The Bizarrely Joyous Necessities of Deadpool
Deadpool was never meant to be taken this seriously. Not blockbuster seriously, anyways.
Unlike the legendary origin stories of his more revered masked counterparts, Deadpool – with the almost-Spider Man mask, the Wolverine-like accelerated healing factor, and his own personal Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast in his brain – began as essentially nothing more than an unintentional parody of DC Comic’s Deathstroke# that snowballed into something greater than its creators Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld could have ever imagined when they first gave him the name Wade Wilson (an obvious wink to Deathstroke’s real name, Slade Wilson).
After debuting in the pages of The New Mutants #98 in February of 1991 as (yet another) assassin sent to kill Cable, Deadpool started popping up in other titles like The Avengers, Daredevil, and Heroes for Hire, generally being a nuisance and ruining the days of his more serious contemporaries. By 1993, the character and his pop culture-spouting, genre-warping shtick earned his own mini-series, The Circle Chase, which was a big enough success that he was given a second the following year – this one written by Mark Waid, who would later comment:
“Frankly, if I’d known Deadpool was such a creep when I agreed to write the mini-series, I wouldn’t have done it. Someone who hasn’t paid for their crimes presents a problem for me.”
Waid’s opinions notwithstanding, over the course of his existence, Deadpool became a celebrated middle finger to the “gritty tough-guys with questionable morality,” lightening things up with pop culture gags and slapstick. It’s not uncommon for, say, Deadpool’s head to get smashed to pieces by an anvil – an homage to the Looney Tunes he so clearly hails from – or for Deadpool’s “common sense” to tingle, as Spider-Man became been one of Wilson’s favorite whipping-boys…
Each new voice that came to the comic added something extra to Deadpool’s exceedingly absurd history, while still maintaining that the details are vague and subject to change at any time.
As Joe Kelly once told Newsarama:
“With Deadpool, we could do anything we wanted because everybody just expected the book to be canceled every five seconds, so nobody was paying attention. And we could get away with it.”
Deadpool is the one character where retconning isn’t an infrequent necessary evil, but a bizarrely joyous necessity.
And Wade Wilson – the man behind the mask – has a lot of serious issues to play with.
The cancer-induced physical scars that necessitate the mask to begin with are only dwarfed by Wilson’s PTSD, amnesia, and diagnosed mental instability – a direct side-effect of Deadpool’s immortality-bequeathing regenerative abilities.
But while any other superhero property would treat these litany of issues with the reverence and gravity they deserve, salivating over the opportunity to heap pathos on top of pathos#, Deadpool’s great comedic and satirical strength comes from riffing on these expectations with an astute, gallows humor that borders on the truly philosophical.
In the comic, Deadpool’s brain damage manifests itself in two distinct personalities populating the narration captions, turning the framework of the medium on its head. He’ll riff back and forth with two distinct internal monologues at a time, all within the context of a normal comic book page.
This unique superpower set and Deadpool’s singular quirks allow him to broach existential questions with a kind of approachable levity, taking on grander concepts like immortality, death, and disfigurement in a way that profane fourteen-year-olds will still pay attention to. Wilson can say something using his parodic origins and his more sincere present while still maintaining a goofy, fun-poking attitude highlighting absurdities of the typical comic hero (e.g. mocking Wolverine’s overt hirsute masculinity while sharing much of his tragedy is some dark, subversive humor).
Deadpool’s not the strong, silent type, to say the least, nor is he the untouchable action badass tearing through foes. Deadpool runs away as much as he defeats his opponents. He can be weak, fallible without being tragic, and alternatively feminine or masculine. His omnisexual romantic entanglements (that’s right, OMNI), henchmen who only joined up because of the health insurance, and unapologetic obsession with breakfast foods also mean that Deadpool looks stupid quite a bit – something many writers carefully guard their heroes against.
Now you get why Ryan Reynolds has been talking about making a Deadpool movie since 2005. Not only is the motormouthed charmer built for the role, but an R-rated romp riffing on an existing properties seems like a certified slam dunk.
Alas, countless script rewrites, various failures to lock down a director (David Goyer and Robert Rodriguez were both attached/courted), and studio insecurity led to the project languishing at New Line Cinema and Fox until leaked test footage went viral in July 2014.
The voice, the profanity, the violence, the dick jokes – Deadpool was too perfectly apt for advertising to ignore any longer.
However, a superhero movie with dick jokes doesn’t necessarily make for a satirical superhero movie…
Unfortunately, in Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth merely escalates the Tony Stark personality to the realm of the R-rating.
He’s not crazy, he’s just a smartass.
Superhero movies, because of the continued fan base garnered through decade-long franchises, are full of winks to the audience. Differentiating from that standard, especially when the character is supposed to be the Airplane! to the Avengers’ Zero Hour!, has to take bigger leaps than futzing with the opening credits or ironic pauses during key dialogue. We’ve come to expect these kinds of audience-friendly gestures. Simply acknowledging a truth in an unexpected context isn’t subversive. You’ve got to break it down.
The opening fight scene has the most satirization of the tough-guy superhero aesthetic, but that runs out of steam as quickly as Deadpool runs out of bullets. From then on out, the toothless gags focus less on the recognizable and tired superhero origin story and more on making the perfectly-cast Ryan Reynolds# say things you become increasingly convinced come from a transcript of the participants of an Xbox Live shooter.
Devoid of substantial narrative or structural changes (how exciting is a direct-camera address when an inevitable Stan Lee cameo is basically the same thing?), the film plays exactly like the standard fare it presumes to parody. The fourth-wall needs to be not just poked at, but shattered in ways we’ve never seen before, allowing Deadpool to play with every convention imaginable, rather than merely allow him to comment on the furthering of the plot like a B-grade Scary Movie.
Plus, his multiple personalities are gone, leaving us deprived of voiceovers in what would’ve been an original and oddball addition to the superhero genre.
Deadpool hits all the same beats of a superhero origin: A love is brewed, fights occur, a love interest is rescued with the help of two subplot-furthering, universe-expanding straight men named Colossus (a stoic metal man) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (an emo teen girl), and everything resolves with a neat bow. That’s a standard group action comedy; nothing breaks, nothing even really bends. However, this time, the dead space is filled with thesaurus entries for “penis,” a Weird Al-style silly word generator, chimichangas, weasels, cacti, and dildos.
Oh, to be twelve again.
Without playing with the mechanics of filmmaking, aside from one “turn away the camera” joke, one falls in and out of the film’s spell. And without consistency, which would interestingly turn us all into superhero-voyeur participants in the canon, the humor dips and the tone crashes.
It’s fun to be vulgar for a little while, but if it doesn’t have a more solid comedic foundation, the parody becomes the subject and well, you can ask Dane Cook how that ended up for him…
Still, the most disappointing part of the film is its disservice to character.
We know ‘pool. We know he’s a wacko who explores dark eventualities with zaniness. Half his comic runs involve him looking forward to the sweet release of death. Saddling him with a sad-sack love story, a possible ensemble tie-in, and the achingly stereotypical “watch my love from the shadows” plot usurps Deadpool’s true bite – which has nothing to do with profanity or violence, but his ability to mock the idea of superherodom and its tenants from within.
Without it, the character is nothing more than a more violent, less witty, and more phallically-obsessed Iron Man.
We don’t need another snarky action lead. We need Deadpool to lead a much stranger, oddball dismantling of the superhero flick. We need him pointing at his audience, his creators, his peers, and his own tropes. We need him looking at death and immortality, two factors subtextually constant in all superhero films, in a way both silly and dead-on. Otherwise, he’s just Van Wilder on Halloween. PG-13 action movies don’t automatically become interesting when they become R-rated, much like superhero movies don’t become interesting when you punch-up the same bland framework with dick jokes.
Luckily, they’ve got the chance to really get the character right in the sequel, because as Deadpool himself has had to learn time and time again, he can never really die…
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