The stench of relentless snark hangs over Deadpool’s opening, of credits such as “A British Villain” and “Some Douchebag’s Film” popping up on screen while the camera roams over a freeze frame of a car collision, all ironically set to Juice Newton’s cover of “Angel of the Morning.” Given such an introduction, audiences may expect the film proper to exist not just to send up the conventions of the superhero genre, but to endlessly congratulate itself on just how aware of said conventions the filmmakers are. And, indeed, Tim Miller’s film is chock-full of wiseass dialogue, with its antihero, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), constantly breaking the fourth wall to comment on the mayhem he’s embroiled in, and peppering his speech with loads of gratuitous pop-culture references. Depending on the viewer, one is bound to find such flippancy either delightful or insufferable.
But Deadpool occasionally surprises for how it couches its hip one-liners in something resembling actual character drama. Take the anguished way in which Wade utters a jab at the Taken franchise while lying in bed next to the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who he’s about to abandon in pursuit of a possible cure for his terminal cancer—a torture-like genetic-mutation treatment that eventually leads him to become the titular anti-superhero. Reynolds’s delivery of the line is so poignantly earnest that the joke itself immediately dissolves and a melancholic undertone lingers. Deadpool as a whole operates like that: For every moment that the film threatens to exasperate with its meta-movie irreverence, another catches one off guard with its emotional forthrightness.
Such whiplash contrasts between snideness and sincerity is more than just a stylistic whim, as it’s deeply rooted in the main character’s psychology. Wade was once a Special Forces operative, and though the story doesn’t delve too much into that part of his backstory, one can infer that those experiences shaped him into the cynical person he is today, especially in his life before becoming Deadpool, when he was merely a mercenary who would describe himself as a “bad guy who gets paid to fuck up worse guys.” Naturally, it takes a fellow damaged soul for him to tap into his inner romantic, and that’s when Vanessa comes into his life. When they first meet at a bar Wade frequents, they immediately bond over childhood traumas in a game of one-upmanship that recalls the comparison of battle scars among the three male heroes in Jaws. Even in this film’s sarcastic context, love is still a legitimate possibility.
This thematic wrinkle adds an intriguing, almost humane layer to the many jokey topical references and crude quips Deadpool throws around. The filmmakers cannily suggest that their main character’s penchant for snark isn’t just a shtick, and if one accepts the film as a misanthropic extension of its characters worldview, then the relentless stream of self-aware one-liners and topical jokes seem less like smart-assery for its own sake than a defense mechanism—a way for more than one character to shield him or herself from the disappointments of the world, or say what’s really on their mind until forced to do so. If the film ends up being less obnoxious than might have been, it’s because the filmmakers have at least made an effort to inject the film with a bit of a wounded soul to offset all the superhero-genre winking.