With the release of the first X-Men film in 2000, audiences not only witnessed the dawn of the modern day superhero film boom, but also the beginning of a complicated franchise that would span sixteen years and nine films. With X-Men: Apocalypse on the horizon, Kayleigh Hearn and a rotating cast of merry mutants are revisiting the X-Men films from the very beginning, and examining the comic book storylines that inspired them. What would you prefer, yellow spandex?
Directed by Tim Miller
Kayleigh: X-Education catches up with the first X-Men film (or at least, X-Men adjacent) of 2016, Deadpool! The franchise’s first R-rated film and its highest-grossing entry seemingly came out of nowhere, if all you remembered about Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking Wade Wilson was an extended cameo in a terrible movie from like seven years ago. Yet in the comics world, Deadpool is one of the biggest breakout characters of the last 20 years–hell, he’s an Avenger now. It took a long time to get a faithful Deadpool adaptation made, and for better or for worse, it’s exactly what you’d expect a Deadpool movie to be.
Dylan: The remarkable thing about Deadpool is that you could describe this movie to me and I would probably say “that sounds like garbage:” it’s an incredibly adolescent movie about a foul-mouthed horndog who kills people while making pop culture references, so it could just as easily been the kind of bullshit that the worst comics fans foam at the mouth for…and while it arguably is that, it’s also a charming, well-crafted action movie with a surprising amount of heart. It reminded me a lot of 21 Jump Street, or even a Paul Feig comedy like The Heat. For once, the fans demanded something and they were right!
Kayleigh: Deadpool ends up being the most comic book-y of the X-Men films, which is interesting because the series has consistently been criticized for distancing itself too much from the source material. (“What would you prefer, yellow spandex?” etc.) The Deadpool that showed up at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was so far removed from the comics character that you could have powered the entire East Coast with pure internet nerd rage for years. Deadpool, by contrast, is slavishly faithful to the comics, ripping the red and black costume, fourth wall breaks, and chimichanga jokes straight from the funny pages. And no one was probably happier about this than Ryan Reynolds.
Dylan: This movie’s success hinges very much on Reynolds’ performance, in fact the movie might not even have been made if he didn’t want to play this role so very badly. Deadpool rotted in development hell for nearly a decade until a CGI proof-of-concept reel surfaced online, which may or may not have been leaked by Reynolds himself. Like any film worth watching, Deadpool was made by a team who desperately wanted to make it, and that love and commitment shows on every frame. The result is the bloodiest, raunchiest Chuck Jones cartoon of all time.
Kayleigh: Reynolds brings a great physicality to the role—one of my favorite moments in the film is him clutching his face and gasping like an old Southern Belle when he realizes his nemesis Ajax has escaped. It’s a performance I can’t help but like, even if the film’s humor is too Spencer’s Gifts for me—that tacky, unicorns-and-dick-jokes humor where “asshat” is a biting insult and name-dropping Voltron makes you cool. Though it tries to be offbeat, Deadpool is a surprisingly straightforward “superhero” origin story, complete with a British Villain (as the opening credits helpfully inform us) and an imperiled love interest.
Dylan: Speaking of the love interest, I’d like to talk about Morena Baccarin as Vanessa, because this more than anything is a part of the film that looks shitty on paper and yet works remarkably well. Early on, Mr. Pool pitches Deadpool as a love story, and I was shocked on my first viewing when this actually ends up being true! My expectations for the gender politic for this film were about as low as they could be, so I suppose it wouldn’t take much to impress me, but Vanessa is a real character and her relationship with Wade comes across as very genuine. I MEAN FOR A MOVIE ABOUT A MERCENARY AND A PROSTITUTE and I will see myself out.
Kayleigh: Morena Baccarin does a lot with what could have been a very disposable “hooker with a heart of gold” role, and she and Reynolds are very believable as people who love each other. But I’m not completely satisfied with how the movie treats Vanessa. In the comics, she’s Copycat, a mutant and a mercenary as well. I kept waiting for some kind of twist, for there to be more–revealing her as a shapeshifter could have been a great joke about how she’s Wade’s literal fantasy woman, but instead the plot hits the same exact “girlfriend is kidnapped, girl gets in one good hit on the villain because Girl Power, girl still needs to be rescued by the hero” story beats we had in Spider-Man 2 over a decade ago. Deadpool is ultimately not nearly as subversive as it needs to be.
Dylan: That would have been a fantastic twist, for sure. Hey, at least there’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who freaking rules. An X-Man who is A) a teen, B) a girl, and C) wearing honest to goodness yellow spandex? Negasonic, based on a throwaway Grant Morrison character with the ambiguous power to dream the future into existence, gets totally reinvented as a moody teen who makes things go boom, and she instantly leaps into my top five movie universe X-Men. And she’s paired with a Colossus who has absolutely nothing to do with the previous film incarnations, but is much closer to the Claremont era’s sweetheart man mountain.
Kayleigh: Going into Deadpool I had no idea how much of an “X-Men” movie it would be, and was pleasantly surprised by the way it incorporated Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus. Most of us were probably expecting shoehorned-in cameos from Wolverine or Professor X (“Stewart or McAvoy?”), but they thought outside the box. (Or maybe Deadpool was right, and they couldn’t afford more X-Men.) The new Actually Russian CGI Colossus has way more personality than Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus was ever allowed, and the mentor-mentee relationship with Negasonic is very sweet. I’m sad we’ll never see the movie version of Negasonic Teenage Warhead incorporated into the comics, because Brianna Hildebrand is delightful, and her entire look with the buzzcut and the classic yellow and blue uniform is really striking and unique.
Dylan: Let’s also give a shout out to T.J. Miller, who really did a great job bringing life to the character of T.J. Miller in this film.
Kayleigh: His delivery of “Wanna get fucked up?” still makes me laugh.
Dylan: The whole cast is pretty strong in Deadpool, from Leslie Uggams as Al to Gina Carano as the villain’s main heavy Angel Dust. The only person who doesn’t make an impact with me is Ed Skrein as Ajax/Francis. Maybe it’s just his admittedly generic British Villain role, or maybe it’s because I couldn’t stop seeing him as some kind of weird photoshop fusion of Nicholas Hoult and Jason Statham.
Kayleigh: Ajax definitely looks like he escaped from the shady, Saw-like factory where they create Jason Statham movie characters. Where Deadpool fails—and it’ll be really interesting to see how this movie holds up a few years from now–is that no matter how many times Deadpool insists he’s not a hero, and this is isn’t your typical superhero film, it really is. We’ve seen this bad guy before. We’ve seen the sarcastic best friend before. We’ve seen the kidnapped love interest before. Deadpool killing Ajax despite Colossus urging him to choose a better way isn’t shocking in a world where there are eighty million goddamn thinkpieces about Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel. Deadpool wants to be big and bad and edgy, but I wish the film had tried to break the mold as often as it broke the fourth wall.
Tomorrow: Deadpool’s comic origin unfolds in the Deadpool and Death Annual!