Will the person who leaked the Deadpool test footage please stand up? Ryan Reynolds really wants to kiss you. “And not just a little kiss,” he purrs. “But full on the mouth, sloppy, with tongue, for two straight minutes on live television — without commercial interruption. And then I’ll buy you dinner at Red Lobster, at least, and dessert.”
Reynolds is channeling his character — the libertine, sarcastic motormouth Wade Wilson, a.k.a. Deadpool — but he’s also speaking from the heart. He’s wanted to play Marvel’s most morally slippery superhero (or super-antihero) for more than a decade, and even came tantalizingly close in 2011 — that is, until 20th Century Fox executives watched a one-minute, 41-second action sequence, cooked up by first-time director Tim Miller, and… promptly put the movie on hold, indefinitely.
In their defense, Deadpool isn’t the easiest guy to love, and the source material doesn’t exactly scream blockbuster. The Marvel comic series is unrelentingly violent, obscene, spicy, funny, and self-referential, and concerns a mercenary whose cancer treatment turns him into a lunatic with superpowers. Making matters worse for a potential movie, your handsome leading man would be concealed most of the time behind a red latex mask — intended to hide the character’s deformities and facial scars.
And did we mention his attitude? Deadpool in the comic constantly breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader (“Do you see the little yellow boxes too?” he asks, pointing to the drawn text bubbles on his own pages), and he’s prone to crude humor about all manner of tasteless topics. “No — wait,” he warns a nemesis wielding a syringe. “Do you have any idea how many STDs I could have?” Plus, he’s so self-deprecating that he’d probably even call himself box-office poison.
The odds of a Deadpool movie, in other words, were dim. But he was saved from the scrap heap, in a way, by San Diego Comic-Con. On the final day of the convention last year, the test footage that Miller had shown the studio years before leaked online. “I had just come home from the train station,” Miller says. “And my phone explodes with Google Alerts about Deadpool. I immediately wrote Fox and said, ‘I swear I didn’t leak this.’ People still think I did — I didn’t. But the response from the fans was overwhelming and it ultimately triggered a green light. Within two months we were in preproduction.”
The movie (out Feb. 12) traces how terminally ill Wade Wilson becomes Deadpool, acquiring a Wolverine-like ability to heal and a pair of magic katana swords named Bea and Arthur in the process. He falls for a pole dancer named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin of Homeland), while also battling the psychotic Ajax (Ed Skrein, erstwhile Daario on Game of Thrones), another maniac mercenary with a vendetta. Former MMA fighter and actress Gina Carano appears (no stuntwoman needed) as a character from the X-Men comics named Angel Dust, and 6’ 10” stuntman Andre Tricoteux (ditto) plays her fellow mutant Colossus.
With a script by Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the film was shot in Vancouver this spring in 49 days on a svelte budget roughly one-fourth the cost of other superhero spectaculars. Or, as Reynolds puts it, “the same money the X-Men movies spend on laser hair removal.” And though the actor had played a sanitized version of Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (two years before his starring turn in the ill-fated Green Lantern), Miller’s film allows Reynolds to take the character far beyond PG-13.
“Deadpool is a hard R,” assures producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past). “It’s graphic. Nothing is taboo. You either commit to a truly outrageous, boundary-pushing kind of movie or you don’t.” Kinberg cites Borat, an unexpected box office hit, as a point of reference. “There was that wild anarchic humor, very specific and unique, plus the thrill of seeing something for the first time,” he says. “People went and they loved it.” The film’s Deadpool will not suffer from schizophrenia as he does in the comic, but director Miller’s touchstone for this movie should calm fan fears that he’s going to scrub up Marvel’s baddest boy. “I felt Fight Club and Tyler Durden were good corollaries,” he says. “We are in strip clubs and dive bars and crappy apartments and far away from the shiny X-Men world.”
Miller, who’s best known for the silky, arresting opening credits sequence of another David Fincher film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, says that the studio was amenable to his “f–king hideous” vision of the character. “Fox was nervous about the scars all over Wade, but they let us do it,” he says. “But that’s just one of a lot of things that’s not normal about this film. We have a very serious scene between Leslie Uggams and Ryan Reynolds where he’s holding a unicorn and ass-less chaps and a bottle of Jergens as he’s off to masturbate because he didn’t get the bad guy.”
Purists can rejoice. Whether a broader audience will go along for the ride is unclear, but it’s a gamble everyone involved, including the star, is willing to make. “I know the studio is cautious, and rightfully so,” Reynolds says. “But I was driving around New York recently and I saw three or four people wearing Deadpool paraphernalia. It was just that flash of red, and my eyes went to it. I know it’s a risk, but I trust that audiences will see that red and want to snatch it up. I mean, who doesn’t love a morally flexible red-suited freak show?” Ah, a question for the ages…
The Essential Comic-Book Guide to Marvel’s Wiliest Weirdo.
By Darren Franich
Deadpool: The Circle Chase (1993)
Introduced as a wild-card antagonist for hip mutant team X-Force, the Merc with a Mouth received his first solo showcase in this miniseries, which establishes Deadpool’s motormouth-sociopath routine. (Buy here)
With Great Power Comes Great Coincidence (1997)
Writer Joe Kelly’s Wade Wilson is a self-aware snarkbot — the comic-book equivalent of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Kelly’s masterpiece is issue #11, when Deadpool time-travels into an issue of Spider-Man from 1967. Imagine Pleasantville for psychopaths. (Buy here)
A Kiss, A Curse, A Cure (1998)
In this flashback issue, the antihero relives his flirtation with the one that got away: the personification of Death Itself. (Buy here)
Deadpool vs. The Marvel Universe (2008)
Deadpool terrorizes such Marvel icons as Wolverine, Fantastic Four, and Dr. Strange — the ultimate incarnation of Deadpool as Marvel’s answer to Bugs Bunny. (Buy here)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (2013)
Deadpool’s most recent solo ongoing series was a critical success, while still wackier than ever. The creative team of Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, and Declan Shalvey hit a high point with this three-way team up of Deadpool, Wolverine, and Captain America. (Buy here)
The Death of Deadpool (2015)
The latest Deadpool series ended recently with two Earths slamming into each other — it’s a crossover thing, don’t ask — but it’s hard to imagine any hero will ever have better last words: “If I’m going out, at least I’m taking everyone with me.” He’ll be back soon in Deadpool vs. Thanos, because you can’t keep a good, insane, murderous, strangely endearing man down. (Buy here)