Deadpool

Deadpool

Before 2016, Ryan Reynolds really only had one box office hit: 2009's The Proposal, the success of which relied more on costar Sandra Bullock's rom-com rep than on Reynolds. Thirteen films later – most of them flops, including the unjustly abhorred Green Lantern – Reynolds finally makes good on his A-list potential.

Deadpool works because it takes Reynolds back to the days of 2002's Van Wilder, the raunchy comedy that made him famous. Though he has tried his darnedest to grow as an actor, he never fully shed that persona of Van Wilder's handsome, freewheeling cad. Apparently it didn't bother him, since he'd reportedly tried to get Deadpool off the ground for eleven years, and Deadpool is essentially Van Wilder-as-superhero, all wisecracks and preening. That the character's primary concern is the loss of his good looks says everything – and both Reynolds and his movie are in on the joke.

The film is apparently a faithful adaptation of the irreverent Marvel comics, which I've never read: along with the ultraviolence and the filthy language, Deadpool is half earnest and half spoof, breaking the fourth wall and chockablock with in-jokes, though not to the point where its cleverness becomes insufferable. (At least not to this reviewer; your mileage may vary.) The script jumps back and forth in time, beginning in medias res and flashing back to his origins as Wade Wilson, a dirty-deeds-done-dirt-cheap sort who gets subjected to medically-induced mutation in order to cure his cancer. As with the film's cheeky tone, there's nothing particularly inspired about the structure, but it's a refreshing change of pace for the genre.

In fact, there's something cathartic about watching Deadpool: in this era of the dutifully PG-13 superhero movie, all that carefully modulated violence gets old. So Deadpool's gleeful raunch, gore, and nudity are kind of welcome. The film's phenomenal success may make it a game-changer for the industry – X-Men franchise owners Marvel and Fox are now considering an R-rated Wolverine – but it's by no means one for the ages. A day after seeing it, I've already forgotten most of it. Still, it's breezy, ribald fun, delivering enough laughs to earn its keep.

Ryan Reynolds is having his Robert Downey Jr. moment. Whether Deadpool will spin his career into a Downey-level second act is still up in the air.