one's exactly sure why a cult comic book character came roaring into the mainstream in late 2000s, but a big part of it can be chalked up to Deadpool's appeal to progressive, LGBTQ, and minority comic book fans. In the comics, Deadpool is a self-described pansexual who also deals with mental illness. What's more, he's an outspoken champion of comic book readers fed up with the seemingly endless maze of reboots and competing continuities that plague many of Marvel and DC Comics' most popular series.
In other words, Deadpool is complicated, self-aware, and often laugh-out-loud funny—which is to say, he offers something for almost everyone.
But you don't have to take our word for it. We mean, you should; it's legit, but you can also dip a digital toe into Deadpool's diverse fandom for yourself with a visit to one of his two most popular subreddits here and here, or by paging through the Deadpool Bugle, where you don't even have to worry about getting newsprint all over your fingers. That's the worst. It's right up there with being recruited by a shady organization that turns mutants into super-slaves, if you ask us.