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DEADPOOL

***

DIRECTED BY Tim Miller

STARS Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin

Is it fair to state that Deadpool is all downhill after the opening credits? Yes and no. Certainly, the cast and crew list that kicks off one of the oddest Marvel movies to date is the sort of savvy gag that’s sure to amuse film fans, comic-book devotees and general audiences alike – I don’t dare spoil the jokes, but they’re absolutely hysterical.

Still, that’s not to suggest the rest of the picture is in any way a letdown. On the contrary, a superhero romp that threatened to be smug, smarmy and self-satisfied is – well, yes, it’s occasionally all those things. But it’s also fresh, funny and absolutely kick-ass.

Speaking of Kick-Ass, this new film shares the same R rating as that 2010 effort. While Deadpool is consistently more intelligent, innovative and even emotionally involving than that fanboy fave, it’s just as brutal and bloody – and decidedly not for the kids. Of course, each child’s mileage varies – one tyke’s Mary Poppins is another moppet’s Night of the Living Dead – but this is the sort of movie where parents need to do some advance research before dumping off the small fry with a barrel of popcorn and venturing into the adjoining theater to catch The Danish Girl.

Ryan Reynolds previously played Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that interpretation has been axed to clear the way for a new direction. Reynolds’ Wade Wilson is a scrappy loner, a mercenary who unexpectedly finds romance with the tough and beautiful Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Suddenly, it’s a wonderful life for our mouthy maverick – at least until he discovers that cancer has stamped an expiration date on his life expectancy.

With nothing to lose, he agrees to undergo an experimental procedure to be carried out by a mysterious figure named Ajax (Ed Skrein); the surgery eventually provides him with amazing recuperative powers, but first it leaves him at the mercy of the torturous machinations of Ajax and his right-hand woman Angel Dust (Gina Carano). Wade soon escapes, picks up the moniker Deadpool, and sets about proving that revenge is a dish best served not only cold but also hot, frozen, lukewarm or any other temperature just as long as it’s served.

While other heroes eventually enter the fray – specifically, X-Men members Colossus (voice by Stefan Capicic, body by CGI) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) – this is The Ryan Reynolds Show from beginning to end, with the actor clearly relishing the opportunity to rescue this character from being merely relegated to future Trivial Pursuit status following his Wolverine guest-starring role.

Deadpool gets to make jokes at the expense of Marvel, at the expense of big-budget productions, at the expense of audience expectations (the fourth wall is frequently toppled), and even at the expense of Reynolds’ ill-fated Green Lantern. The relationship between Wade and Vanessa is unexpectedly touching, which allows a break from the otherwise nonstop snark. The visual effects are serviceable rather than sizzling, though they get the job done.

And the standard post-closing credits coda? Yes, it’s here, and while it’s somewhat predictable, it’s also purely of a piece with the irreverent, off-kilter adventure that precedes it.

As for the Stan Lee cameo, it’s one of the best yet. ‘Nuff said.

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