A lot of people spent Valentine’s Day weekend with Deadpool. A lot. The Ryan-Reynolds-with-a-burnt-face-in-red-leather vehicle crushed records its opening weekend, claiming a $300 million worldwide ($132.7 million domestic) gross. The numbers are all the more significant when you remember everything working against Deadpool: It’s R-rated; it’s a niche character; it pokes fun at its own genre; it isn’t opening in China. It isn’t far off to call Deadpool a miracle, one maybe powerful enough to have killed the buzz for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
This isn’t about Marvel “beating” obvious rival DC by some absurd fanboy definition. Strictly speaking, Deadpool isn’t a Marvel production, but 20th Century Fox. It’s subtle, but Marvel has a blackout of any IP whose cinematic and TV rights it doesn’t own. If you don’t believe me, comb through Marvel’s official Facebook and Twitter from the weekend, and the only “Deadpool” mentions you will find are the newly re-issued Deadpool video game or the Spider-Man/Deadpool comic series that debuted last week from Joe Kelly. Otherwise the movie Deadpool doesn’t exist.
Wouldn’t the parental brand be happy that a movie based on its character set records across the world? Yes, if the brand owned it. So relax, fanboys. This isn’t about Marvel versus DC. It’s about the superhero genre versus the audience.
Deadpool is a fun movie. “Good” is up to individual opinion, but no one can discredit Deadpool for toying with Marvel’s unique brand or the pitfalls of superhero blockbusters. (“It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man,” Deadpool quips in one of the movie’s best jokes about Colossus Fans of Deadpool know what kind of jester he’s supposed to be, but “fun” shouldn’t be, nor is it, exclusive to Deadpool. Fun has been the key ingredient to the success of Marvel Studios and its own output of movies. Guardians of the Galaxy was fun. The Avengers was fun. Iron Man was fun. Some of Thor was fun.
Fun doesn’t mean self-deprecating parody, but letting larger-than-life characters be human (or act like it). In analyzing why Deadpool became a transcendent success while the X-Men movies have been only profitable, Devin Faraci of Birth.Movies.Death writes:
“On the page the X-Men engaged in soap operatic melodrama while battling a wide variety of villains, and the comics let the characters have fun as well as experience the terrible prejudices of a world that shunned them. The X-Men played baseball and hung out together in between cataclysms and character deaths. On screen the X-Men films have largely been movies about Wolverine and a couple of supporting characters, few of whom have convincing interpersonal relationships. They don’t hang out, they mope. They keep battling villains who feel samey and Magneto never seems to go away.”
In the Marvel movies, there are scenes like The Avengers shawarma dinner or the party scene in Age of Ultron. They’re fun moments not in need of deep analysis, but everyone in the world knows what it’s like to hit up a fast food joint at the end of a long work day to refuel.
It’s this kind of characterization that resonates with audiences, and that’s why everyone who cares about the MCU had their hearts broken in the Civil War trailer.
I have not seen Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman yet, but it isn’t looking like it’s going to be a fun movie. Awesome, maybe. But does it look fun, in the way that Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers were, thus becoming cultural phenomenons? In Dawn of Justice, everyone looks mad and fighting each other in a permanently blacked-out and rainy Gotham City. In the initial trailer, there was protesting, debates about power, loud percussion music, and a threatening Batman asking Superman if he bleeds.
Christopher Nolan had the final word on the grim ‘n’ gritty superhero trend through his Batman films, but by the time The Dark Knight Rises hit, filmgoers were exhausted. (I also wonder if the Auorora shootings, committed by a shooter in dyed hair like Joker’s, was ill for the genre’s fascination with darkness.) The next year’s Man of Steel, a pessimistic post-9/11 take on Superman (a far more drastic interpretation than Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns) opened its weekend with $116 million, far shorter than Deadpool. While $116 million isn’t a small sum, it is telling how an icon like Superman was dwarfed by the likes of the R-rated Deadpool.
Batman v Superman, which I reiterate, hasn’t been released yet, is clearly a victim of DC’s schizophrenic marketing strategy. For the past year, Warner Bros. has sold Batman v Superman as an ultra dark slugfest between two of its most recognizable superheroes. The movie has its fans, but it’s not hard to find criticism about letting Superman get dark. Recent efforts indicate Warner Bros. execs may have changed their mind, because they amped up Dawn of Justice and this year’s Suicide Squad’ to include more funner elements in their trailers. Look at the most recent Batman v Superman trailer: It’s got Bruce Wayne side-eyeing Alfred! And Suicide Squad embraced comedy with the poppy “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Warner Bros. is depending on Dawn of Justice to spearhead the Justice League cinematic universe, but insiders are speculating Warner Bros. is sweating over it. It’s not just stray, observational tweets from journalists although Mark Harris put it so succinctly, but some actual reporting, too. Drew McWeeny of HitFix says Warner Bros. is “worried” about Dawn of Justice.
Compounded with the amazing success of Deadpool, a movie so unlike anything else in the superhero genre, maybe Batman and Superman shouldn’t fight each other at all. They should make up and go after the guy in red instead.