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Ryan Reynolds: Waking the Deadpool

Ryan-Reynolds-Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds rewrites the superhero-movie rule book with his low-budget, high-yield romp as an R-rated, meta-ironic, cynically romantic, limb-chopping, heroic anti-hero with a Canadian accent...

“It’s been an 11-year journey, and we’ve all had our ups and downs in between...”

If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “there are no second acts in American lives,” it’s a good thing Ryan Reynolds is Canadian.

And so, by the way is Deadpool, the self-aware Marvel anti-hero who rebooted Reynolds’ cred as superhero material. Released this year, Reynolds’ starring vehicle Deadpool became the number one R-rated film (and number one X-Men movie) in box-office history.

Reynolds had had his turn in tights before, in a badly conceived, crushingly serious version of DC’s Green Lantern that flopped at the box office in 2011.

But to hear him tell it, that was a rebound romance, coming on the heels of years of disappointment trying to launch a Deadpool feature. “It’s been an 11-year journey, and we’ve all had our ups and downs in between,” he said recently at a news conference launching the Blu-ray release of Deadpool.

“It felt sh---y, like I’d been standing at the altar — it’s on, it’s off. Thank God for the Internet and thank God for the fans.”

The subject of Reynolds’ gratitude was a re-think of the superhero genre, both in comic book form and onscreen. Originally introduced as a villain, Deadpool evolved into a morally ambiguous, cynical character who popped in and out of various superhero storylines before getting his own comic.

But what really separated him from the herd — and made him “the ultimate outlier,” according to Reynolds — was that he was the one character in the Marvel Universe with self-awareness, an almost stage-like understanding of the fact that he is a character in a comic book (and now, in a movie).

Deadpool frequently broke the “fourth wall” in addressing the reader. And he made pop culture references that might have seemed out of place in the comic book world but dovetailed nicely, and often hilariously, with ours.

One such reference was what turned Reynolds into a fan in the first place. “Deadpool found me, I didn’t find him,” Reynolds said at a Berlin news conference. He said a friend had insisted he read the comic book because the character was so much like him.

“And the first comic I read had my own name in it. Deadpool said: ‘I look like Ryan Reynolds crossed with a Shar-Pei.’ And I said: ‘That’s it. I’m devouring this.’ I’ve been obsessed ever since. So he’s become kind of an alter ego for me.”

“He filters all his pain through a prism of comedy and humour. And I was the youngest of four boys. I was never going to win anything with my fists. It was always with my mouth.

“Meta-humour makes me laugh, self-referential humour makes me laugh, pop culture makes me laugh.”

If Deadpool had also turned out to be from Vancouver like Reynolds, their connection would have been pure Twilight Zone. (In fact, in the comics, Deadpool was revealed to be from Saskatchewan).

Fourth-wall-breaking aside, the tale of Deadpool — a.k.a. Wade Wilson — is a typical saga of heightened reality. Diagnosed with fatal cancer the day he proposes to his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wade is approached by a covert organization and told his life can be saved with an experimental treatment. Said treatment, applied by the villainous Ajax (Ed Skrein), activates cell mutations, which indeed prolong Wilson’s life and give him strength, agility and Wolverine-like regenerative powers (the character had an introductory cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

The treatment also disfigures his face, inspiring him to adopt a mask — along with a costume, adorned with weaponry.

Added to the mix are lesser X-Men figures Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who track down the newly mutated Wade, try to enlist him, and ultimately join him in his score-settling with Ajax.

The characters, while cool, were also within budget. “Negasonic Teenage Warhead, we just literally picked because her name was Negasonic Teenage Warhead,” Reynolds says. “We were looking for a cool female character and we had the whole catalogue at our disposal. She was in one comic in the ’90s based on a song title from a heavy metal band. We couldn’t have Storm because she’s a franchise player.”

The low budget (“$47 and a bag of Skittles,” Reynolds jokingly calls it) — and the R-rating for graphic, head-chopping violence and language — were barriers to getting the movie made. Subsequently, they’ve become a model for a new approach to the genre.

An R-rating has long been considered box-office poison. Instead, Deadpool grossed $780-plus million, more than some PG-13 superhero movies with several times its budget.

“The R-rating was not just because I wanted people to be shocked and entertained at the same time — which they were,” says Reynolds, who also co-produced the movie, “but [also because] I wanted to push the envelope on the action.

“I like the fact that you can make a movie for less than half-a-billion dollars. We got to shoot this movie the right way. We had people here, [writers] Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and [director] Tim Miller who knew how to do that.

“You just had to put that character on the screen in the right way and the fans would come.”

Jim Slotek is a writer and columnist with the Toronto Sun.