Misreading the Success of Deadpool

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Deadpool is currently making a killing at the box office (pun intended). And good for Ryan Reynolds! After so many horrid miscastings, he deserves the perfect role of Wade Wilson. But critics and commentators are far too eager to jump the gun on what this success means. So let me state, as a lone voice of reason, that the success of R-rated Deadpool does not herald a dramatic change in how Hollywood should think of superhero films. The success of R-rated Deadpool just means the success of R-rated Deadpool.

To read some articles, one might think the days of family friendly superhero films are dead. Get ready for Captain America to start waterboarding and for Superman to shoot that porno with Big Barda (That’s a joke Zack Snyder. Don’t get any ideas!). This epic leap to conclusions, though, is an example of how Hollywood gets superheroes wrong and ends up with so many box office flops. They see what worked with one Superhero and decide to apply it to all superheroes. A love triangle worked for X-Men? Let’s bring it over to Superman! Dark and gritty worked for Batman? By all means, dirty up that big blue boy scout and Marvel’s First Family while we’re at it!

Do you want to know why Deadpool is smashing through records at the box office? Here it is, for once and for all, the secret formula for any studio to make a wildly successful superhero film: It’s because Deadpool remains true to the character of Deadpool! Nobody would have bothered to see a PG-rated Deadpool because that’s not who he is! This is why the PG-13 Avengers was such a landmark hit and the PG-13 Man of Steel is the most divisive film in fandom history. No, superheroes aren’t just for children, but they’re not just for adults either, or families, or adolescents, or geriatrics, or whatever. Superheroes fulfill a variety of roles in our cultural mythology. Instead of trying to shoehorn them all into one formula of storytelling, take the time to consider each character. Which type of their stories resonate with the most people? These archetypes have been functioning in our culture for ages. It’s time Hollywood stopped assuming they can redefine them with an “update” and expect to us to pay them for it.

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