Why We Need Deadpool

It seems only fitting that after the most ambitious superhero crossover we get a Deadpool movie. The perfect contrast: a small-scale solo venture and an R-rated satire with other superhero IPs in his crosshairs including himself. It’s also the perfect antidote. Genres tend to go unchecked as studios blindingly chase where the money’s at. With Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, and now Black Panther hitting it big, this ensures more of their comic book brethren to follow, meaning more origin stories, crossovers, more tropes done to death if it means a shot at a billion dollars. Deadpool, fortunately (or unfortunately), is the superhero genre’s own system of checks and balances.

The sole guarantee of Hollywood is that if something makes massive amounts of money they’ll keep doing it whether anyone asked or cared. That’s how we’re 5 Transformers movies deep and how other cinematic universes have sprung up only to go out with a whimper. The superhero genre (if you don’t think it’s a genre by now, you’re in denial) is guaranteed to outlive us all. Because if one superhero doesn’t make it big, don’t worry, there’s another one queued up. And another. And another. And– 

We know the routine. Characters get their introduction by way of a solo movie ensuring their addition to the larger team ensemble due out next year. It’s what gave birth to the MCU, and, to a lesser extent, the DCEU. It’s hard to ape on a formula when said formula more or less works. The only problem I have is the frequency of what is basically the same movie. (Which Marvel Studios had to come to grips with on the way to Phase Three.) We are so bombarded with the genre and its tropes that we can practically frame our own lives by way of the superhero narrative.

We are fluent in superhero-speak, painfully self-aware, as the movies themselves can sometimes be. The hero laughs at the central name or concept only to embrace the superhero identity wholeheartedly. This scene from X-Men when Professor X drops the mythology on Logan (practically doing newbies a solid), causing the skeptical Logan to chuckle at the entire conceit. This has been done again, and again. Self-mockery is a keen disarming device. It’s as if the filmmakers are nudging us in the theater, acknowledging the ludicrousness of the whole enterprise (“We think it’s outrageous too!”) Revisiting these scenes and the pop culture atmosphere of the time, you can feel like the screenwriters were trying to say something about the genre but didn’t quite have it in them. 

Where others might’ve been timid, Deadpool is gleefully unashamed, much to Fox’s detriment. The X-Men franchise was the main recipient of Deadpool’s digs. It needed to be put in check; running rampant with its own skewered timelines, making sense of a rebooted cast, and a franchise future that was, well, uncertain. When Negasonic quips about the Xavier Mansion that “blows up every few years,” that’s peak meta. X-Men: Apocalypse’s only show-stopping scene is when Quicksilver saves everyone from a fiery destruction. Deadpool plays a lot like a Comedy Central Roast of the X-Men franchise, shaming it to reconfigure itself. It’s no wonder there hasn’t been an X-Men film since 2016. (It did give us Logan, which I am immeasurably grateful for.)

Breaking the fourth wall requires winsome wise-assery and sandpaper-dry sarcasm, both of which Ryan Reynolds has in spades. Deadpool even handicaps itself by mucking up its star’s appearance, leaving his voice to do the meta heavy lifting. Wade’s ghastly appearance speaks to how utterly warped the genre has become. Satire often points out how a thing has lost its way, distorted to the point that it’s unrecognizable. It’s the critique of a phenomena that has invariably reached its apex, it’s tropes exposed to the point of overbearing self-reference. 

Meta nonsense has been Reynolds’ thing since Blade: Trinity. His role as Hannibal King is an early precursor to his Deadpool. When he comes to the rescue of an incapacitated Blade while bearing the name tag “Fuck you” and laying on the line, “Evening, ladies,” he may as well say it directly into camera. He’s also the narrator, piling on Dracula’s self-serious exposition with his jocular, nonchalant tone that Trinity is borderline a parody of the franchise.

Reynolds’ 11-year odyssey to get Deadpool made is profoundly infuriating considering he’s got the chops for it. X-Men Origins showed a startling sign of life in the fan favorite character only to have him go careening way off canon. If Origins failed the character, it at least signaled his seamless ability to tap into the Merc’s mouth-running quips. (He improvised most of his lines.) It was Green Lantern that failed both Reynolds and the character – a film that Warner Bros. would rather pretend never happened. WB has quite a few of those.

Deadpool is a sendup of all of the above – including Blade – but the film takes on a surprisingly earnest hue about halfway when the newly disfigured Wade can’t muster the courage to approach Vanessa. It plays a lot like Reynolds struggling to find acceptance in the very genre that didn’t know what to do with him. Of course, he finds a way back to her by relying on their twisted comic-comparisons. That’s exactly Reynolds’ ticket in. 

When Colossus drags the indisposed Merc to meet the Professor, Deadpool asks, “McAvoy or Stewart?” He may as well say “Bale or Affleck,” or worse, “Maguire, Garfield, or Holland.” Franchises used to work itself toward a necessary generational handoff. When Pierce Brosnan reached tenure, 007 was then handed off to Daniel Craig. In comic book films, we get newer, younger Daniel Craigs sooner than we’re ready for. There was hardly enough time to transition from Christian Bale to Ben Affleck. We didn’t even get an ending chapter for Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man. (Notice, too, how there’s been significant talk of the next Wolverine as opposed to the passing of the baton to Laura.) Deadpool hardly bats an eye. It’s one big, callous money-making machine.

Deadpool’s own lack of money gave way to a clever advantage. Whereas a limited budget was the disadvantage for the doomed Fantastic Four reboot, Deadpool turned it into a running gag. Spectacle is too often the name of the superhero game. Deadpool serves up its own over-the-top finale with a set piece that literally topples over. The decommissioned helicarrier is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, which is the double-edged sword of satire. It’ll sound like nonsense for the uninitiated. For those on Deadpool’s blatantly self-referential frequency, these visual gags pay off tremendously.

For all of its lampooning, Deadpool can’t quite kill the mythology. Because he is a superhero. The character walks a very tricky tightrope along parody and satire. He can send up other actors, franchises and movies (the fucker even mentions Liam Neeson’s Taken), call out what the genre has morphed into, but he needs the setup, the tropes, the narrative beats all the same. He needs the mythology as much as he needs an audience on the receiving end. Deadpool is the lucky little prick who gets to have his cake and eat it too. Because he’s mocking himself as fast as he’s mocking everyone else. (“You think Ryan Reynolds got this far on his superior acting method?”) Great jokes often come at the expense of the storyteller, which suits Deadpool just fine.

In the rubble of the helicarrier, the superhero genre has to reconstruct itself once more, albeit carefully this time. Some ideas are clearly outdated, misguided, otherwise need confronting before the next Jenga-collapse. I can’t think of a better arbiter of that destruction. Deadpool 2’s trailer alone had some playful but necessary digs to keep this ever-expanding superhero craze in check. Acknowledging that the same actor is playing another character in a different Marvel universe? Check. Calling out the dour and grim agenda that caused the DCEU to collapse on itself? Check. Satire has a way of putting things into perspective. “We need to be put in check,” Tony Stark boldly proclaimed in Civil War, the MCU’s own deconstructionist fable, a mantra that addresses the entire superhero shindig. I don’t think he had Deadpool in mind, which came out that same year. Whether anyone realizes it, we need Deadpool as much as he needs us.

Infinity War – Destiny Has Arrived

Infinity War is a film that should have cups of water waiting for you by the exit. Throw in some orange slices too. Marvel’s superhero marathon is the die-hard fan’s wet dream – a mammoth show-stopper featuring the MCU’s all-stars in a crossover for the ages. But a marathon is still a marathon. Infinity War isn’t the best Marvel movie, but it’s certainly the MOST Marvel movie where characters crowd the frame to the point that the frame can hardly contain them. It makes previous crossovers look tame, and there is no going back. This is what these films have been nudging toward, a fusion into the very medium that inspired them.  Continue reading

She’s 7 Years Old

She’s one. It seems like yesterday when she was born. I still have no idea how to hold her or how to get her to stop crying. There’s the milk, the baby mobile, the walker – things she can’t reach for, turn on, or climb into without some help. I can relate. This is all new to me. I don’t know how to father, parent, be responsible. She points at what she wants, moment to moment. She leads, I follow. Here’s the bottle. The mobile. Okay, now the walker, then the rocking of side to side that somehow does the trick. The bottle again, really? I’m getting up faster than I can sit down. Some moments are quicker than others.

She’s two years old and running around. She loves running around. When did she learn how to do this? I can’t get her to stop. I miss being able to hold her. I miss sitting down. I miss a lot of things. She pauses by the stairs as if she’s getting ready to climb Mt. Everest. She begins, clutching each step, slowly hurling herself up each hill. Exhausted (or is that excitement), she moves onto the next one. I’m trailing behind, close as a shadow, arms out and watching intently as she goes. She keeps swatting away my attempts to help her. For some reason I think of the saying: “Behind every kid is an anxious parent.” No way that that’s true. Stop, I tell her. That’s the last one, please come down. Please. She keeps on going.

She’s three years old. She plants herself in front of the TV, in front of the Disney princesses and talking animals that she’s seen a hundred times, onto a hundred and one. I can’t get her to move. It was all she could do before. Time comes in waves, cresting one moment, flat in another. That’s enough, I tell her. You’ll fry your brain. “No,” she says. Oh no. This is the start of her rebellion. Soon she’ll be wearing anti-establishment shirts and have temporary tattoos running down her arm. I stand between her and the TV. She gets up, finally, trying to push me out of the way. I won’t budge or at least I think I won’t budge when I look at the screen, at Mulan staring at her reflection, Rapunzel saying she’s got a dream, Elsa having a moment in the snow. Her voice, too, chimes in, singing along. It’s her favorite part. I step aside. It’s my favorite part too.

She’s four years old. I’m sitting in her pretend restaurant – the living room with teapots, cups, and plates strewn about. I’m thinking about the mess. She’s worrying about dinner. Technically, it’s lunch, but I’m not about to upset the chef. I go over the menu, written in crayon: noodles with red (spaghetti), cheese (meaning “burger”), or dog (as in “hot”). Don’t get me started on the prices. All of this seems familiar. Not the restaurant but the pretending. “What do you want?” she says. The service is very blunt here. “I want you to stop growing,” I say, and she stares at me. She wasn’t born yesterday, no matter how much it may seem like it. “Cheeseburger then,” I say, and I actually want one. She mulls it over, then, changing her mind completely, reaches for the teapot and says, “How about tea?” How can I say no to tea?

She’s five years old now. Five. Years. Old. It bears repeating because it doesn’t feel true. As if in order for something to be true I have to be ready to accept it first. Picking her up from school, it nonetheless occurs to me I’m getting older. I was just here, in kindergarten. I get a flash of my mother waiting outside my classroom, though I’m seeing it from her point of view. I think I see me at five-years-old but I realize it’s my daughter stepping out of the classroom and telling me she wants McDonald’s – the same thing I recall saying to my mom. Everything feels like now and yesterday, as if I’m not quite here but in between, experiencing two things at once. This quiet dance we keep doing, like we’re passing each other in time.

She’s six years old. We are at the beach and we gradually work our way towards the water. She lets go of my hand and takes off, abandoning with abandon, running to the other kids as they chase and retreat from the small cascade of waves brushing along the shore – one of my favorite things to do with her, now she wants to do without me. I realize this is how it’ll be. She’ll keep growing up while I will do the getting old-part and I will never be ready when it happens. That moments have come and gone and you don’t know they have until after. Moments I’ve dreaded and anticipated but feared I’ll never get the chance to see, except I was there for them. Miraculously, I was there. Like a shadow, her shadow, always.

She’s seven years old. I get her a Gameboy. Sorry, a Nintendo 2DS XL. They have sizes now. Didn’t I have a handheld Nintendo not so long ago?

She’s seven years old. Now she has one, like I did when I was seven years old.

She’s seven years old.

She’s seven years old.

She is seven years old.

Avengers Disassembled

The most ambitious superhero crossover event could not have been possible without the former-most ambitious superhero crossover. Marvel’s The Avengers, if you can believe it, was 6 years ago. Age of Ultron was 3 years, and Civil War only 2. (I know it’s “Captain America,” but it’s TOTALLY an Avengers film.) What a road it’s been. The MCU has blossomed radically with each new phase. It is the franchise formula that other studios have repackaged, to less-than-stellar results. Marvel Studios set the modern superhero standard, which is why even when the genre is deconstructed from time to time, the MCU is in prime position to reconstruct it.  Continue reading

You Will Always Kneel – Marvel’s Best Villains

The MCU has long been criticized for having a villain problem. Warranted, but it’s slightly disingenuous to the Marvel villains that do their job. If the goal is to challenge the hero’s worldview, then the playing field is a lot bigger, and a hell of a lot badder. The first step towards solving a problem is acknowledging there is one, and Marvel has steered itself just in time. Thanos has shaped up to be the biggest and baddest Marvel villain of all, but he’s got some living up to do. Here are ten Marvel villains that have set the bar for the Mad Titan.  Continue reading