Debating the Subversive Mainstream Appeal of 'Deadpool'

The Ryan Reynolds anti-superhero movie tries to distance itself from its comic book brethren, but does it still manage to be super?

20th Century Fox

Fans having been wanting Deadpool done right ever since the character was fundamentally futzed-with in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It was such an about-face for Marvel’s relatively new “Merc With a Mouth” that director Tim Miller’s R-rated standalone movie was seen as a saving grace. Did it live up to the fanboy hype, or did it fall down a self-referential hole of mediocrity? Two Inverse staffers debate the merits of the Merc With a Mouth.

Eric Francisco: From top to bottom, Deadpool was everything I wanted it to be. It was funny in the juvenile way it had to be; it was appropriately gory and violent given the character’s premise; and everyone both behind and in front of the camera were on their A-game. Ryan Reynolds was going to shine as Wade Wilson/Deadpool no matter what, and he didn’t miss a beat in the seven years since he first played the character. T.J. Miller as Weasel is a walking factory of comedic timing, and Leslie Uggams clearly had so much fun letting loose as Blind Al. And yes, despite his first time making a huge film, Tim Miller pulled off his freshman effort with a bang.

But even though Deadpool was what I wanted, maybe I should have asked for more. Structurally, the movie is as sloppy as it is violent. The narrative pacing is broken and disjointed, and the frequent and lengthy flashbacks undercut any sense of tension or suspense. It’s just long periods of exposition without a whole lot of dramatic tension.

There’s more to it, but I want to hear your thoughts. What did you think, Sean?

Sean Hutchinson: I came to Deadpool with more than a heavy dose of skepticism. I just never saw why this character was so beloved. The movie has a quipping Ryan Reynolds starring as a C-list Marvel character with a primary fan base of pimply teenage gamer types whose interests include hanging out in their mom’s basement and perusing the latest graphic tees at Hot Topic? Nah, I’ll pass. Deadpool breaks the fourth wall and says “dick” and “taint” and “shoot your wad” a lot, so the fans who managed to stop looking at Reddit for once could really relate to him, I suppose.

Deadpool reeked of fan service, but there were still parts of it that were actually pretty fun. You kind of get over how annoying Reynolds can be after awhile and just let the manic energy of the movie do its thing — the constantly shifting narrative framework, Deadpool’s fourth wall asides, the movie’s earnest attempts at developing a central romantic motivation. That brand of schizophrenic R-rated exuberance is both indicative of the anxious video game of which culture that it’s part, but also a flatulence-filled breath of not-so-fresh air that flies in the face of what a superhero movie should or shouldn’t be.

What I latched onto with the character is that the movie wanted to intentionally do something different. What do you think?

EF: I felt like it wasn’t doing anything that different at all. Aside from the juvenile humor, R-rated superheroes aren’t uncommon. Kick-Ass has an indie spirit, while Watchmen was a dark satire, and not in the goofball sensibility Deadpool is trying for. But what will make Deadpool stand apart is how it felt, ironically, mainstream.

For sure Deadpool knows its audience: white dude gamers and Redditors, but the movie tries so very hard to make that kind of humor palatable for everyone.

In a way, that’s great. On the other hand, I wonder if that neuters Deadpool a little. I’m having a hard time compromising the character with the movie’s emotional core of Wade and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), which comes off a bit too saccharine for a movie that’s trying to be a “game-changer.”. Thoughts?

SH: It’s undoubtedly mainstream, given that nifty 20th Century Fox logo that kicks things off, but I’d argue that superhero movies like Deadpool are completely uncommon, especially when they’re so closely related to the Marvel machine. Kick-Ass could do its own thing because he was never going to hang out with Wolverine at some point, while the anarchic spirit of Watchmen was meant to ruin superhero movies altogether.

Official Marvel movies are so homogenous, and the Fox Marvel movies are mostly interchangeable and forgettable to such an extent that naming a truly memorable scene out of any of them is a task for an omniscient genius like Professor X. Deadpool at least attempted to rub elbows with these other mainstream characters. But, for my money, Deadpool’s brand of comic book deconstruction didn’t fully land.

Referencing other movies or saying how crappy they are doesn’t automatically make your movie work. It doesn’t really subvert anything. One of my biggest problems was that all the humor dated the movie, and will work to its detriment. In 20 years, when people look back on Deadpool, will they really get what all of it’s supposedly hilarious references meant? Probably not, and it probably doesn’t matter.

But to your point, I’m not sure whether I should call a doctor or what. Saying Deadpool is trying to make its humor palatable for everyone makes me wonder if we saw the same movie. Would you watch this movie with your grandparents? They’re “everyone,” right? And I’ll remind you that the allegedly saccharine romance you’re talking about is basically introduced by showing all the kinky sex Wade and Vanessa have, which, if I remember correctly, involves the latter pegging the former.

EF: Maybe we did see a different movie. Perhaps I accidentally saw The Revenant?

But I wholeheartedly disagree the Marvel Cinematic Universe is homogenous. Plot-wise, maybe some huge structure is always falling from the sky, but each movie takes a wildly different path from the next.

The real point I was trying to make is that despite Deadpool’s obvious crosshairs on white dude Redditors, it’s got a liberal sensibility that easily reaches across aisles. Reynolds getting pegged by Baccarin is exactly the kind of joke that lets everyone laugh at Deadpool. If the movie wanted only to entertain the narrow hetero comic book dude demo, those guys would be pissed their favorite hero took it … y’know, there.

I feel like I sound really harsh on Deadpool. If I do, it’s because I so very much want the character to live out as vibrantly on screen as he does on paper — and I think he did! The movie just has some narrative and pacing problems, and in the grander scheme maybe Deadpool isn’t as unique of a superhero I once thought he was.

SH: “Divisive” is the operative word when it comes to Deadpool. It wasn’t 100 percent my cup of tea, and yet there was something appealing in there despite my nitpicks. It goes over-the-top because it’s supposed to be over-the-top, and though its action sequences might be boilerplate fights with a bit more gore, Deadpool cuts through good and bad by essentially being memorable. Maybe that’s all a comic book movie needs to be these days. I may not watch it more than once, but I can tell a whole lot of other people will.