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Ryan Reynolds: A Man in Search of a Franchise

Ryan Reynolds has spent a large portion of his career trying to get a franchise off the ground – and it may have finally paid off

Ryan Reynolds is a talented actor. I’ve been a fan of his for years. I actually got excited when I saw his young, oddly chubby face in an old episode of The X-Files as a pre-credits kill. He’s been working steadily since the 90s and has proven himself a versatile actor in smaller-budget films like Buried, The Nines, Adventureland, The Voices and Mississippi Grind. Reynolds has also been very successful in a number of big-screen comedies, both ridiculous and romantic, like Just Friends, The Proposal and Definitely, Maybe.

So why is there something missing?

For a lot of actors a career that lengthy and varied would be enough. But Reynolds has always been on the search for a franchise that will click. He never seemed desperate – he’s always been way too endearing and self-effacing for that – but he’s definitely determined.

Finally, in 2016, it seems like his hard work and perseverance has paid off.

Deadpool, opening in theatres this Friday, February 12, has not only gotten solid reviews but already has a sequel greenlit. Thanks to a smaller budget for a superhero movie in this day and age (around $60 million), a February release date and a built-in, dedicated fanbase may wind up being a huge hit.

But that’s Ryan Reynolds’ future. Let’s take a look back at franchise misses – and small-time hits – that paved the way to this perfect meld of actor and character.

Blade: Trinity (2004)


Blade: Trinity is a total mess.

There was a lot going against it from the beginning: series writer David S. Goyer decided to direct, Wesley Snipes – previously charismatic and engaged – had completely checked out, it had one of the worst on-screen depictions of Dracula (Dominic Purcell) ever. Blade: Trinity had all the good will built up by the previous entries and managed to squander it all.

The one enjoyable part is Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King. He and Jessica Biel headline the new cast members as a group of vampire hunters called Nightstalkers. Jessica Biel gives it her all but ends up fading away in the background. Ryan Reynolds stands out by being irreverent, which, according to interviews Reynolds and fellow castmate Patton Oswalt, was the only way to get through the tense slog of a shoot.

Ryan Reynolds’ standout moment in the film is definitely his interrogation scene with Parker Posey’s character, Danica Talos. He spends most of the scene making obscenely offensive wise-cracks. It’s as if he were auditioning for Deadpool already. Plus, you know, he’s shirtless in the whole scene, which is a plus.

Ultimately Blade: Trinity was a big disappointment. It didn’t make its budget back domestically and got abysmal reviews. The series removed the atmosphere and genre trappings of Blade and Blade II in exchange for a tired story and muddled action. So there isn’t really any mystery why there hasn’t been a fourth entry in the series or a Nightstalkers spinoff.

Watch Instead: If you’re jonesing for a Ryan Reynolds movie from around that time you could do a lot worse than The Nines. A sci-fi film written and directed by John August, The Nines is a twisty-turny indie picture which ends up showing its small budget around the edges. It involves three different stories and timelines which end up coming together in the third act.

What can, at times, feel like an overlong episode of The Outer Limits is held together by the quality and earnestness of its limited cast. Ryan Reynolds headlines and he absolutely nails the three distinct characters he has to play. It’s talky and it may not be for everyone, but it’s worth checking out.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)


Since 2000’s X-Men – and, really, since his introduction in the comics – Wolverine had one of the major selling points of the X-Men franchise. So what could go wrong with giving him is own movie?

A lot, apparently. Despite an Academy Award winning director, a game star and a much-anticipated origin story, X-Men Origins: Wolverine ended up silly and lifeless. The effects were somehow worse than previous entries (those CGI claws in the farmhouse bathroom are basically lifted from Looney Tunes), the story weirdly muddled and too straight-forward at the same time and every addition to the cast was wasted. The only positives were Hugh Jackman’s performance – obviously– and Liev Schreiber was a solid Sabretooth in search of a better film.

This movie was the introduction of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. A bastardized version at least. In the first ten minutes of the movie he plays the character well, cracking wise and showing off his physicality. Unfortunately he’s killed off-screen and doesn’t show up again until the final act. With his mouth sewn shut. They lampshade this development, but it’s still pretty egregious.

When X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released it was met with derision. It received poor reviews and any faint praise for the film (including Ryan Reynolds’ limited screentime) was drowned in a sea of dissent.

The benefit of the film was Ryan Reynolds becoming synonymous with the role of Deadpool. It could have turned out differently: if the powers that be were to make a Deadpool standalone movie there would be a good chance they’d want to distance themselves from Origins and the actor who portrayed him. Luckily this movie tainted the well for the character and allowed Reynolds to pitch his own version of the character.

Watch Instead: Adventureland was released the same year and makes much better use of Ryan Reynolds. The story of a guy taking a summer job at an amusement park is directed by Superbad‘s Greg Mottola. Reynolds plays the stock role of “douchey boyfriend” of the main character’s romantic interest. The whole movie is subtly subversive and Reynolds is no different, adding some much-needed nuance and sadness to what could have been an extremely stereotypical role.

Alternatively you could watch the leaked workprint for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Leaked online prior to the theatrical release, this workprint has unfinished special effects which make a fairly lifeless movie kind of hilarious. If you want to see an intense Hugh Jackman turn into a character model from Nintendo 64 then this is the movie for you.


Green Lantern (2011)


Green Lantern was Ryan Reynolds first legitimate shot at a franchise. Sure, he and the studios were probably hopeful for spinoffs to the other films, but this movie actually had a shot. It was the first time DC tried to dip its toe in the Cinematic Universe concept Marvel was starting to cash-in on. The character of Green Lantern was pretty much on par with Iron Man when it comes to name recognition, so why not start there?

Unfortunately, like so many studios since the MCU’s success, Green Lantern was learning the wrong lessons (like Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Dracula Untold) and ignoring the right ones. The script felt like a leftover from a failed late-90s version. The effects were a weird mashup of surprisingly good and shockingly bad. Every actor seemed to be in a different movie entirely, either checked out like Blake Lively, playing the stock hero like Ryan Reynolds, or gloriously camping it up like Peter Sarsgaard. It ends up being tonally inconsistent, which is a real shame.

Pre-release there was some real hype for Green Lantern. Ryan Reynolds’ enthusiasm was infectious. He was well-received at Comic-Con, the trailers seemed to deliver light-hearted space adventure and the emphasis on the Green Lantern Corps was anticipated by fans. Unfortunately it all went sideways once people saw the movie. If you took out the advanced effects Green Lantern could easily blend in with the likes of Steel or Elektra.

This was a big blow to Ryan Reynolds’ chances at a franchise. It was his biggest and best shot and, through no fault of his own, it was terrible. This movie generally solidified Ryan Reynolds’ cursed chances at a franchise, and also made DC more wary when it came to their cinematic properties.

Watch Instead: Buried was a movie that got a lot of buzz when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival but didn’t exactly set the screens alight when it went wide. The story of a man buried alive, his only lifeline a cell phone, is tense and gripping. It’s a nice surprise that they’re able to make the 95 minute run-time not overstay its welcome. That’s thanks in large part to Ryan Reynolds’ performance. We’re stuck in the box with him, stuck in his shoes, and he makes it worthwhile.


R.I.P.D. (2013)


Ryan Reynolds’ last try at a comic property until Deadpool, R.I.P.D. is based on the comic series and follows in the footsteps of Men in Black. Ryan Reynolds plays a police officer who is killed and recruited by a supernatural police division that rids the world of unwanted souls. He is a fish-out-of-water who is teamed up with a surly old-timer played by Jeff Bridges.

If this sounds familiar it’s because it is. It’s Men in Black. They’re trying to capture the Men in Black magic. While Reynolds and Bridges are up to the task of copying Men in Black they’re let down by a derivative script and some dodgy effects. The weirdest part about the film is how little fun it is, especially compared to Men in Black. The actors are going through the motions, playing parts they’ve played better before.

Men in Black.

R.I.P.D. was a box office bomb and received terrible reviews. Most reviews noted that the movie was a retread – of Men in Black and Ghostbusters – and brought nothing new to the conversation. Which is true. It’s, at best, worth a lazy Sunday watch, but its worst crime is being forgettable.

Watch Instead: Just this past year Ryan Reynolds was in a fantastic movie called Mississippi Grind. He and Ben Mendelsohn star in this two-hander about poker players who have a chance meeting and spiral down the drain together. Reynolds is pitch-perfect as a not-quite-conman who lives hard and tries hard not to look at his past. He matches Mendelsohn in pathetic, which is extremely hard to do.

So… post-R.I.P.D. there was very little hope of Ryan Reynolds finding his franchise. He would be stuck with the – admittedly cushy – career of doing forgettable big budget movies and solid independent features. But Reynolds kept his passion for the Deadpool character and he and Tim Miller pitched a standalone, relatively cheap version of the character.

Shockingly, FOX thought it was a good idea, thanks in part to leaked test footage, and the movie was finally greenlit. There’s been positive buzz for the marketing, solid early reviews for the film and an actual, official greenlight for a sequel. Ryan Reynolds may have finally gotten himself a franchise. Which he deserves.

Ryan Reynolds has had a long career full of hard work, solid performances and big bombs. He’s only gotten better with age. I have high hopes for Deadpool. It’s a movie that seems to break from the traditional superhero mold, which is always welcome.

Hopefully fifth time’s the charm.

A Michael among many. He writes stuff sometimes.

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