Deadpool is ugly. He was hideously scarred by the experiments that gave him his self-healing powers, so he hides behind his mask and his mouth, purposefully antagonizing everyone rather than dealing with his own emotional angst. Most importantly for the movie’s plot, Deadpool refuses to return to the woman he loves out of fear that she’ll reject him because of how grotesque he looks. It’s an arbitrary plot mechanic that’s just barely tenacious enough to hold the movie’s story together. But it’s enough, because having the guts to show your true self to the world, ugly though that true self may be, is what Deadpool is all about.
The movie is known as much for its ugliness as much as it is known for anything else – that is if you consider bloody violence, proliferate profanity, and coarse sexuality ugly. Deadpool is certainly different from other contemporary superhero movies in that regard. Most superhero movies hold tightly to that PG-13 rating in order to maximize profits. Deadpool’s box office gross, while nowhere near that of the less explicit Avengers films, suggests that false piety isn’t actually necessary. Audiences will flock to superhero movies regardless of how much blood the movies wear on their sleeves.
For all it’s foulness, there’s something refreshing about Deadpool. As my friend Tamisha Tyler told me in trying to convince me to go see it, Deadpool is just honest. He says what he thinks and doesn’t shy away from making people mad. His film is honest too. Other superhero movies anesthetize audiences from the ugliness of the violence they feature. There’s nothing less violent about the Avengers movies. They just don’t show us as explicitly what Deadpool shows us. You think it would be clean for Captain America to throw his harder-than-steel shield at a man’s head? Other movies aren’t “cleaner”; they’re just censored. Deadpool is not. Age of Ultron turned a superhero’s use of profanity into a joke; Deadpool just gives us what we deep down want.
Now, Deadpool doesn’t go so far as to critique our enjoyment of violent, profane, sexually explicit spectacle. It revels in it. Vulgarity is its stock and trade. This isn’t satire, as much as I might wish it was. It’s up to us to critique the movie’s content and method. Deadpool does us the inadvertent service of showing us the superhero genre for what it really is. It’s up to us to reject it and demand more of our movies and ourselves. The danger we face is two-fold: maybe we won’t reject it and more salacious fare will follow in Deadpool’s wake and/or Deadpool’s extreme-ness might make less yet still odious movies less offensive.
We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, Jesus once exhorted us. I’m often not sure which part of that double-edged statement is most difficult to live out. It seems like the more you grow in the one, the less you are able to practice the other. I think Jesus means we are supposed to be wary of those who would harm us and others but optimistic that they won’t. I think we’re supposed to be aware of humanity’s propensity toward evil and ever-generous in love. Deadpool goes full snake, encourages us to do the same, and there’s nothing innocent about it. A better movie would have been about Deadpool regaining his innocence, but he was never innocent in the first place. He was just more attractive. I think that’s why Deadpool’s finale lands so feebly – he’s learned nothing and neither have we. It sure was entertaining though.
This review also works as a critique of the Donald Trump campaign.
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