Arts·Governor General's Awards

Why Ryan Reynolds just makes movies better

Pick any of the goofy action comedies he's been in, and then marvel at how real and relatable he makes those roles.

Detective Pikachu had no right to be this watchable

Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. (Alan Markfield)

Ryan Reynolds will receive the National Arts Centre Award at this year's Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. Watch the televised special celebrating the laureates on CBC Television and CBC Gem on November 26 at 7pm ET. 

Ryan Reynolds has the uncanny ability to take things that are on their face kind of dumb, and make them resonate. He fills what could be vacuous with real feeling and humanity. Pick any of the goofy action comedies Ryan Reynolds has been in, and then marvel at how real and relatable he makes those roles.

Take Deadpool, for example. For a long time, I — someone who is absolutely a comic book geek and enthusiastic consumer of all superhero media — kind of shat on Deadpool. For one thing, the character came as part of a broader trend that left behind the nuance, texture, and beauty of the superhero-comics-for-grownups of the late '80s (think The Sandman or Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol) but kept the sex and violence. It was a time of nihilism, bad drawing, and medium-at-best character development. And to some extent, that nastiness is kind of embedded in the movie's DNA. Deadpool fans also have a reputation for being a bit like a less-clever version of the Rick & Morty fandom crossed with less community-minded Juggalos. For years, the mere mention of Deadpool was enough to make me say "harrumph" and go read The Watchmen again. 

Ryan Reynolds changed all that.

In spite of my antipathy, I still went and saw the movie, because I see every superhero movie, and because I was only semi-employed in early 2016, so could go see matinées in the afternoon.

Ryan Reynolds converted me from a Deadpool hater into a fan. He locked in on what makes Wade Wilson (that's Deadpool's real name) tick. Not what makes him a superhero — an experimental cancer treatment by an evil scientist that unlocked dormant mutant genes, combined with U.S. Army Special Forces training — but what makes him human. Reynolds told the story of a traumatized, violent disaster area of a superpowered man trying to make a poorly executed, poorly planned turn to goodness. After years of being bad, he is trying to do the right thing. Does he know what the right thing is? Not always. Does he know how to get there without accidentally causing a carnival of chaos and carnage? Categorically, no. But he'll keep trying. There is a reason Deadpool's catchphrase is "Maximum Effort." Because really, even with superpowers, that's the best most of us can do. 

Need more evidence of Reynold's ability to inject the sublime into the frankly ridiculous? Go watch Detective Pikachu. No, seriously — go watch it. Detective Pikachu is a movie that has no right to be as good as it is. Beyond the inherent silliness of a live action Pokémon movie, its plot is next-level convoluted: it leans heavily on amnesia, features a Pokémon-performance-enhancing drug and a megalomaniac plotting to merge humans with Pokémon, and also delves into the issue of the concentration of media ownership, as well as the complex relationships between fathers and sons. There's a romantic subplot that's pretty lacklustre, and we're asked to seriously consider the motivations of an enormous telekinetic flying lizard-cat hybrid thing called Mewtwo. By all rights, this movie should be a mess.

And yet, Reynolds's voice work as Pikachu — a character best known from his appearance on your nephew's pyjamas and as a prize at carnival shooting games — basically redeems the whole thing. He's interesting, funny, witty, likable, and you wind up genuinely rooting for him. He's a charming little wisecracker, and when he faces death following an attack and explosion at an experimental Pokémon laboratory, heartstrings are tugged. You really feel something. Name me one other actor who would be both capable and willing to bring real emotional weight to something so tremendously silly.

Go watch the absolute earnestness radiating from Reynolds in Free Guy or dig into the genuine pathos he brings to the role of a washed-out executive protection agent in The Hitman's Bodyguard. (Check out how much fun he has playing off of Samuel L. Jackson in that one.) Ryan Reynolds gets audiences to buy in completely, no matter what's going on.

He doesn't care if a movie is "art," or possibly even if a script is good. It doesn't matter, because he'll make it good. He'll make it relatable and engaging and meaningful. He'll make you care about Pikachu's relationship with Justice Smith, or the fate of a fifth-division soccer team in Wales, for that matter. Ryan Reynolds brings Maximum Effort to every role, and that's what makes him — and everything he's in — great.

Watch the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards laureate ceremony November 26 at 7pm ET on CBC Television and CBC Gem.


  • A previous version of this article misidentified Justice Smith as Jaden Smith.
    Nov 19, 2021 1:00 PM ET


Chris Dart

Associate Producer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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