Cis Boom Blah: Going for the Joke in Deadpool

Deadpool PosterAccording to weekend box-office figures, you’ve probably seen already seen Deadpool. Fox’s film about the Merc with the Mouth has made so much money that unborn children and dogs have probably seen Deadpool by this point, so a review or recommendation would be fairly academic. A review would also be superfluous because even as action movies go, it’s fairly uncomplicated, both in execution and in its marketing appeal—even if you somehow haven’t seen it, you already know whether you’d enjoy it or not.

(If you really need a Deadpool review, here you go: It’s exactly what you think it is. The film strays neither from its titular character nor the structure of the modern superhero epic. To take a page from main character Wade Wilson’s book and reference another studio’s film, “This is Deadpool. This is decapitations and dick jokes and all the meta fiction we’ve been trained for.”)

The way in which Deadpool unfolds isn’t exactly surprising: smart-ass hero is screwed over by the bad guy, has to get his girl back, and does so amid the requisite shitstorm of CGI effects. What surprises about the film, however, is how fresh and fun it makes those staid superhero-movie beats seem. It might be too early to call, but as far as I’m concerned Deadpool is 2016’s best action film so far, as well as its best comic-related property. Batman, Superman, Captain America, the X-Men, the Ninja Turtles, the Suicide Squad, Gambit, and Doctor Strange may all have something to say about that later in the year, though.

Hugh Jackman

“Crikey! Who let that drongo in here?” Grant Brummett

Despite its February release—Hollywood’s typical dumping ground for ill-advised projects—-the film is great. The action is brutal and well-choreographed and rivals that of competing comic-book film franchises. Plus, with the third Wolverine movie and rumored X-Force film now considering R ratings, it’s clear that Deadpool‘s gloves-off—and heads-off—violence scratches the right itch for most superhero film-goers. Its humor also lands . . . well, mostly. Deadpool’s nonstop banter and insults are designed to be infuriating to his enemies and hilarious to us—not the other way around, as the lame gags showcased in the movie’s trailer seemed to suggest. Perhaps the bulk of the irreverent, reference-heavy humor from the film wouldn’t make good pull quotes for a 90-second commercial, but within the film proper, Deadpool is replete with clever quips that skewer the hero’s enemies, the actor playing him, the people involved in the film’s production, the film’s story, the audience, other superhero movies, Hugh Jackman, and anyone else too slow (or famous) to get out of the way. The result is much more satisfying than the weak “brown pants” and “touching myself” jokes from the film’s trailers.

The humor of the film’s first trailer, however, received a fair amount of criticism for showcasing what many perceived to be homophobic slurs, mostly revolving around “gay” sex acts. I’ll leave it to my betters to determine whether or not such lines are harmless or harmful, make the target gay, the attacker gay, witnesses gay, et cetera, but it’s clear that sensitivity wasn’t on the filmmakers’ minds in the project’s early development. Watch the full film now, however, and such insults are scarcely to be found. Well . . . mostly. Deadpool’s words, like acerbic rain, fall on the just, unjust, straight, gay, young, old, blind, and unicorn alike—it’s social equity through color-blind character assassination. Most of the offending jokes from the trailer are gone, and what’s left is the even-handed vulgarity of a 12-year-old misanthrope. In fact, the handful of quips let off by Wade that are specifically associated with sex or gender earn him verbal rebukes from his scene partners; in a paroxysm of rage that the man that ruined his life has escaped, Wade lets “the b-word” slip and is immediately scolded by Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (just don’t ask). Deadpool isn’t a “good” guy, per se–which is something he himself reiterates throughout the film—but he’s not a bad guy either. He’s just a habitual line-stepper.

Rick James

Like this guy. Wikimedia Commons

It’s a relief that Deadpool is incurably irreverent in the film but not, you know, actively homophobic, the way he can be when managed by lesser writers. Wade may have never let a straight line go by unmolested, but in recent years, his writers have padded his credibility by claiming that the character is “pansexual,” that is to say, attracted to everyone and everything. Not only does that make him wild and unpredictable, it shuts up any pesky socially conscious readers because relax! He’s gay! He’s more than gay! He can make those jokes!

Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds is on your side. Gage Skidmore

Yeaaaaaah noooooo. Leaving aside the stunted misconception that you somehow can’t gay bash if you’re gay (or bi, or pan), let’s get right down to it: the character of Deadpool—whether in the comics or in the movie—just isn’t pansexual. Or homosexual. Or bisexual, omnisexual, sexually fluid, or anything really other than a straight-up, girl-lovin’, cis-dude picture of classic heteronormativity (with maybe a little bronysexualism in there; he sure likes unicorns). As Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”–and let’s take that back from him, shall we?

To be honest, what movie superhero isn’t? But what’s really mystifying is why the character’s creators and the filmmakers and the star continue to insist that the character is more than that. Rumors of Deadpool’s nonconforming sexuality have been greatly exaggerated. Current (and somewhat longtime) Deadpool comic writer Gerry Duggan “confirmed” on Twitter a few years ago that the character was, in fact, something more than just straight.

Deadpool co-creator Fabian Nicieza has a convoluted theory for DP’s sexuality, stating, “Deadpool is whatever sexual inclination his brain tells him he is in THAT moment. And then the moment passes.” That’s a nice get-out-of-gay-free card, I guess. Perhaps fearing he got too much “gay” on his creation, Nicieza threw it back on the fans, getting it everywhere, saying:

Not trying to be dismissive, but readers always want to “make a character their own” and often that is to the exclusion of what the character might mean to other fans. I’ve been dogged with the DP sexuality questions for YEARS. It is a bit tiring. He is NO sex and ALL sexes. He is yours and everyone else’s. So not dismissive, but rather the epitome of inclusive.

Nice subtle dig at fandoms like Tumblr, by the way. Never has a statement itself been so inclusive and yet so excluding. “He’s everything, but he’s my everything. Stop drawing him kissing Peter Parker, nerds.”

Fan art depicting Deadpool hugging Spider-Man

Enter Spideypool. ribkaDory via deviantART

But this is Fabian Nicieza, the guy who tanked the X-Men at the height of their popularity, the guy who turned Ben Reilly into the “real” Spider-Man and made Peter the clone, so FUCK THIS GUY. Anyway, he ties Wade’s sexuality into the character’s insanity because gay people are crazy, right guys?

Fabian Nicieza

Here he is ruining a comic book with his signature. © Luigi Novi via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know whether anyone has asked Rob Liefeld, Deadpool’s other co-creator, how he feels about this. I do know that he hated it when someone wrote his character Shatterstar into a gay romance with a teammate, so I think we can take a guess at how he’s taking it. None of this amounts to much, though, when you look at DP’s general portrayal in the comics by any writer: irreverent, boundary-pushing provocateur at best, gay-panicky chauvinist murderer at worst. He’s currently married to a stacked Vampirella-type named Shiklah, the Queen of Monsters in the funny books. He’s dated Death (a female entity in the Marvel Universe), had a child with a woman, and never been connected to a male character romantically. The closest he gets to anything “gay” is off-handedly propositioning overtly masculine heroes and exploiting exaggerated gay stereotypes by, say, rollerblading in tiny shorts . . . both of which are, at least to this writer’s mind, clearly going for the joke (however lame) of “lolz why he do taht” and not trying to make a strong statement of his orientation. Anyway, telling Thor he has nice hair doesn’t exactly mean you’re grand marshaling Pride this year.

Vincent D'Onofrio as "Thor" in the film Adventures in Babysitting

Artist’s rendition.

Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds, director and star of Deadpool, respectively, are firmly on the pan wagon, too; Miller has reiterated “pansexual Deadpool” in interviews, and Reynolds has mused about Deadpool having a boyfriend in the all-but-certain sequel. But where would that come from, exactly? The film version of the character has one love interest: Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), an ostensibly straight woman. In fact, the entire plot of the film is Deadpool attempting to save his girlfriend from the clutches of the bad guys, all the while worrying that his newly disfigured face will mean she won’t be his girlfriend when he does. No other kind of relationship is even hinted at, and no matter how much he loves Bernadette Peters, wears Rent T-shirts, or idolizes Wham!, it all looks like going for the joke (again) to me. Yes, him enduring a pegging from said girlfriend in the film, while having nothing to do with his orientation, could suggest his openness to nontraditional roles of intimacy—but he doesn’t like it much, and anyway, it’s the just the butt of an International Women’s Day joke. Everything else in the film is pretty weak in that regard, and kissing a teenage boy on the cheek threateningly or conceding before the final showdown that your mortal enemy is, in fact, fairly attractive for a man doesn’t scream “pansexual” to me. I think I’ve even seen Bruce Willis do those exact things.

Hudson Hawk

Deadpool didn’t invent breaking the fourth wall.

The silver lining here is that, even though these straight male creators’ endless talk of a pansexual Deadpool appears to be hot air, the character they’ve brought to the screen remains resolutely open minded. Granted, that manifests itself mainly in his ability to insult and/or try to kill everyone of all colors, sexes, and orientations, but Deadpool is a red-pantsed Robin Hood at heart. He’s been a special-ops soldier and a morally flexible gun for hire, but the film opens with him (in his own twisted way) defending a teenage girl and refusing her payment for doing so. He’s helped on his path to revenge by a Benetton ad spectrum of characters and makes no race-specific jokes that they aren’t in on.

A great example is when he befriends the taxi driver, Dopinder (Karan Soni), who is the second speaking character in the film. At this point in my life—especially after seeing the great Master of None episode on the subject—I reflexively cringe when I see “Pakistani Cab Driver” or “Indian Convenience Store Guy” appear on the screen. But to ’Pool, Dopinder’s just a friend to talk to on the long ride to the shootout. Sure, Wade’s advice will almost guarantee that Dopinder will spend the next years of his life in jail, but it’s got nothing to do with race. (Bad advice there, Wade.) Another example is a later scene in which Deadpool is attacked by two women and has a debate with himself over whether he’s allowed to fight back and whether it would more sexist if he went easy on them. Potentially heady stuff for a comic-book movie, but the situation’s played for laughs and isn’t trying to open a new front in the gender-politics war. He’s just taking down, verbally and literally, people that get in his way. Deadpool “gets” it. He’s an asshole, but he gets it.

Spider-Man and Deadpool again

Oooone more Spideypool pic. Ribkadory via deviantART

So yes, the film does break boundaries, though not in the way the filmmakers seem to be focusing on. Deadpool‘s most forward aspects are its courageous use of R-rated content in a superhero feature and its casual deflation of the customary self-seriousness of a comic-book flick. The pansexual aspects of both the comic character and his film adaptation, though, I just don’t buy. And that’s OK. If comic-book film producers really wanted to change the trend of straight cis characters in the genre, they’d need look no further than the pages of their own source material; Deadpool, whatever he is, whatever he may turn out to be, is only one in an ever-growing (ahem) pool of LGBT characters.

I don’t have to hang all my hopes on one regenerating degenerate when characters like America Chavez, Wiccan, Hulkling, Prodigy, Batwoman, Renee Montoya, Bobby Drake, Moondragon, Phyla-Vell, Lord Fanny, and many others are out there waiting to be introduced and embraced by audiences who are hungry for more representation. And when it happens, Deadpool will be there . . . to make fun of them all.


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