With Deadpool 2 looming on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about Deadpool in general lately. Let’s get one thing straight, though: we will not be discussing the abomination that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. M’kay? Moving on.
The Deadpool movie is the kind of movie that I aggressively ignore, right up until I actually watch it. Simple reason: high expectations are to be avoided, because chances are, they’ll be cruelly dashed. Hollywood doesn’t get everything wrong, but comic book movies have their ups and downs. It seems like it’s easier to get them wrong than it is to do them right. Deadpool is problematic on a number of levels, and anyone who’s ever read his damn comics knew that lifting him off the page wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Or should have known, anyway. Better to brace yourself for disappointment (or abomination, as the case may be). Hoping for the best and getting nothing but a steaming pile of dogshit sandwich in return kinda sucks.
It was hard to ignore the screaming, though. Because of course there was screaming. In a move calculated to force us to get our hopes up, we were told that Deadpool was going to be rated R, and apparently, clueless parents were blindsided by the idea that… hold on to your butts… comic book superheroes have sex. (Don’t mind that steaming pile of guts over there, that guy totally deserved it. Oh, shit — SEX! RUN!!!)
Yes, Deadpool is an antihero, but that’s really beside the point, here. It’s the blind assumption that comic books are ALWAYS and ONLY for kids that baffles me. In this day and age, how is it that this perception persists? It pretty much has to come from adults who’ve never actually cracked open a comic book (or, gosh forbid, a graphic novel), doesn’t it?
Any parent who still blithely thinks that all comic books are for kids is long overdue for a rude awakening, because they clearly have no idea what their kids have actually been exposed to. That would be like thinking that all video games are for kids. Ha. Ha ha ha ha… ha. I mean, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac probably clued a few people in, because “homicidal maniac” is not usually what you’d expect to see on the cover of a kid’s book. Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe has murder right there in the title… but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people didn’t actually get that. “They mean, like… symbolically, right?” You can’t always expect the title to provide a hint, though. Watchmen isn’t exactly a title that sits up and screams “bad stuff inside!”
Since this comics = kids perception kept rearing its ugly head over and over again, they started putting parental advisories on the covers of those sinister books that were hiding sex and violence ‘neath their brightly-colored covers. The first time I saw one, I laughed. I thought it was a good idea, but it still struck me as funny. And sad.
The 2013 Deadpool video game had its ups and downs. It got a lot of that Deadpool feel right (also, Nolan North… ’nuff said) and had a lot of fun and funny stuff, but the game mechanics weren’t exceptional and things occasionally got annoyingly repetitive. I finished it all in one go, though, which is saying something. The movie was… about the same, really. It wasn’t exactly right, but it wasn’t bad, either. There were lots of good bits, and some bits that just made me cringe. It’s watchable. Some scenes are endlessly re-watchable.
Here’s the thing: if you take a snapshot of Deadpool, he looks like a batshit insane maniac who just kills people because he’s crazy. And because he can. That snapshot is too out-of-context to ever give you the real story, though. It’s why so many of the superheroes that cross Deadpool’s path have a problem seeing past the violence that he leaves in his wake. It kind of looks like he’s ending up in a good place… but at what cost? AT WHAT COST?! You can’t trust him, right? He’s too much of a loose cannon, even if he does sorta do good. Right?
The best Deadpool stories tend to be the ones that make no sense… right up until they do. And they usually leave you wondering if he planned it that way all along, if he’s just pretending that he planned it that way all along, or if he really does just blunder into a “good guy”-type result by accident over and over again. I mean, evil goes down, and that’s what’s important, right? (Just ignore all those dead bodies over there…)
Hell, even Deadpool isn’t sure about himself. He may or may not be Wade Wilson. His backstory is vague, and changes, and really, even Deadpool doesn’t remember much. Or so he says. Sometimes.
When I think about Deadpool, here’s my mental image:
Deadpool is looking for someone, because… reasons, of some sort… and you assume the point is to kill them. Which it is. Or maybe not. And there’s a bit with a thing, and why does he even have that thing? And then there’s a girl, and lots of mooning over said girl, and the creation of fantastical, unlikely, and/or icky imaginary scenarios involving said girl. Danger. Guns. Dinosaur! Oh, look, it’s [insert Deadpool’s sorta friend’s name here]. Oh, look, Deadpool’s relying on his sorta-friend. Blood, guts, icky bits… was that a…? Oh, look, Deadpool just left his sorta-friend behind / set his sorta-friend up / almost got his sorta-friend killed / forgot his sorta-friend existed. More danger! More blood, guts, and icky bits. Flashback! Blood blood blood blood severed head guts bits. Clever twist. Remember that shit back then? That’s why this shit now. Bad guy loses. Good guys usually live, but are sometimes injured.
Deadpool isn’t always (or even usually) linear. That’s part of his charm. He can’t think his way from A to B without digression. Arguably, he often can’t think his way from A to B at all. It’s more like A to F.4 to b1/2 to N2. The voices in his head won’t let him stay completely on track. The movie tried to use flashbacks to bring something of that element to the screen, but it’s still too linear, and makes too much sense.
I mean, yes, typical Deadpool makes sense in some fashion by the end of the story… but his reasoning and leaps of what passes for logic often aren’t 100% understandable, even when you have a window on what’s happening inside his brain. There’s always something that you don’t see, and there’s usually something that doesn’t make sense in hindsight, even if that something is only, “Yes, but why did he do it that way?!” (Because he’s fucking insane. And because he could. And because Deadpool doesn’t even make sense to himself.) Again, it’s why so many other superheroes go gunning for him. From their perspective, it just looks insane and dangerous. Deadpool avoids getting ganked because at the end, everybody’s left scratching their heads, thinking, “Well, but… that’s solved.” (Also because he’s really, really hard to kill.)
I think that’s what’s really missing from the movie. Movie-Deadpool isn’t a normal guy, but he’s not completely fucking insane, either. Movies generally need everything to serve a clear narrative purpose. They want three-act structures and narrative cohesion and stuff. You only have so much time to intro your hero, give him a backstory, and make him sympathetic and relatable. Making him truly batshit insane and presenting him to people who have no sense of the character beyond what they see on the screen sounds… well, that probably wouldn’t go over well. Not at first, anyway.
The movie also tried way too hard to tie his instability to his appearance. Yes, his appearance is a factor, but it’s not why he’s crazy. He’s crazy because his brain is all hopped up on the same bad chemistry that turned him god-awful fugly. The problem with focusing on his appearance is that it gives the false impression that if the poor guy could only learn to accept it, he’d be less crazy. Or, you know, if someone just loves him for who he is, no matter what he looks like, that will make him better. It won’t. It really, really won’t.
On the page, Deadpool’s actions — even when they have an actual purpose — often just remind us of how completely nuts he is. How very not-normal his baseline is. That it’s not his fault that he’s totally cuckoo banana-pants. And that he’s funny as hell. The movie reflects some of that without ever really cracking the code, but that may be as close as they’ll ever get. Now that audiences have some familiarity with something resembling the real Deadpool, maybe they’ll push the envelope in #2. Here’s hoping.