I heard a funny story about the movie Deadpool last night. A friend of mine stopped by for drinks and poker, and while we were hanging out he told me a story about a guy he met at the movie theater. My friend, let’s call him Ed, was walking out of Deadpool with his wife on opening night when a guy who was walking next to him turned and asked if he knew the movie was, “gonna be like that.” Ed replied that he knew and the man seemed surprised and confused. The stranger repeated how he had no idea that Deadpool was going to be like “that,” he loved it, but he had no idea going in what to expect. The guy asked if it had been made by the same company that made all the other superhero movies, as if there had been a mistake. Ed answered that the movie was actually really faithful to the comics and that Marvel, at least on paper, has quite a few adult oriented franchises.
This entire conversation perfectly encapsulates what I adored about Deadpool, that is was like “that.” In the same vein as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Kingsman, Deadpool remains faithful to its vision. True to the comics, the action is quick and brutal and the jokes, unending. Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool. And it is that devotion to the source material that elevates this superhero movie far beyond the competition. While this approach might seem simple and obvious, there is risk involved. Deadpool is not your average man in tights. He is vulgar, profane, violent, and has a nasty habit of breaking the fourth wall. To include him in the larger than life line up of superhero giants is, to put it lightly, terrifying. There are a thousand and one ways this character could either offend or alienate an audience, but it is because of that willingness to go out on a limb that Deadpool works so well. The “that” the man above was talking so much about is Marvel’s ability to just say “fuck it,” and try something different.
Fox has made comic book movie for adults. And I am not talking about gore or language, I am talking about how the movie speaks to its audience. For example, warning: light spoilers, about a quarter of the way into the film there was a scene in which the main character Deadpool falls in love with a girl named Vanessa. As they start to live together and spend time together, some movies would cue the cutesy music and play a montage. Deadpool does this as well but instead of showing all the fun or adorable moments in their relationship, it is a compilation of all the different holidays and seasons they have sex on and it is absolutely hilarious. Totally out of left field, this curveball is the perfect example of what it means to be a film for adults. This moment was not only played for laughs and nudity but it was actually kind of sweet since the audience can actually identify with the two main characters. It is treating an adult relationship like normal adults might, sex and nudity included. In one flash they were boning and then in another they are feeding each other while boning, and in the next things get serious when Vanessa puts on a strap on. In each scene the power comes from the fact that the audience is old enough to have either experienced or joked with friends about many of these things first hand. In this way the R rating is not some flashy vulgarity warning but a key to enjoying and connecting with the film.
This connection is what elevates Deadpool from what could have been a trashy rom-com action flick to a masterpiece of comic book cinema. Like a well made beer or a perfectly aged cigar, moviegoers appreciate how the material they are consuming is made just for them. In the past decade or so the “soft” R has become increasingly used in Hollywood. What I mean by that is movies whose content essentially straddles the border between PG-13 and R. They are R-rated films, but their content is mildly mature at best. Think The Matrix Trilogy – these are R-rated films for everyone. Back in the 80’s and 90’s there were a slew of action/comedy movies that were aimed solely at the adult viewer. I am talking films like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Beverly Hills Cop. Movies that were “harder” when it came to their R-rating. Unlike their cinematic brethren above, these movies fully embraced the fact that their target demographic completely excluded minors. In these films nearly every second of every scene is aimed at an adult audience.
This is the kind of movie Deadpool is. It knows its viewership, it knows its lore, and nothing is compromised in its pursuit of either. If anything Deadpool pushed its rating far beyond what the three aforementioned films established as acceptable material. Deadpool knows that we want explosions, sex, and jokes about how Ryan Reynold’s ugly face looks like a ball sack, and it delivers on all cylinders. Which also happens to be the movie’s only downside, that it is so in love with itself that everything else in the film is rudimentary at best. The plot is simple. The character motivations are basic. At its heart Deadpool is a revenge story, and it is one of the simplest I have ever seen as far as storytelling goes. You might have noticed that I didn’t mention spoilers or plot details that much. Well that is because there isn’t much there to talk about. As cliche as it sounds, this movie is more about the journey than the destination. So do yourself a favor: don’t ask too many questions.
Deadpool is the culmination of comedies like The Hangover, action films like Lethal Weapon, and the best parts and pieces of the super hero phenomena. Like anything, there is a satisfaction in seeing something you love validated, and that is perhaps Deadpool’s greatest success. It proves that the comic book genre is not just for kids. Despite the plethora of PG comic drama, there is indeed an audience for tales that lay far outside the confines of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I cannot wait to see what else Marvel is going to do with it.