A few days ago I watched Deadpool. I hadn’t heard of it until my spouse and daughter told me it is the hot, new cult movie.
So here is a quick review.
Wry, clever opening credits. Some very good, funny lines. I knew and liked most of the music. And, in general, this is a very well-made, contemporary, white-bro fantasy, racist and sexist despite its sometimes successful attempts at irony. A dream movie for someone who wants to achieve (white) bro-hood through a mass-killing (with a not-so-background fantasy of a beautiful woman who loves you despite your ugliness, and is delighted by your big dick). But I’m writing this review because the movie provoked questions and connections that go well beyond its cool+fantasy appeal, not just to spout my middle-aged feminist judgment.
Deadpool is very successful. I gather that many young people, including young women, think this is the best movie they have ever seen. I’m not sure what the young women love about it; my ability to empathize in this context is very, very limited. There is a cool teenage girl, perhaps the coolest character in the movie, but with very limited play. There is also one very tough (white) woman fighter, who in the end is defeated. I didn’t quite understand the plot purpose of an elderly, blind, African-American woman. In the scenes that included her, there were fleeting moments of intimacy and affection, but those moments had little other support in the movie. I very faintly sensed that her role had something to do with pushing the envelope on ironic offensiveness – what could be more aggressively non-PC, and therefore potently ironic, than making an elderly, blind African-American woman the butt of bro jokes? But the jokes in relation to her fell flat, so all that I ended up with was culturally foundational racism, sexism, and age-ism. In these scenes and in general, Deadpool seemed to me an expression of the U.S. zeitgeist, related to, and amplified in, Trump’s successes.
My spouse and primary review partner pointed out that the culturally foundational elements of sexism, racism, and age-ism are just that, common to many, if not most, Hollywood productions, and told me that calling them out does not make for interesting commentary because they are to be expected. He pointed out that the success of Deadpool doesn’t come from these elements (though he would probably agree that the kind of success it has achieved would be hard to get without these elements) but rather derives from its layered persiflage of many years of self-important, taking-themselves-too-seriously, overly-earnest super-hero movies. From his perspective, this is what delights audiences who have been fed these movies regularly over the last decade or so.
Certainly, Deadpool is substantially more sophisticated in ironic humor and self-reflexivity than the one Fantastic Four movie I’ve seen, and one of the best jokes in Deadpool is about X-Men. I’ve not seen many other movies in this genre so I can’t make a deep comparison. But while I might agree with his point about this reason for Deadpool’s success, I don’t think the foundational racism, sexism, and age-ism, that provide the warp for the movie’s weaving of its contemporary white-bro fantasy, are simply old news. In Deadpool, this foundation is refreshed as the movie connects to, expresses, and is viewed in the context of, a contemporary, mostly-bro, fantasy of recovering American (individualist) greatness, a fantasy that finds its most loud, caricatured, and white version in Trump’s speeches, but which also has more romantic versions that are more widely available, not just for white people and not just for boys and men. The romantic version in Deadpool allows any of us to long for one of the two fantastic social roles it celebrates – the heroic, bro-ish role of someone who survives and succeeds despite a hard life and ugly edges (and who ends up whupping the bad guy); and the immortalized object of the hero’s desire, who is, by the very nature of the role, someone attractive, loyal, and monolithically, uncomplicatedly loving (no doubts, no uncertainty, no resentments, not much discernible subjectivity; dirty socks are just dirty socks outside, waiting to be washed, there are no durable and mutating dirty socks of and in the heart and soul of the beloved). Deadpool rattles through its romantic version of quest for and achievement of individualist greatness, occasionally, very occasionally, with a titillating tenderness, and, beyond the effectiveness of its persiflage, the movie’s success also lies in pulling viewers into glossing some core part of themselves into one (or perhaps both, in some alternating format) of these roles.
The Quartz article, “A tip to Americans from an Italian who saw Berlusconi get elected again and again and again,” is not about Deadpool, but it compares Trump and Berlusconi in a way that casts a darkroom’s red light on the U.S. zeitgeist that Deadpool refracts into (more) successful entertainment.