After a brief hiatus from blog-writing, due to a delightful Valentine’s Day weekend in Paris with two of my greatest friends, I have returned to the commentating world with a vengeance! Or at the very least, with a feeling of slight motion sickness, as I am currently riding the train back to London from York, where I spent this past weekend.
A lot has happened in the media industry since I last wrote, two weeks ago—for example, the rollout of Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo, and all of its accompanying drama. But I’d like to focus on some news that isn’t quite current; it’s (GASP) almost two weeks old. On Valentine’s Day weekend, the movie Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, was released. As movies go, it’s thoroughly enjoyable: a marriage of cheeky, R-rated humor, and violence with the traditional superhero tropes. But something about Deadpool has captured the imaginations of ordinary Americans and media pundits alike, catapulting the movie to financial success (and resuscitating Reynolds’ stumbling career).
It’s interesting that a movie can feel so fresh while being so trope-filled. While it’s full of gory, comic book violence and raunchy humor, Deadpool does very much follow the traditional superhero movie formula, a fact that this teased during the movie’s creative opening credits. These credits note that the movie stars “A British Villain” and “A Hot Chick,” among others, and is directed by “An Overpaid Tool.” This self-aware marketing both tells the audience up front what to expect, masking what is a rather ordinary story with disarming honesty.
So what makes Deadpool so good? The budget is noticeably low, a fact the movie often pokes fun at—for example, fourth wall-breaking main character Wade Wilson notes in one part of the film that the movie studio could only afford to pay for two X-Men costars. While the movie is creatively and kinetically filmed, it lacks the technical beauty of other recent superhero films. The plot is entertaining, but also cliché. The movie is filled with snarky one-liners that are sure to be copied in successive, blander superhero films, but not every joke hits its mark. No, the beauty of Deadpool isn’t in its production values or plot, but in the emphasis on character development.
While I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron, these movies were all about scale instead of substance. Grandiose storytelling and beautiful visual effects impeded the telling of the story, and more importantly, any character development. Deadpool succeeds in getting the audience to care about the characters. The movie introduces the audience to lovable former Special Forces-turned-mercenary Wade Wilson through a series of cleverly-plotted flashbacks, showing how he becomes involved with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). By portraying Wade and Vanessa’s relationship as one of mutual trust and respect, Deadpool veers into new territory for that of a superhero film. This is a movie where romance isn’t treated as perfunctory, where the love interest is (mostly) treated as a character instead of a commodity. Wade and Vanessa are just two crazy people in love, and it’s the romance, not the action, that is the heart of this film. Accompanied by a strong supporting cast, Reynolds and Baccarin are able to give this movie warmth and humor.
Given the success of Deadpool, it’s almost certain that movie studios will attempt to copy much of the movies formula in successive superhero films. Hopefully they won’t just steal the quips and the raunchy humor, but also take note at the emotions which make Deadpool a stronger film. Deadpool proves that superheroes don’t need to have amazing powers or even amazing humor to succeed; they also need heart.