For months, I’ve been intrigued by the religious themed ads that are part of Deadpool 2’s marketing campaign. There are two ads of note. In one, frequently seen on billboards and the sides of passing buses, Deadpool is shown from the torso up with his arms outspread in a Christ-pose. The words “The Second Coming” are emblazoned above him. In the other ad, Deadpool reclines on a bean-bag chair and reaches up to put his finger in the barrel of Cable’s pointed pistol as he emerges from a time warp, a la the Sistine Chapel image of Adam and God reaching out to touch one another. Occasionally, you’ll see this ad with the “The Second Coming” tagline included. Not that I expected the irreverent mutant to be anything but irreverent, but I wondered, does Deadpool 2’s story have some sort of religious tinge? Was it going to be a riff on a Christian story perhaps?
No. The advertisements are a comment on something, but it’s something much more meta than the sequel’s story. I hate to spoil even one joke in this hilarious movie (that is the best time I’ve had in a theater all year), but I am going to spoil this one – and I promise, this is the only thing about Deadpool 2 I will spoil in this review.
In the first five minutes of the film, Deadpool does a little comedy bit on the fact that he and Jesus are frequently mentioned in the sentence due to the fact that the first Deadpool movie is the second-highest earning R-rated film of all time behind The Passion of the Christ, though Deadpool would like us to remember that those box office receipts don’t include international tickets sales. This is quintessential Deadpool – it’s a wry, meta comment on the film itself, winningly irreverent, and slyly undercuts any compunctions the audience might have about the kind of violence on display on the screen – “We’re not so bad. We’re just like that Jesus movie.” If there’s any deeper critique at work there about the American affinity for extreme violence, it’s got more dirt on top of it than Ryan Reynolds’ character in Buried. But it is worth considering why most Americans don’t find the violence in The Passion of the Christ and the Deadpool franchise offensive.
In the case of The Passion of the Christ, the mutilation of Jesus is of accord with centuries of religious art that depicts the stages of Christ’s torture and crucifixion. Different artists have approached the subject with varying degrees of explicitness over time, and nothing visual compares with the descriptions in the Biblical text itself, be they in the Gospels, the Epistles, or in the book of Revelation. In many ways, the American non-abhorrence of the extreme, graphic violence in The Passion of the Christ is to be expected. Christians are steeped in two thousands years of this kind of thing.
It’s also worth nothing that The Passion of the Christ is structured like a horror film, and it was released during the post-9/11 torture-horror boom of the early 00s, along with the Saw franchise, the Hostel franchise, and others. American audiences were particularly open to traumatic film experiences at the time. It has been suggested that this was a kind of cathartic experience for a nation processing the trauma of 9/11. I don’t think it’s a failure of marketing or filmmaking that is to blame for Hollywood’s inability to recreate The Passion of the Christ’s box office success. We’re just not in the same emotional place as a society anymore.
Deadpool is something different. Deadpool comes at the end of a two decade flood of superhero movies. The franchise’s irreverence is in contrast to the very serious tone of other superhero franchises. There is something inherently repressed about those other superhero movies. Perhaps to appeal to a wider audience—or perhaps because we don’t want to own up to the beliefs and desires undergirding these exceptional-man fantasies—contemporary superhero movies are sanitized. The lifeforms that die are rarely human, and the deaths are always bloodless. There is also usually an “appropriate” facade on it all too – the MC and DC universes are sexless, blue-language-free affairs. Deadpool does away with all of that. It’s not profane, exactly. It’s impolite. Deadpool has no pretense. In a way, it’s honest, and there is something refreshing about that honesty, like a release of tension. The other superhero movies are family affairs. Deadpool is a night out with friends at the end of a rough week. So Deadpool’s violence is Looney Tunes compared to the kind of violence seen in, well, like the actual Looney Tunes, the House of Mickey Mouse’s superhero movies. Recall Deadpool’s riff on the Sistine Chapel – Bugs Bunny-like, he’s plugging the barrel of Cable’s pistol with his finger.
So Deadpool was smart to stop the “comparing Deadpool to The Passion of the Christ” joke where he does. The deeper critique doesn’t hold up. The films are working on different levels in that respect.
And all that to say, Deadpool 2 isn’t for kids, but it sure is fun. I think it has a good heart too. There’s genuine sentiment on display in the midst of all the mayhem. Every moment of the film, from the pre-release advertising campaign to the film itself right through the credits—there is a closing credits tag in this film that redeems the existence of all closing credits tags—has been crafted to provide a good time for the audience, and it succeeds.