‘Deadpool’ as a Parody of the Superhero Genre
Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
Dating back to the 1960’s, films began to merge the comedic, romantic and satirical aspects of films with the busy and broad action sequences such as car chases and searching for a McGuffin in which rather whacky and crazy characters became involved in hyperactive action. The action-comedy hybrid genre eventually branched off into parodies of action films including the James Bond action-spy-comedy parody by Mike Myers, Austin Powers and the “Matt Helm” series which starred Dean Martin. Modern cinema has popularized the hybrid action-comedy genre with such films like The Other Guys (2010), and Zombieland (2009), which continue the trend of comedic sequences mixed with high-octane action, but also increase the level of violence in the film to make for a grander spectacle and an increase in raunchy, more explicit comedic tendencies. This is evident in Tim Miller’s entry into 20th Century Fox’s ongoing X-Men film franchise, Deadpool (2016).
Deadpool is originally a comic book character, created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza in 1991 for Marvel Comics. Deadpool is described in the academic journal article, A Librarian’s Guide to Marvel Comics as being a “costumed free-lance killer for hire… with a powerful natural healing factor” (Lavin 12) and has evolved from being a supervillain to a well-known anti-hero with enhanced superhuman abilities. The character itself is actually a parody of popular DC Comics supervillain/anti-hero, Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke. When Liefeld showed his first designs for the character, Nicieza called him and stated “This is Deathstroke from the Teen Titans” (Polygon.com). However, the two creators decided to go ahead and create the character, even going so far as to mock Deathstroke’s real name by naming Deadpool “Wade Wilson.” Deadpool was a character that comic book fans everywhere had been clamoring for to get a film adaptation and their wishes came true with the release of the 2009 film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, the character was heavily altered as he was nothing like his self-aware comic book counterpart and the film received overwhelmingly negative reviews. 20th Century Fox then decided to reboot the character entirely bringing in director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, to create a more accurate depiction of the character. The 2016 film relies heavily on a vulgar comedic style, ultra-violence with an emphasis on the splattered blood, a mix of practical and CGI stunt work and inside jokes about how the film parodies other superhero films in the genre. This essay will outline, theoretically, what a parody is and the aspects that make a film a parody, explaining what specifically makes the Deadpool film a parody and finally, situating the selected film against the background of its serious and suspenseful action cinema sub-genre for comparisons to other modern-era superhero/action films.
A parody is described as “an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect” (Oxford English Dictionary). In the art of filmmaking, parody films have been a part of mainstream American action-comedy films for several decades. Ronald Gottesman, who wrote the academic journal article, Film Parody: An Immodest Proposal, writes that “parody is a sign, in fact, that a culture is simultaneously maintaining continuity and making something new and valuable out of the eternal tension between imagination and reality” (Gottesman, 1). This can be interpreted as meaning that a parody takes an existing property and adds creative and comedic aspects to the already action packed subject. In the non-fiction book Parody as Film Genre by Wes D. Gehring, he describes five main aspects that all parody films have, or should have when being produced. The first aspect involves the film being funny. Gehring states that “a parody should be funny even without viewer expertise on the subject under comic attack” (Gehring, 2). Whether or not the viewer knows about the story behind the parodied film, the movie should strive to make viewers laugh at the expense of the original work. The second part to a successful parody film is having an educational aspect. This can also be defined as artistic critique. While the viewer does not have to be versed in the subject being imitated, the writers and directors must have keen knowledge on the subject under scrutiny. Third, the genre of film-parody should not be considered the same as a satire. A parody deals with literary norms while a satire deals with social norms. A parody has friendly fun at the expense of a given subject while satire only hopes for the occasional laugh near the end of the plot. The fourth section of a parody film states that there are two kinds of parody films. The first being a broad and obvious approach judging of a genre and second, the more subdued method that consistently reaffirms the subject under attack. The fifth and final aspect of a parody film is that it takes place over an indeterminate amount of time. It is not constrained by a determinate time period or one place.
When a film like Deadpool was announced, it was expected that the film would carry over all the fourth-wall breaking and hijinks from the comic book it was based upon. Deadpool is a character known for having various critiques on the superhero genre, parodying various other characters in the Marvel Universe, such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. In Jeffery A. Brown’s scholarly journal, The Superhero Film Parody and Hegemonic Masculinity, he speaks about how “most superhero film parodies make fun of the genre’s most predictable and sillier conventions, such as the skin-tight and colorful costumes, strange powers, secret identities, rigid moral codes and evil super-geniuses” (Brown, 137-138). Deadpool is a film that comments on each aspect that Brown lists, from pointing out common superhero film normalities, such as the “superhero landing,” to creating a skin tight super suit that does not allow bad guys to see him bleed, to showing that, unlike most modern heroes, he does not live by a moral code. Deadpool is a person who does not care who he kills to get the job done. He promotes and commits various crimes such as murder and kidnapping throughout the film.
To fully understand how Deadpool is a parody of the current crop of superhero films, Wes Gehring’s five aspects of a film parody can be applied to the Ryan Reynolds led action-comedy film. Deadpool inherits the first aspect of a parody film by not explaining the past history of the X-Men film series. The viewer needs no explanation on the Deadpool character or the movies that preceded Deadpool as it acts as a standalone comedy/superhero film that shows the origins of the character and how he became the unhinged, parodying superhero fans know and love. The second aspect, which talks about the people behind the scenes being versed in the subject being critiqued is also evident in the film. In an interview with writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, both say that “because of the budget, we couldn’t have superheroes taking off, alien invasions and all that stuff” (slashfilm.com). Throughout the film, Deadpool makes numerous comments about how the film cannot afford many big budget action sequences or other X-Men characters due to a budget that is less than half of the normal superhero budget. Specifically in one scene, Deadpool arrives at the X-Mansion saying to Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “it’s funny I only see you and colossus here, it’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Men” (Deadpool). This is a direct comment on the bloated nature of the superhero film which generally involves a multitude of characters packed into one action-heavy, suspenseful film.
Deadpool does not directly follow the third aspect which speaks about not mixing up a parody with a satire. Deadpool actually combines both parody and satirical aspects in the film by making various comments on the current wave of superhero movies, directly referencing other superhero films, and ending with a parody of a big budget action sequence. Two specific examples outline this point. The first is during a hilarious action sequence between Deadpool and Colossus where both are involved in a brutal, but hilarious fist fight that includes Deadpool commenting on what it means to be a superhero. Deadpool states that being a hero “involves origin films that lead to larger ensemble team up films” (Deadpool). This is a satirical point in the film as Deadpool is in fact an origin story that will lead to him teaming with a popular supporting character from the comics, Cable. The second is the first of two post-credit scenes in which Deadpool directly parodies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by imitating the exact post-credit scene from the film. Deadpool, like Ferris, arrives on screen after the credits roll and tells the audience that the movie is over and it is time to go home. This is one of the more evident parodist aspects of the film as it shows more of the comedic features. Regarding the fourth section of the parody film, Deadpool seems to select the latter option in which it takes a more subdued method that constantly reaffirms the subject under attack.
Deadpool does not directly parody a superhero film but rather, takes common traits from said films and turns them into hilarious, ultraviolent sequences that generally comment on how unoriginal the superhero genre can be. One such scene involves Deadpool as his alter-ego, Wade Wilson, arriving at a bar where a shady company agent arrives to talk to him. T.J Miller’s character immediately comments on this as soon as the agent arrives, saying “this shady guy came in looking for you… I don’t know, might further the plot” (Deadpool). This is a direct parody of recent superhero films like 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine in which main character, Wolverine is found by shady government agent, William Stryker and is talked into joining the Weapon X program. The main difference between the two films is that while Wolverine treats the situation with Stryker as serious and suspenseful, Wade cracks numerous jokes and does not take anything about being at his lowest point in life seriously. In what should be a sequence shrouded in mystery and tension, Wade joining the Weapon X program is a moment filled with the complete opposite. The scenes include, happy music, explicit jokes, a horribly disfigured Wade (unlike Wolverine who was made into a very good looking, ultimate fighting machine) and an ultra-violent action sequence involving Wade fighting main-villain Ajax completely nude, surrounded by fire, in one of the three big action sequences in the film. The final aspect to a film being a parody is very apparent throughout the 2016 blockbuster. Deadpool opts to edit the film in a non-linear pattern, jumping from past to present and never explaining when the film actually takes place. The film does not specify when the past sequences occurred, nor does it show what year the present is for Deadpool. Recent superhero films such as Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice clearly demonstrates when each sequence takes place as it explains when Superman arrives on Earth and how far in the future the story takes place from that exact moment. Deadpool decides to leave the viewer wondering and, while suggesting that the film may take place in current 2016, it never explicitly outlines the timeline, leaving viewers to decide on their own when the film transpires.
In this cinematic essay, Tim Miller’s action-comedy superhero blockbuster Deadpool was analyzed from a comedic/parodic point of view. The paper explained what a parody is from an academic standpoint and outlined the five main aspects that a film must have to be considered a parody. The paper then applied each aspect explained by Wes Gehring to the film, demonstrating through certain scenes that Deadpool is in fact a parody of the superhero genre as a whole. Deadpool aims to poke fun at common aspects of the genre such as a stereotypical, British antagonist, notable imitations of other modern superhero films like a jumbled version of the common origin story, and by taking supposed suspenseful and emotional action sequences, and turning them into an extremely violent, action-packed comedy sequence where nothing is taken seriously. However, while Deadpool pokes fun at the growing field of superhero films, it does not shy away from still being, at its core, an action blockbuster. As Scott Higgins explains in his scholarly journal, Melodramatic Narrative and the Contemporary Action Film, “action films appear to offer something distinct from the classical narrative” (Higgins, 2). This is evident in Deadpool through its parodic approach to not having a linear story. Deadpool opts to jump back and forth between two time periods throughout the film, leading up to a very common CGI-heavy finale. Miller, along with writers Wernick and Reese, deliver a cleverly accurate, hilarious, and action-centric parody of the superhero genre, one that will be looked at as one of the best superhero films in cinema history.
Deadpool 2 kills its way into theatres on May 18, 2018!
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