Deadpool presented something of a risk. Would audiences embrace an R-rated superhero movie set in the continuity of an existing PG-13 franchise?
To be sure, looking at this from Monday morning, the folks at FOX and Marvel are breathing a sigh of relief. With a massive global opening weekend and comparatively thrifty budget, Deadpool seems to be starting its run in the black. But it wasn’t a sure thing.
There have been R-rated comic book adaptations before. But those have tended to be for properties that were distinctly adult in origin. Books that were indie or came from the “Mature Readers” imprint of one of the big publishers. Think Watchmen or Kick-Ass.
Deadpool was a riskier proposition. Though the Marvel comic upon which it’s based tends to be a bit more twisted than its peers, it still firmly takes place in the Marvel Universe. It gets away with a bit more and has a naughtier tone. But it’s not a full-out “17 and up only” affair.
For FOX to make a raunchy, R-rated Deadpool set in its X-Men movie world was a gamble. Deadpool is a very popular character within the comic book world, but isn’t as well known outside it. Audiences likely have certain expectations about mainstream movies based on superhero comics. The X-Men may only appear around the edges of the movie, but Deadpool still takes place in that cinematic world. While there are some racy suggestions in previous X-Men movies (and an occasional bad word, stabbing or glimpse of Wolverine’s ass), for the most part you could take your tween to an X-movie without fretting too much.
Deadpool goes in a very different direction. It takes inspiration from its madcap source material. The writers went with the unbridled Id represented by the character. The script is gleefully filthy. Profanity and sex jokes abound. The violence goes beyond the cartoonishness of other X-movies into “Hard R” territory. You’d have to be Ryan Reynolds’ proctologist to see more of his backside than is on display in this movie. This is not remotely All Ages. This could scar your young’un.
But it’s also kind of awesome. Deadpool manages to bring together all the right elements in just the right way. It may revel in its “dirty joke” ethos, but the dirty jokes are also genuinely funny. The script is smart and mercilessly meta, taking well-aimed shots at its comic book movie peers as the lead character regularly breaks the fourth wall and chats directly with the audience.
It’s well cast. Reynolds is absolutely fantastic in the lead role. Supporting players like Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller and Ed Skrein do some strong, often hilarious, supporting work. Everyone seems to be having fun with this. There’s a lot of energy, style and wit on display. It’s one of the more effective translations of a comic book’s ethos to a filmed medium in recent memory. Even the Deadpool costume is spot on.
Deadpool was gamed to please the hardcore comic book fans a movie like this needs if it’s going to have a chance to succeed. But it’s got plenty to offer audiences who flock to superhero movies without demonstrating much interest in the source material.
In some ways, treading this line of incorporating a more adult outing into a franchise that generally casts a wider (and cleaner) audience net mirrors the evolution of comic books themselves. DC and Marvel both have had “mature audiences” imprints over the years. 30 years ago, a character from the “adult” line would never be allowed to cross over into a mainstream series. But as the mainstream books themselves have skewed older (in audience and content), those barriers have relaxed.
Now that movies and TV shows based on comic books are big business, it’s an issue we’ll see more and more. Marvel has already moved down that road with its Daredevil and Jessica Jones series on Netflix. Grittier, more adult-oriented tales than the shiny, PG-13 adventures of the Avengers movies. Something like Deadpool was probably a necessity for FOX and its X-Men franchise. There have to be different approaches with the side movies, different sensibilities, or it all becomes rather bland and interchangeable.
That doesn’t mean FOX wasn’t on tenterhooks for awhile. They’ve got to feel pretty good this morning. But also, let’s hope they don’t take the wrong lesson. Deadpool didn’t work because it was raunchy. Rather, the raunch worked because the movie was well-made, crafted with a sense of fun, a respect for the characters and genuine wit and thought overall.
If quality remains the first priority, superhero movie franchises can incorporate more challenging tonal excursions like Deadpool and do so successfully.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on February 15, 2016.