It’s common geek knowledge that Marvel does what it pleases in its seemingly omnipotent Cinematic Universe. Disenfranchising one of its key creative players? Sure. Running off a beloved fanboy director eager to join its ranks? Why not. At least Joss Whedon got to make his Marvel movies; Edgar Wright opted out in 2014 over creative differences despite working on the big-screen adaptation of Ant-Man for more than a decade. Marvel has become a bit more creatively lax since then, but it’s obvious it’s unwilling to really let distinctive voices do the talking. You’ll have to look elsewhere for that kind of full-bore take on Marvel superheroes, which is why 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool is probably the closest thing to an Edgar Wright Marvel movie fans are likely to get.
Before you get your chimichangas in a bunch about flippantly comparing Deadpool to Edgar Wright, that last statement comes with a minor caveat. For better or worse, you see, Deadpool is the closest to an Edgar Wright Marvel movie we’ll get. Much has been made about the unceremonious divorce between Marvel and fanboy favorite Wright but it isn’t like you could easily slap his last name on the credits and omit Tim Miller, Deadpool’s first-time director. No, both have distinct styles. Wright’s delightfully frenetic auteurist tics are just as impossible to recreate as Miller’s foul-mouthed action expertise.
But Deadpool audiences could look through the crude-ass humor and regular-ass Ryan Reynolds to see Miller working with a style reminiscent of Wright’s aggressively meta, manic aesthetic. They aren’t speaking the same language, but they’re sure as hell trying to rhyme. In short, Edgar Wright fans waiting for a superhero movie could do a lot worse than digging Deadpool.
The easiest connection to make is that Deadpool is as much a comedy as Wright’s version of Ant-Man. Other than an occasional chuckle from some of Robert Downey Jr.’s dialogue as Tony Stark, humor is weirdly tough to pull off, even in movies where grown-ass leather-clad human beings are running around fighting each other with fantastic powers. Also, both characters in question are C-list Marvel heroes attempting to break through to a mainstream audience. Both takes on the characters are postmodern and sly, deconstructions of the superhero as a form.
Deadpool most recalls Wright’s brand of visually robust and metatextual cinema that reached its comics-inspired apex in Wright’s 2010 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. But listening to Deadpool spout in-jokey references to other movies, and watching the film’s jittery, video game-like buzzing narrative, one can’t help but recall actor Nick Frost’s character Danny Butterman in Wright’s own Hot Fuzz. He’s a character whose entire being was formed out of the DVDs on his wall and the tendency to judge others against the actors slapped across their cover art.
The inevitable Deadpool/Hot Fuzz mashup with the Merc With the Mouth uttering Danny’s desperate paean to all that is action-movie holy in dialogue with Simon Pegg’s character Nicholas Angel needs to happen sooner rather than later. Add some more swearing and a few decapitated bodies and the following exchange from Hot Fuzz could have just as easily been an interjection from Deadpool:
The Wright/Deadpool comparison, however, remains unfortunately superficial. Whereas Wright’s movies tend to reference other touchstones of geek pop culture by making sure the references are carefully embedded within character beats, Deadpool’s Wade Wilson relentlessly spouts off movie titles here and there with the laugh being the point. It’s great for the first few times while watching Deadpool, but the list of winking references to other movies — even within Fox’s own X-Men universe — reach Family Guy levels of perfunctory humor. Knowing whatever Deadpool references doesn’t inform the joke, is the joke.
But beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, and even if Deadpool becomes laborious, it at least attempts to be the semi-subversive superhero take that Wright wanted to have with Ant-Man.