Killing time in a sold-out theater, waiting for the movie to start, my friends and I refreshed our memories on the release dates for all the upcoming superhero movies this year. There were, naturally, a lot.
Batman v Superman in March. Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse in May. Suicide Squad in August. Gambit in October and Doctor Strange in November. The two titans of comic publishing are duking it out for box office dominance, and with plans for more movies spanning into 2020 and beyond, the spandex-and-capes train isn’t losing steam anytime soon.
Deadpool hit the world at a time when some critics and audiences are awash with “superhero movie fatigue.” As you can probably guess by the title, these souls are sick of superhero movies. Some even think they’re ruining good cinema. Take this recent article from Forbes:
At last, Hollywood realizes the drawing power of adult males who want to pretend that they are still teen boys. Just think of how much better Deadpool might have done if audiences weren’t so clearly tired of costumed superhero comic book movies. Oh, and if you’re a kid trying to sneak into Deadpool this weekend, while I cannot condone such behavior, I can beg you to buy your cover ticket for Brooklyn.
Whooooo. There’s so much for me to take apart in that paragraph alone, but I don’t want to get too far off track. (Maybe next time. Hey, there’s an idea for a different article!)
Whether or not you agree with the idea of superhero fatigue (for the record, I vehemently don’t; no surprise there), there’s no denying Deadpool came out in a year loaded start to finish with exhaustive comics offerings — and instead of audiences turning away, it broke records with a $135 million dollar opening weekend. The highest ever for an R-rated movie, and an impressive one even by the standards of blockbusters. It’s barely behindTwilight and beat freaking Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows Part 1.
I’m sure there’ll be lots of discussion over the coming weeks piecing apart why a predicted sleeper hit, estimated to gross a safe $60–$80 million, blew down the doors of all expectations and set the standard for future comic book adaptations. If you ask me (you didn’t), it’s simple.
For one, Deadpool is a fan’s dream come true. If you’ve picked up a comic about mercenary-embued-with-healing-powers Wade Wilson, the most unconventional antihero in Marvel’s roster, watching this movie is seeing those panels come to life. It’s the essence of Deadpool’s notorious fame distilled into 2 hours: machine gun-speed wisecracks, outrageously heightened violence, and deranged commentary from a character who knows he’s a fictional character. This was Ryan Reynolds’ passion project, and it shows; with the man’s miraculous sense of comedic timing and essential understanding of the character, Reynolds was born to play everyone’s favorite fuck-up in a costume.
There’s also the film’s tumultuous history to add to the pot. It took over ten years for Deadpool to see his name in movie lights. No one, not even Reynolds (who executive produced the film for no extra money), expected this movie to happen. It was only after the enormous online response to leaked test footage that 20th Century Fox realized this offbeat X-Men spinoff might work, and gave it the greenlight. Even then, it was a risk. Would audiences really want to see the wisecracking, irreverent Merc with the Mouth who didn’t follow any of the established rules for conventional comic book fare?
Hollywood, as usual, doesn’t understand what we want to see.
On a filmic level by all accounts Deadpool should be a nonsensical mess, but it dazzles because it’s both a love letter to the genre it’s spoofing and hyper-aware meta. In today’s world of fanfiction, YouTube reaction videos, and opinion blogs, Deadpool might be society’s most relevant hero. He breaks the rules by stopping time during action sequences to wonder if he left the stove on before gleefully decapitating a man, and then he’s riffing about anything from Liam Neeson’s questionable parenting skills in the Takenfranchise to viciously skewering Fox for not having the budget to include big name actors from the X-Men universe. “Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my own movie?” he asks within the first five minutes. “Hint: his name rhymes with Pulverine.” No more need for Mystery Science Theater 3000, the character himself’s become the smartass reviewer lambasting the cliches and flaws. It throws genres into a blender and jumps back and forth between them in a way that would be the death of a movie with lesser smarts. Genuinely heartfelt romance, body-horror sadism, elaborate action ten times better than most movies with $100M+ budgets, and the result’s electrifying. It’s something that breaks away from the norm, a witty take on the familiar without losing sight of why we love these zany superhero stories in the first place. Deadpool did exactly what it set out to do, with spectacular aplomb.
And something tells me, while still beloved, it wouldn’t have had such a staggering effect 0n audiences and the industry if it hadn’t’ve come out now.
Having heaped my praises, when you take away the wacky uniqueness that makes Deadpool Deadpool, the film itself isn’t much more than your normal superhero origin story. Guardians of the Galaxy already paved the way for affectionate trope-mocking, and Kick-Ass, Wanted, and Kingsman for hyperstylized over-the-top violence. Its aggressive excitement to prove how Not For Kids it is can come off as grating (a sex montage) or hysterical (DEATH BY VERY SLOW ZAMBONI). Not all the jokes hit, but the ones that do strike home are gems.
Honestly, that lack of originality is okay. Deadpool makes no bones about what it is or what (or whose) playground it’s goofing off in. We’re invited in on that joke.
On the feminism front (I did an alliteration, heh), the women aren’t as active as promised, especially Vanessa, who I wanted to do way more than just be the requisite, if humorously acknowledged, hot chick girlfriend. As oddball, clever, and humanized as they made her (Morena Baccarin’s performance is the best part of the film after Reynolds), she still felt too much like a fanboy’s fever dream invention. I wanted a Pepper in Iron Man 3ending and instead got served up a very traditionalist kidnapped girlfriend as motivation (although the motivator factor didn’t irk me as much as other movies, because Wade and Vanessa’s love story truly was the emoji heart-eyes of the story). But hey, there’s a sequel; here’s hoping she (spoilers, ssshh) assumes her superhero alter ego.
On a personal fan note, it’s easy to miss that Wade Wilson has subtleties. Those only came to be with years of development after his initial invention, but it would’ve been easy as hell to make him a one-note crass machine and an easy excuse to get away with sexism/racism/ableism disguised as “edgy comedy.” He wouldn’t be Wade Wilson if he didn’t love boobs and Spider-Man’s ass, but they didn’t forget his heart. As much as he protests he’s no hero and revels in the blood and guts, he protects a young girl from her stalker and falls desperately in love with a woman he respects. He’s Tony Stark and Jessica Jones to a level of ten thousand: a flawed mess with a heart. Difference is, he likes being a trope.
I can’t wait to see what Reynolds and Co. will do now that the set-up’s done, when they have something bigger in a sequel and even more creative freedom. Until then, for a movie we never thought would get made, let alone be such a resounding success — pay attention, Hollywood.