The long-awaited Deadpool movie is a lot of excellent things: Lively! Violent! Cleverish! Ribald! (If you don’t enjoy the occasional — OK, frequent — dick joke, this is probably not the movie for you.) As the title character, Ryan Reynolds is in his element, and he embraces the challenge of being a likable, violent smartass whose face we often can’t even see (it’s a physical role on more than one level).
But the real draw is the movie’s irreverence, which starts with the opening credits and levels up with the drawn-out opening sequence, full of slow-motion bullets and blood splatter. Deadpool can’t kill a bad guy without making a joke about it, never met an X-Man he didn’t want to rile up and he loves breaking the fourth wall, frequently with meta-cracks about superheroes. Before he becomes Deadpool (in a horrible accident involving an experimental cancer treatment), Wade Wilson, a special-forces bro turned mercenary, has a delightful relationship with Vanessa (Firefly’s Morena Baccarin). They have a lot of sex and crack a lot of jokes. It’s wonderful — until the plot gets set in motion.
And this is where Deadpool falls short of being the truly different movie it could have been. Vanessa is great; surly goth Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) is a brilliant foil to the manic Deadpool; any movie that presumes that Gina Carano can take on Colossus is all right by me. But when Deadpool’s looping, non-linear, delightful twisty narrative straightens out for the movie’s final conflict, it’s the tired rescue-the-girlfriend-from-the-bad-guys storyline, and it highlights something: For all the superhero tropes Deadpool skewers, the movie can’t truly break away from superhero films’ relationship to gender.
The bar where Wade hangs out is 97 percent dudes. Vanessa plays a part in her own rescue, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the main thrust of the movie’s climax (all puns intended). She makes a Star Wars joke and Wade cracks that he must have built her in a lab. It’s 2016; Star Wars is not an obscure nerd property known only to human beings with penises.
You want to step one toe further into subversive waters? Have Vanessa make a joke about his nerd knowledge being up to snuff. If you’re going to send up the superhero genre from within, you shouldn’t skip over the part of that world that insists on thinking women are different and weird and don’t understand.
Deadpool is a lot of fun all the same — wry, snarky, self-deprecating anti-heroes are always welcome, and the movie’s success will pave the way for more sarcastic, sexy, semi-adult superhero films. But if the genre really wants to grow up, it’s going to have to get a little more inclusive. (Pro tip: You can do this and still make dick jokes.) — Molly Templeton