Up until now, the superhero genre has struggled with its formulaic approach. At times, it seems that the machine behind the universe has taken away from the surprise element. Everything is mapped out. Marvel (and DC) have films scheduled to hit theaters for the next few years. There’s no uncertainty, and everything seems routine. For introductory solo films (Iron Man, Ant-Man, etc), there’s a deep-rooted origin story that explains how a particular hero became super, followed by an inevitable clash with their first (but not entirely menacing) antagonist. For team-up events (The Avengers), the stakes are raised, but nothing truly ever changes. Just look at Age of Ultron, where the titular antagonist was reduced to nothing more than villain of the week, with little-to-no consequence.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is an exception. It benefited from isolation. There was no DC Universe at the time, and each film was an unpredictable event with severe consequences for not only Batman, but also those with whom he surrounded himself. His foes posed a serious threat to Gotham, and even when Batman managed to defeat them, their impact on the city was felt long after their demise.
Now this isn’t indicative of what’s to come in 2016. I think Marvel will finally shake up its universe with Captain America: Civil War, and with DC entering the race, competition is high. For years, the MCU was the true only contender in this space, and when a champion’s reign goes uncontested, the product can get exhaustingly stale. We’ve seen significant change thanks to their corner in Netflix, which has introduced solo Daredevil and Jessica Jones runs that will play part to a larger team-up event down the line. And there’s a lot to look forward to this year. Batman v Superman arrives later next month, followed by Civil War, then we’ve got Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse and Doctor Strange all waiting in the wings. Once again, superhero films will dominate much of the discussion in 2016.
But before we get into any of that, 20th Century Fox just released Tim Miller’s long-gestating and hotly anticipated Deadpool adaptation. For Miller, Ryan Reynolds and writing duo Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, it’s been a process getting this film to theaters. An R-Rated superhero film that breaks the fourth wall and slaps audiences silly with explicit sexual commentary? Hardly an easy sell to a studio. But after much struggle, and thanks to conveniently leaked test footage, Deadpool finally entered production.
For the last several months we’ve been inundated with ingenious Deadpool marketing. The trailers, the TV spots, cross-brand promotions – everything was finely tuned. And it all paid off. As it stands, Deadpool has earned $12.5 million from Thursday showings and could potentially rack up a record-breaking $70 million. That’s a testament to the loyalty of Deadpool fans and the power of overwhelming critical appraise.
Deadpool effectively addresses the state of the superhero genre. It attempts to achieve what Wes Craven’s Scream did for horror. There’s nothing new about Deadpool; instead, it takes all the superhero tropes we’ve come to expect and plays with them for our pleasure. It opens up with the titular hero in action, cruising passenger seat in a taxi on his way to take down the guy responsible for his disfigurement. And in the midst of kicking ass, he invites us back in time to explore his origins and how he came to be Deadpool. His background, the love story, and his irrevocable obstacles are all put on display. We expect all these things to happen, and Deadpool all but reinforces the rules of establishing a superhero on the silver screen with witty banter and timely humor.
For Deadpool fans, there’s plenty of fourth-wall breakage and meta moments to salivate over. References to Green Lantern and Pool’s ghastly portrayal in that godawful Wolverine origin story are made. Jokes about X-Men’s continuity are relevant and help connect its universe to the larger picture, while introducing fellow mutants like Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. It’s less effective than Scream, which relied on subtly and intelligent discourse about the horror genre at large. With Deadpool, it’s more like, “Hey, here are all these silly things about the superhero genre, watch me poke fun at them. No really, I’m talking to you moviegoers. Funny right? Because this is a movie and I’m talking to YOU the audience.” It’s a bit juvenile, forced, and at times exhausting, and the sort of film that will wow teenage fanboys and frat bros alike – but despite all of that, it’s endearingly fun.
Ryan Reynolds loves this character. He finally brought his passion project to fruition and this is his defining moment. Deadpool is a launching pad for future installments and a blueprint to be improved upon as the story progresses. Reynolds shines, wholeheartedly making amends for previous transgressions against the genre. It’s as if he’s waited his entire career to have this moment and he’s left it all on the table. It doesn’t hurt that he’s supported by a stellar cast. For a role as limiting as being Wade Wilson’s girlfriend, Morena Baccarin defies those limitations with a no-bullshit portrayal – equally crass and funny as her male lead. TJ Miller is predictably funny and Leslie Uggams as Blind Al is a surprising highlight.
Deadpool isn’t perfect, but there’s too many strong moments and promising signs of the future to regard this as a dud. For a Marvel film to pack in so much violence, and explicit humor AND to do well both critically and commercially, is a huge step forward for superhero films. It proves that Netflix doesn’t have to be Marvel’s only outlet for adult-oriented adaptations. And anytime a film can defy studio expectations and set a precedent for future films – it’s a win in my book.
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox