I remember my first experience with the superheroes of Marvel. It was the summer of 2002, I was eleven years old, and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man was all the rave at the box office.
Looking back now, I realize how groan-worthy this movie is – the plot is ridiculous, the acting subpar, and the script has more cheese than the state of Wisconsin. But at the time, to a girl whose exposure to superheroes had been limited to a host of horrid Batman movies and a few stray scenes from Superman, it was everything I didn’t know I wanted.
Spider-Man was something…more. While there are silly one-liners and bursts of comedic relief, the story here is much more serious than those of its proverbial big brothers. Our hero, Peter Parker, couldn’t be more different from the iconic, neomythical Batman and Superman. Peter might be tortured like Bruce Wayne and posses preternatural abilities like Clark Kent, but that’s where the similarities end. He has “greatness,” as it were, thrust upon him as an angst-ridden teenager. He balances crime-fighting with mourning the death of a father figure, struggling to break social barriers, and pining after a girl who does not return his affection. In this way, he is Everyman: an ordinary person who, through personal struggle and redemption, is able to extraordinary things.
This has, historically, been a trait shared by the majority of Marvel heroes over the years, at least those chosen for film adaptation. Shortly after Spider-Man came Daredevil, featuring Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who fights through his disability in the name of justice. 2003’s Hulk, while an admitted failure, introduces us to Bruce Banner, whose struggle is to protect the world from the monster within.
2008 brought us the beginning of the Avenger films with Iron Man, through which we meet Tony Stark, whose hubristic, irresponsible lifestyle nearly costs him his own life. Once exposed to his own wrongdoings, he uses his genius and power as a vehicle for redemption. Like Bruce Wayne, he does not possess extraordinary powers, only resources; however, he uses those resources to transcend, rather than propagate, his inner turmoil.
The Avengers also bring us Steve Rogers-turned-Captain America, a weak man made strong for the sake of justice and righteousness, and Thor, whose status as a god does not save him from betrayal and loss. And most recently, we have Ant-Man featuring Scott Lang, a reformed convict who just wants to be worthy of his daughter’s love.
This flavor of hero is what changed me from someone who enjoyed superhero movies to someone who enjoyed Marvel movies. It’s what I expect from the company now. I crave someone to root for; someone with a disadvantage, a difficulty, a less-than-perfect past who wants to rise above his or her circumstances and achieve greatness in the name of righteousness. More than that, I crave a story so well told that excessive profanity, nudity, and other types of vulgarities are not necessary. It’s not that I have paper-thin, ladylike sensibilities so much that I understand the art of basic storytelling. If a movie absolutely needs bare breasts and one hundred F bombs to draw a crowd, it’s not a good movie. Ironically, given my ambivalent feelings for Superman, I crave truth, justice, and the American way.
But that’s not what Deadpool, the next Marvel character film slated for release, is selling. Wade Walker undergoes a dangerous experiment in an effort to cure his cancer, leaving him disfigured but alive. As a trade-off, he now has the power of accelerated healing and a dark, twisted sense of “humor.”
To be honest, this doesn’t seem too far off from the usual superhero flick, so when my husband seemed disappointed by news of the movie, I was confused. He showed me the trailer, and then, I understood. I more than understood. In the span of three minutes, there were multiple uses of the F word, several vulgar jokes and comments, and female nudity. In the span of three minutes. In the trailer. Immediate red flag.
More off-putting than that, though, was the callous, snarky nihilism presented by the titular character. Unlike his Marvel hero counterparts, Deadpool does not seek to use his newfound abilities for good, does not aim to protect and serve, does not seek justice. Instead, he desires to settle a personal vendetta, to satisfy a bloodlust that does not discriminate between good or evil.
When the trailer ended, I found myself too disturbed to speak. Finally, I cleared my throat and, incredulous, asked, “And this is a Marvel movie?”
My issue with Deadpool is not that he exists, but that he exists as a protagonist. Both in comic book and movie form, he is more comparable to DC’s the Joker than any hero in either pantheon. Like the Joker, Deadpool is not on a “side”; he serves no one but himself. His propensity for wild card violence, chaos, and meaningless bloodshed is a driving force, and his self-awareness as a fictional character in both comics and video games suggests Jokeresque insanity.
Were he pitched against the Avengers, individually or as a team, in the clear role of super villain, I wouldn’t be opposed to his place in the Marvel Universe. But placing him in the role of protagonist, framing him with a thick layer of moral ambivalence? That goes against the grain of everything Marvel has released in the past decade.
Fans of Captain American and Iron Man don’t want to root for a protagonist who spouts lines like…well, actually, all of the meaningful quotes from the trailer are riddled with profanity, so I won’t put any of them here. If you’re curious, check it out for yourself. If you’ve played through video games in which he appears, you probably know what I’m talking about. This character has no redeeming qualities, but instead is the personification of outlandishness. To steal a line from my husband, he’s the embodiment of juvenile excess. He is fleshly satisfaction. He is gluttony and lust and savagery and misogyny. He is one hundred steps backward in terms of social progress.
Maybe it’s silly of me to hold a comic book company to standards of my own making. Maybe it’s naïve of me to expect one of the many giants in a multibillion dollar industry to worry about content over cash flow. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s Deadpool the people want; not Captain America, not Iron Man, but Deadpool. And maybe it’s unfair for me to compare Deadpool to other Marvel films, especially the Avenger films, since they are written, directed, and produced, by two entirely different sets of people.
But I still find the presence of those five magical red-and-white letters at the end of the Deadpool trailer jarring, if not horrifying; a non sequitur, if ever there was one. Regardless of the fact that Fox is the production company, this movie’s release commits an egregious error. It sets a tone that contradicts not only the Avengers, but every other Marvel film made since the original Spider-Man. Wade Walker has no honor, no truth, and no desire for redemption; he has only disgrace, selfishness, and nihilistic futility. To have him in the printed Marvel pantheon as anything short of a villain is a mistake; to elevate him to film status, a tragedy.