Millions of people worldwide let out a sigh of relief last weekend when Fox and Marvel’s Deadpool movie turned out to be exactly what we all hoped it would be. It was funny, it was irreverent, it was raunchy, it was violent, it was foul-mouthed, and it was exactly the movie fans of the character in the comics could have hoped for. Naturally, following its success worldwide (over $325 million worldwide going into its second weekend), studio bigwigs are quickly trying to figure out why a movie made for only $58 million, released in February, and brazenly rated R did so well. They’re going to jump to the conclusion that “Fans want R-rated comic book movies.”
This is wrong — fans want movies that take risks, that challenge the establishment, and are chiefly faithful to the source material.
For 20-some years now, Deadpool has been an insanely vulgar character able to talk to the reader, quick to use brutality to get what he needed. He stood apart from the other Marvel Comics characters; too puerile to be part of the “adult” range, but far too edgy to truly be all-ages. Fans were gutted by his completely unrecognizable turn in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, so a small consortium of writers, director, and star lobbied to make a version of the character fans could embrace, and they succeeded more than anyone thought they would.
This is why Deadpool made so much money; not because of what it is, or because it was R-rated, but why it is. It was made with love for the source material, deference to the fans, and with a real risk of not connecting with the larger audience. Luckily audiences did respond, and flocked in droves. It was an idealistic way to make a comic book movie and that earnestness is felt in every F-bomb, every limb-slice, and every explicit sexual act.
“[The Dark Knight’s] success did not mean audiences all wanted to see dark and brooding superhero movies.”
Deadpool the character was on the screen, with all the tone and energy of the comics and that’s immeasurably refreshing to see. But now, hearing that an R-rated Fantastic Four or other characters like DC Comics’ Lobo are in the works only makes me fear we’re heading for another age of people entirely missing the point.
In 2005, Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins took the character out of the campy Dayglo realm and into the brooding comics world. With 2008’s The Dark Knight, the world of Batman became even more “realistic,” like a crime thriller that just happened to have a man in a cape. This approached worked for Batman because that’s what Batman is. Its success did not mean audiences all wanted to see dark and brooding superhero movies, even though that’s what Warner Bros would have us believe. One of the chief complaints with Man of Steel was just how joyless it felt, trying too hard to give the character gravitas through angst. That’s not who Superman is, at all. We’ve yet to see how Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will perform or be received by fans, but that studio is going whole-hog into the brooding realm whether it works for the source material or not.
Similarly, Marvel Studios took a major risk in 2014 by letting director James Gunn make a funny-quirky Guardians of the Galaxy. It paid off big time, becoming one of the most popular movies in the whole franchise. Now, unlike Deadpool or certainly Batman, the Guardians weren’t that well known, and even the characters in the movie were from a reboot that was only a few years old. But it was a movie that trusted its weirdness and didn’t try to emulate the rest of the MCU. The public connected with Guardians because of its bright colors, its supremely likable cast of oddball characters, and its anachronistic use of ’70s pop hits. All of these choices came from a place of story and character, not from somehow figuring out that moviegoers want soundtracks full of old music or goofs as heroes.
What happened in the most recent full trailer for Suicide Squad? The characters were shown to be supremely unstable and weird, the colors, while decidedly less happy, were vibrant and evident, and the whole thing used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to undercut the violence and hostile imagery. This movie is attempting, it seems, to mix both The Dark Knight‘s brutality with Guardians of the Galaxy‘s craziness. Again, we haven’t seen this movie so we don’t know how successful it will be, but it’s not hard to see where the filmmakers were coming from with this, or who and what influenced them.
“…Nothing to do with boobs, blood, or bad language.”
Now, I’m certainly not attempting to say that Marvel is doing everything right and DC is doing everything wrong — far from it. Marvel properties have made some clear missteps too, from Fant4stic‘s super-serious sci-fi attitude to Iron Man 2‘s tone-deaf silliness. But when you chase another film’s success, regardless of what the property you’re adapting is, you risk not doing the material justice, and fans are not afraid to let you know when something doesn’t ring true. It’s about truth in execution, and not “Well, it worked for them, so that means everybody loves X thing they did.”
I do not want to see a spate of R-rated comic book movies made just for the sake of it. While a gory and sweary Lobo movie might be fun, it’s not going to work for every other character. I don’t want to see an R-rated Fantastic Four, I don’t want to see an uber-gritty Green Lantern, and I don’t want to see a supremely silly take on Batman. These things just wouldn’t work and don’t work.
So, even though I’m sure it’s going to happen, I hope that after the surprise of Deadpool‘s monster success Hollywood takes a minute to realize the real reason why it worked was entirely to do with serving the character and nothing to do with boobs, blood, or bad language.
Images: Fox/Marvel/Warner Bros