DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. One thing nonreaders of comic books have come to realize is that Marvel has a lot of superhero characters. The latest one to hit the screen is Deadpool. Born Wade Winston Wilson, Deadpool appeared as a villain in early '90s comics before evolving into a rude, fast-talking hero. Now he has his own big-budget movie starring Ryan Reynolds as the ex-Special Forces soldier turned super heroic mutant. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: Marvel Studios might be the most powerful entertainment entity in history, discounting maybe Disney or the Roman Empire's "Gladiator" franchise. It's up there. And every time I gear up to rant some more about Hollywood throwing its resources into franchises, tent poles and now universes at the expense of other kinds of movies, along comes something disarming - Marvel's "Jessica Jones," for example, the grown up, female-centric Netflix series with Krysten Ritter, or "Deadpool," the unprecedented R-rated Marvel romp with dirty sex talk and tons of splatter.
Directed by Tim Miller, "Deadpool" is a send up of Marvel superhero movies but in no way a takedown of them. It's meant to enhance the genre, to flatter the audience for being hip enough to get the in jokes. Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade, who dons a Spiderman-like costume and takes the name de mutant "Deadpool" after being hideously mutilated by the British bad guy, Ajax, played by Ed Skrein. If you're one of those geeks who immediately thinks, didn't Reynolds star in the failed movie of the DC comic, "The Green Lantern?", screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are way ahead. They serve up "Green Lantern" barbs from the get-go. Wade then questions his own stature, turning to the camera to say he knows we're thinking, why does this guy get his own movie? In one scene, he's joined by two distinctly unfriendly characters from the "X-Men" series - no, not from the blockbuster movies. Wade tells us the studio can't afford those A-list actors. Instead, there's a computer-generated, Russian-accented steel colossus called Colossus, voiced by Stefan Kapicic, and a punk girl called Negasonic Teenage Warhead, played by Brianna Hildebrand. She's tweeting at the beginning of the encounter. When Gina Carano as Ajax's vicious sidekick, Angel Dust, leaps into the battle from on high, Wade knows exactly what's coming.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEADPOOL")
RYAN REYNOLDS: (As Deadpool) She's going to do a superhero landing. Wait for it.
REYNOLDS: (As Deadpool) Woo - superhero landing. You know, that's really hard on your knees. Totally impractical. They all do it. You're a lovely lady, but I'm saving myself for Francis. That's why I brought him.
STEFAN KAPICIC: (COLOSSUS) I prefer not to hit a woman. So please...
REYNOLDS: (As Deadpool) I mean, that's why I brought her? Oh, no, finish your tweet. Just give us a second. There you go, hashtag it. Go get her, tiger.
EDELSTEIN: Those aren't the best one-liners in "Deadpool," but there are great ones. I'd estimate 50 percent hit, another 30 whiz by inoffensively and only 20 percent are stinkers - a hell of a good percentage given the sheer number of jokes. And Ryan Reynolds knows how to skip along the surface of the role, but, when he needs to, bring out the big dramatic guns. He's an underrated actor, although maybe not after this film. There's nothing new about "Deadpool's" brand of self-conscious humor. In some ways, it resembles the old Hope and Crosby "Road" pictures, with one obvious exception - the action is played straight. Actually, it's lavishly, gratuitously gory with a gleeful kick, and at one point, the hero is tortured so cruelly for so long, I had to look away. Typically, Wade turns to us and says something along the lines of, this is where it becomes a horror movie, which makes this a have your torture porn and make fun of it too film. It's like the movie has eyes on the audience. There's one in joke alluding to actors in another Marvel series that had me laughing for a full minute. It anticipated my own response by half a second and patted me on the back for being in sync. Wade has some surprisingly tender and smutty scenes with the love of his life, Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin, who's appeared in several superhero vehicles and was Brody's wife in the early seasons of "Homeland." Wade tells us she's not just another sex object pedaled by Hollywood with a smirk that acknowledges she is.
I feel a bit like a shill for recommending "Deadpool." One reason it snared me was that its hero functions as a snotty film critic with muscles. The movie is reminiscent of the Web series "Honest Trailers," which uses films' own selling tools to lampoon them. "Deadpool" is so on the wavelength of the mainstream audience that it makes you think, this is Marvel's universe and we're just paying to be in it.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. On Monday's FRESH AIR, narconomics, how the business model of drug cartels compares to that of big-box stores and fast-food chains. We talk with journalist Tom Wainwright. He interviewed one gang leader who was running his operation from prison.
TOM WAINWRIGHT: This guy had a great big tattoo going across his forehead, and he complained about managing his staff, he complained about competition with his rivals.
BIANCULLI: He has a new book. Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julien Herzfeld. Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.