4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“Christ, that’s disturbing…” — Deadpool 2

Fox took a low-risk flyer on Deadpool. It had a budget smaller than any other X-film (in fact, the only other X-film to have an eight-figure rather than a nine-figure budget was X-Men in 2000, and Deadpool’s budget was $68 million to the first X-film’s $75 million), and was released in February with most of the marketing being done virally (read: cheaply) and voluntarily by Ryan Reynolds for whom this was, in many ways, a vanity project.

It succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings (which had to relieve Fox, given how badly X-Men: Apocalypse had underperformed), making over $300 million at the box office (the highest gross of any X-film in terms of raw dollars). Naturally, a sequel was green-lit tout de suite.

The post-credits scene in Deadpool was a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-style scene of Deadpool in a bathrobe telling the audience to go home already, but also teasing that Cable would be in the next movie. Given that Deadpool has been tied to Cable since his first appearance (we were introduced to Deadpool in New Mutants #98 when the merc with a mouth was hired to kill Cable, and the pair shared an ongoing monthly series from 2004-2008), it only made sense.

Cable first appeared in New Mutants #87 by Louise Simonson & Rob Liefeld, conceived as a new drill-sergeant type to run the New Mutants. Prior to this, the team was a group of trainee mutants still learning how to use their powers. The character of Cable was retrofitted into the Marvel Universe, established as having a past with several characters. Later, it was retconned that Cable was Nathan Summers, the child of Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Madelyne Pryor, born in Uncanny X-Men #201 and sent to the future in X-Factor #68. Cable was raised in the future and later travelled to the past.

Simonson left the book in issue #97, and Liefeld (who had been co-plotting the book) took over full plotting with Fabian Nicieza scripting. The book was cancelled with issue #100 and started afresh as X-Force, a title more in keeping with the strike-team mentality that had taken over the title.

The second Deadpool movie not only brought in Cable, but also a version of X-Force, a team that Deadpool puts together after an abortive attempt to join the X-Men.

Also in this movie is Domino, a character introduced in the same issue as Deadpool (though it was later revealed that this was the mutant Copycat, the comic book version of Vanessa, disguised as the real Domino to spy on Cable).

Back from the first movie are Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, Morena Baccarin as Vanessa, T.J. Miller as Weasel, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Stefan Kapičić as the voice of Colossus, and Karan Soni as Dopinder. Back from X-Men: Apocalypse in a quick cameo are James McAvoy as Professor X, Nicholas Hoult as the Beast, Evan Peters as Quicksilver, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Also footage from X-Men Origins: Wolverine featuring Hugh Jackman as Logan is used and repurposed in the mid-credits scene. A different version of the Juggernaut from the one played by Vinnie Jones in X-Men: The Last Stand appears via CGI, with Reynolds providing the voice.

Newly arrived in this film are Josh Brolin as Cable (his fourth role in this rewatch, having played the title role in Jonah Hex, the younger K in Men in Black 3, and Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, as well as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which we’ll get to later this year), Zazie Beetz as Domino, Julian Dennison as Firefist, Jack Kesy as Black Tom Cassidy, Eddie Marsan as the Essex Orphanage headmaster, and Shioli Kutsuna as Yukio (with the same name, but none of the personality or powers of the same-named character from the comics nor the one played by Rila Fukushima in The Wolverine). In addition, Alan Tudyk and Matt Damon (the latter credited as “Dickie Greenleaf,” a riff on the Damon/Jude Law movie The Talented Mr. Ripley) cameo as two rednecks, and the members of X-Force include Terry Crews (Bedlam), Lewis Tan (Shatterstar), Bill Skarsgård (Zeitgeist), Brad Pitt (the Vanisher), and Rob Delaney (Peter).

Not back is director Tim Miller, who backed out of the sequel over disagreements with Reynolds. He was replaced by David Leitch, fresh off John Wick and Atomic Blonde.

For the holiday season in late 2018, Fox released Once Upon a Deadpool, a PG-13 version of the movie. A third movie is in limbo at present, as the fate of the X-films in light of Disney’s acquisition of Fox is unknown. The X-films may continue as is, be integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, start over as a separate thing, or some fourth option. (One suspects the box-office performance of Dark Phoenix will have an impact on that ultimate decision.)

 

“Let’s Fuck Some Shit Up is my actual legal middle name”

Deadpool 2
Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds
Directed by David Leitch
Produced by Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds, & Lauren Shuler Donner
Original release date: May 18, 2018

Screenshot: 20th Century Fox

Deadpool is smoking a cigarette and playing a Logan music box in the apartment he shares with Vanessa. He lays down on a bunch of barrels of fuel and, after turning on all the gas burners on the oven, tosses a match into the air and the apartment explodes, blowing his body apart.

We flash back to his career as a hired assassin, but he only targets criminals. We see him take out gangsters all over the world. On his and Vanessa’s anniversary, he cuts a job short because he’s late to meet with her and the mark has locked himself in a panic room.

He arrives home and they exchange presents—he gives her a skee-ball token as a memento of their first date, while she gives him her IUD. She’s off birth control and they can have a baby.

After they start working on getting her pregnant, and then watch Yentl (with Deadpool commenting that “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from that movie has the same tune as “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” from Frozen), they start trying to pick out baby names. The mark from earlier shows up with his thugs and tries to kill Deadpool. He succeeds in killing Vanessa. Deadpool chases him down and kills him, but he’s now suicidally depressed, which is why he blows himself up.

Colossus shows up at the wreckage of his apartment and brings him to the X-mansion. He heals, of course, and Colossus offers him a chance to become an X-Men trainee. (He also meets Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s new girlfriend, Yukio. Negasonic is a full-fledged X-Man now.) Deadpool is reluctant at first, and also complains that he only sees the same two or three X-Men every time he comes to the mansion. (Professor X is actually meeting with several X-Men behind him, and the Beast quietly and discreetly closes the door so Deadpool won’t notice that they’re there and avoiding him like the plague.)

Deadpool finally agrees to become an X-Men trainee, mostly because he saw an image of Vanessa after he blew himself up and she said to follow his heart. He thinks that maybe this means he should become a hero.

The first mission that Deadpool goes on with Colossus and Negasonic is to deal with a situation at the Essex Orphanage, which takes in mutants. One of the orphans, a New Zealand native named Russell, but who calls himself Firefist, is causing tremendous damage. Deadpool manages to completely fuck up the whole thing, including killing some staffers at Essex, and both Deadpool and Firefist wind up imprisoned in the Icebox, where they’re fitted with collars that neutralize their powers. In Deadpool’s case that means that the cancer that his healing factor has kept in check will soon kill him, which he’s fine with, as with Vanessa dead and his attempt to be a hero a failure, he has nothing left to live for.

Decades in the future, Cable stands over the blasted remains of his home, his wife and child having been killed. He uses a timeslide to go back to the early 21st century and kill the person who would grow up to kill them: Firefist. He breaks into the Icebox and tries to kill Firefist. Deadpool actually tries to protect him, not wanting to see a kid get killed, and in the fight, his control collar is damaged. Now fully powered, he and Cable go at it, eventually going over a cliff. Deadpool falls into frozen water and again sees Vanessa in what he thinks is the afterlife, and then is ejected back to life, as it were. At one point during the fight, Cable winds up with the skee-ball token that Deadpool gave to Vanessa, which was the only thing Deadpool had left of her.

Feeling abandoned by Deadpool, Firefist makes friends with the Juggernaut in the Icebox. Deadpool returns to Weasel’s bar and decides that he needs to rescue Firefist from the Icebox. Weasel learns that they’re transferring several prisoners to another facility thanks to the damage Cable did, so Deadpool plans to hit it. But he needs a team, and he can’t go back to the X-Men, so he forms his own, with Weasel hitting LinkedIn to find more heroes: Bedlam (who can disrupt electricity), Zeitgeist (who has acidic vomit), Domino (who has good luck), the Vanisher (who’s invisible), Shatterstar (an alien from Mojo World who says he’s better than humans), and Peter (who has no powers, but he read the ad and thought it would be fun). Deadpool calls the team X-Force (which he says is less sexist than “X-Men,” and he dismisses Domino’s comment that it’s derivative), complete with a crossing-of-the-arms-in-an-X that is totally unrelated to the “Wakanda forever!” gesture, really, truly, honest.

Cable takes Weasel prisoner and threatens to torture him—before he can even start the torture, Weasel breaks, telling Cable everything, including that the weather report is for high winds.

X-Force flies over the prison convoy in a helicopter. Several people express concerns about the fact that there are high winds, but Deadpool barrels forward. Unfortunately, the winds prove problematic. Bedlam crashes into a bus windshield, Vanisher lands on live electrical wire, Shatterstar is blinded by his ponytail flying into his face and falls right into an active helicopter blade and is sliced to pieces, and Zeitgeist lands in a wood chipper. Peter lands safely, and tries to save Zeitgeist, but the latter nervously vomits acid onto Peter, which eats through his arm, and Peter bleeds out while Zeitgeist is chopped to ribbons.

Only Deadpool and Domino survive. They go after the convoy. Deadpool goes on at great length that luck isn’t a super power while Domino has phenomenal luck in getting into the driver’s seat of the convoy. Deadpool—riding behind on a stolen motor scooter—is surprised. Cable then shows up also, and a massive road battle ensues.

During the fight, Firefist manages to escape, and also release Juggernaut. Deadpool and Domino also escape, but not until after Juggernaut literally rips Deadpool in half.

Domino takes Deadpool back to Blind Al’s place. Weasel and Dopinder (who has decided that he wants to be an assassin-for-hire and is apprenticing with Weasel; for his part, Weasel mostly has him being the bar’s janitor, insisting that it’s training) show up, offering to help him out. Deadpool—whose legs are still short and stubby and growing back slowly—says that his first target is Cable, then he’s going to save Firefist.

Cable himself shows up and offers an alliance. He explains that the adult Firefist’s first kill was the head of the Essex Orphanage. He got a taste for killing after that. Deadpool agrees to the alliance, but only if Deadpool gets the chance to talk him out of killing the headmaster. Cable agrees to give him thirty seconds to try it before he blows the kid away.

Dopinder drives Cable, Domino, and Deadpool to the X-mansion, where Deadpool tries and fails to convince Colossus to help out. They then head to Essex, where Dopinder realizes he’s not cut out for this, and waits in his cab.

Firefist is all ready to destroy the orphanage. Domino recognizes Essex as the place where she was raised—and tortured. She goes in and kills a bunch of the workers there, and frees the kids. Colossus, Negasonic, and Yukio show up and take on the Juggernaut, while Cable and Deadpool fight more of the Essex thugs.

Firefist chases the headmaster into the school. Deadpool tries and fails to stop him from killing the headmaster, but Firefist insists that Deadpool doesn’t even care about him. Deadpool puts one of the Icebox collars on his own neck so that he’s vulnerable to show that he does care. Cable then uses his last bullet to shoot Firefist, but Deadpool gets in the way of the bullet, sacrificing himself for Firefist, since with the collar on, his healing factor is toast. However, it affected Firefist, as the charred, bloody teddy bear that Cable carries as a remembrance of his daughter is now a clean, shiny, happy teddy bear, so it worked! Firefist will no longer grow up to be a bad guy.

After an exceedingly long death scene, Deadpool dies. Cable uses the last burst of his timeslide to go back to when the fight started, and he puts the skee-ball token on the spot on Deadpool’s chest where the bullet will hit him. The rest of the fight goes the same way, but this time Deadpool isn’t shot, saved by the token. Oh, and Dopinder runs over the headmaster, killing him.

Domino’s luck enables them to decode the collar and Deadpool’s healing factor is restored. Negasonic and Yukio return to the mansion with the freed orphans, but Colossus stays with Deadpool, Cable, Domino, Firefist, and Dopinder. Deadpool finally has a proper family.

Yukio and Negasonic manage to fix the timeslide, and they give it to Deadpool, who goes back in time to save Vanessa, then also saves Peter (but not any of the rest of X-Force), and then kills the Wade Wilson who appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and then kills Ryan Reynolds on the day he first reads the script for Green Lantern. (“You’re welcome, Canada.”)

 

“Only best buddies execute pedophiles together!”

Screenshot: 20th Century Fox

I really want to like this movie more than I do. I mean, it’s enjoyable for all the same reasons that the first one was. Reynolds remains letter-perfect in the role, which is no mean feat. It would be easy for the role to just be a one-note diarrhea-of-the-mouth fourth-wall-breaking joke machine. But Reynolds manages to make the character three-dimensional. Yes, he’s that, but he’s also convincingly a psychopath trying very hard to be a hero (and doing a shit job of it, yeah) and a person who is believably in love with Vanessa.

But that’s the problem with the movie: it fridges Vanessa.

Every time I’ve mentioned fridging in this rewatch it’s led to at least one or two comments saying, “I’m not sure this is really fridging,” so let me cut that off at the pass: what happens to Vanessa is the textbook definition of fridging. Based on the events of 1994’s Green Lantern #54, in which GL’s girlfriend was killed and stuffed into a refrigerator, the term was coined by comics writer Gail Simone to point up the laziness of far too many comics writers when confronted with writing a female character—too often, they are killed, maimed, injured, raped, whatever in order to bring pain to the male hero. (Ironically, Simone had a lengthy and influential run on Deadpool’s monthly title; she was the one who started Deadpool’s dialogues with the “yellow boxes” of narrative captions.)

Which is exactly what happens here. Vanessa is a great character, a slightly nutsy cuckoo woman who adores Wade Wilson for exactly who he is, and who can keep up with his verbal Jackson Pollocking. And all that Reynolds, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick can think to do with her is kill her off to make Deadpool suffer? Seriously?

The thing is, it isn’t necessary. Yes, Deadpool’s suicidal grief motivates a lot of what he does in the film, but there are other ways to accomplish it. Why can’t Vanessa have the role that Weasel has, helping him in his work, holding the X-Force auditions with him, and so on? Given what a scum-sucking weasel, pardon the pun, T.J. Miller is, dropping him would be no loss. Heck, why not have Weasel be the one killed to motivate Deadpool, and Vanessa helps him work through it? And since they also raised the notion of Vanessa and Deadpool wanting to have kids, why not have his impending fatherhood motivate Deadpool’s desire to join the X-Men and save Firefist? Heck, in the comics, Vanessa is an actual powered character, so maybe do that so she can fight alongside him?

What’s especially frustrating is that the movie does a wonderful job satirizing another tired trope, which is that all the super-powered people in comics (and in movies that adapt comics) are skinny. Firefist is a chubby specimen, and the only time you ever see a fat person in a comic book, they’re either not powered, or their powers are very specifically related to their obesity. Firefist is a breath of fresh air, and I love the fact that he’s discriminated against as a fat kid is part of what turns him evil. Julian Dennison absolutely nails the role, making the character’s anger and frustration (and, it must be said, immature idiocy) convincing and real.

I also love the fact that X-Force is summarily killed off due to their own incompetence. X-Force embodied the worst of 1990s excesses in mainstream comics, turning what had been a great book about young mutants (seriously, some of the best work in Chris Claremont’s storied career appeared in The New Mutants) into yet another grim-n-gritty book with big guns and big blasts and macho posturing and uniforms with simply endless numbers of pouches. (I particularly liked seeing Shatterstar killed, as I never liked that asshole.)

This is one of two times in 2018 that Josh Brolin managed to take a comics character I disliked intensely and make me care about them. He did it in Avengers: Infinity War with Thanos (whom I have always found to be a spectacularly uninteresting antagonist, one of the weakest villains in Marvel’s pantheon) and here with Cable. Of course, they mainly accomplished this by fridging Cable’s wife and daughter, who don’t ever get a name. Or personalities. Or much of anything.

I’d think the movie was completely sexist if not for the brilliance of Zazie Beetz as Domino, the triumphant return of Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic, and the anime-on-overload cuteness of Shioli Kutsuna as Yukio. Beetz in particular nails the role of Domino, her deadpan asides nicely complementing Reynolds’s rapid-fire snark. More of her, please! And more of Negasonic and Yukio, for that matter, as it’s the first same-sex relationship between good guys that we’ve seen in a superhero movie. And still the only overt one so far.

In the end, Deadpool goes back in time and, basically, negates the movie, as he saves Vanessa—so the filmmakers eat their cake and have it, too, as we’ve got Vanessa back for the third film! Maybe this time, she’ll spend all of it pregnant, so we can have that tired trope, too…

 

Next week, we begin a two-week jaunt back to the 1990s, as we look at two pilot movies for TV shows that adapted DC characters, starting with 1990’s The Flash.

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Emerald City Comic-Con next weekend in Seattle. Find him mostly at the Bard’s Tower booth (alongside a bunch of other authors, among them Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon, and Jonathan Maberry), as well as the occasional bit of programming.

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