Deadpool is a hard-R take on the Marvel superhero movie. The picture is dizzyingly scabrous, borderline offensive (all right!), and wonderfully refreshing. In telling the story of Wade Wilson, an ex-Special Forces mercenary transformed by mutant surgery into the mentally unstable Deadpool, the movie exults in blood and brutality and sexy-time interludes of a sort that the Avengers, let's say, would surely find distasteful. (Although Marvel, which produced the film, is of course in on it all.)
The picture is a long-time-coming bust-out for Ryan Reynolds, who also played Deadpool as a subsidiary character in the 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But forget that. Reynolds, who pushed for more than a decade to get the picture made, is fearlessly committed to the red-suited nutcase of the comics, and he fuels the movie with a delirious spew of weisenheimer one-liners. (He knows you're wondering, so he punches through the fourth wall to crack, "Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?")
The story, extracted from 25 years of Deadpool comic-book adventures, is the pungent work of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who also wrote Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. They establish Wilson as a New York-based hard-case hanging out at Sister Margaret's Home for Wayward Girls—a grotty biker bar run by Wade's deadpan pal Weasel (T.J. Miller). There he meets and falls in lust with a prostitute named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, of TV's Gotham, V, and Firefly), and after a giddy montage of bedroom calesthenics, they fall in love. But then Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He's offered an experimental cure from a shadowy Brit named Francis (Ed Skrein)—better-known in supervillain circles as Ajax. The treatment this creep administers—with the help of sub-villain Angel Dust (ex-MMA champ Gina Carano)—is indistinguishable from torture, and the scenes in which we see it being applied to Wade go on too long. (In this aspect, the movie recalls Kick-Ass, another hilarious comic-book flick whose laughs were nearly swamped by a one-scene surfeit of ultra-violence.)
The Ajax cancer cure works, but it stir-fries Wade's brain and melts down his face. ("I look like a testicle with teeth," he grumps.) It also turns him into a super-warrior capable of healing his own wounds and regenerating amputated limbs. Masking his maimed head and donning a supersuit with matched katanas sheathed across its back, he sets out in pursuit of Ajax, and is soon joined by two emissaries from the X-Men: a metal giant named Colossus (voiced by Stefan Capicic) and a flame-throwing goth chick called Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). They of course prove helpful.
First-time director Tim Miller, best-known as a visual-effects artist, stages some spectacular (if over-extended) stunt and demolition work; and Reynolds—so long tethered on the brink of full stardom—gives a furiously athletic performance, kicking heads and ventilating opponents while firing off a continuous barrage of sick one-liners, many of them meta. Other characters also chime in. When Wade announces his new superhero name, one of them instantly approves: "That sounds like a fuckin' franchise!" he yelps. It does, doesn't it?
Zoolander 2 asks the question, "Why was this movie made?" The answer is not forthcoming.
The original Zoolander, released 15 years ago, was a box-office fizzle that found favor on home video. This entirely unnecessary sequel, arriving on a tsunami of desperate promotion and hopefully timed to the opening of New York Fashion Week, is likely to baffle onetime fans and put everybody else to sleep.
The movie's rag-trade satire is exhausted by now, and gets only a minimal nod here in any case. The picture has instead been expensively shot like an international thriller along the lines of a Bond or a Bourne film—although there are no thrills, and very few laughs to compensate. The story—something about a plot to kill off the world's pop stars (Justin Bieber gets shot dead right at the beginning) and a sinister misuse of the Fountain of Youth—is a hopeless muddle; and the overload of random-celebrity cameos (Willie Nelson, Neil deGrasse Tyson—M.C. Hammer!) is pure eye-glaze.
Director Ben Stiller returns to the role of clueless male model Derek Zoolander, this time teamed up with his onetime runway rival Hansel (Owen Wilson, still in full pout). Currently consigned to the fashion-biz sidelines, they fly to Rome to attempt a relaunch of their careers. This naturally fails—possibly because they strut their stuff wearing stickers that read "Old" and "Lame." "We were a total laughing stick," Derek whines.
Penélope Cruz turns up as an agent of the Interpol fashion police, seeking this dimwit duo's help with the pop-star death wave and gamely weathering some inevitable boob jokes. ("She's hot, I trust her," Derek says, getting off a good one.) Derek is reunited with his long-missing son (Cyrus Arnold), and is shocked to find him disgracing the family name by being fat. On a visit to an Interpol fashion prison, Derek accidentally enables the escape of the evil couture mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell once again). Susan Sarandon flits through the proceedings, as do Katy Perry, Susan Boyle, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who for some reason also volunteered to embarrass herself in this mess.
Not every attempt at amusement tanks. Fred Armisen, playing a digitized midget, has a funny minute or so of screen time; Kristen Wiig, unrecognizable under an impasto of prosthetic makeup, sustains a wicked riff on the egregious Donatella Versace; and Sting does everything he can with the role of a priest who dispenses expiation and exposition in equal measure. Even Stiller and Wilson elicit a few chuckles with their familiar buddy shtick. The movie's biggest joke, however, may turn out to be on the studio execs who fronted the money for this limp, dispiriting flameout.