Batman and Superman coming to bloody, bare-fisted blows. Wolverine slicing villains in half. Iron Man cursing his shiny metal head off. These images might not be as far-fetched as you think.
The success of Deadpool has set Hollywood on fire and now the industry is trying to find the next Deadpool. What does that mean for an industry that has given us more superhero films than weeks in the year? According to studios, this means more R-rated superhero pictures are on the way. But is it what audiences really want or is Hollywood totally missing the message of the film’s runaway success?
Sure enough, we are already hearing news of an R-rated cut of Batman V Superman and a possible R-rated Wolverine film. It’s obvious that studios think we want superheroes who curse and maim and maybe even show off their hind quarters. But they’re missing the mark. It’s not the R-rated excess we want, it’s something different and unique.
Deadpool had lots and lots of violence and extremely adult material. It was certainly the first of its kind in that regard. However, that’s not what audiences are responding to. Instead, they’re drawn to a film that doesn’t feel so similar to the countless superhero films that came before it. Audiences are attracted to the solid script and fleshed-out characters. That’s what ticket buyers are reacting to, not the fact that Deadpool says the F-word a bunch of times.
Not only are superhero films starting to feel excessively similar, they are starting to require a lot more work from the viewers. To really enjoy the latest Avengers film, you need knowledge of the other films that came before it. Batman V Superman requires prior viewings and will certainly invite you to watch all the sequels and spin-offs. And the X-Men movies? Forget about it, there’s only about a hundred of those that are needed to really like the latest one. For many movie fans (like yours truly) this kind of effort isn’t a hassle because it’s a genre well-loved. For many moviegoers, however, some of these franchises are starting to feel like episodes in a series rather than films that can be enjoyed on their own.
A great thing about Deadpool was that it existed in the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe while still feeling independent. Obviously, it made multiple references to X-Men and even included a few of them. Yet it was a rather small film that didn’t require viewings of anything else. You could walk into the theater without having ever seen those other movies and still dig Deadpool. That was such a refreshing change. That’s what audiences are enjoying, not the fact that the main character made multiple dirty jokes (though those were fun too).
Deadpool was fun. Lots of fun. If studios make their films rated R but miss out on making them more fun, they are totally shooting themselves in the foot. Watch the trailer for Batman V Superman or Captain America: Civil War or X-Men: Apocalypse. They are heavy. While these don’t need to be full-on comedies, a joke or two wouldn’t kill them. We have once again reached a point in cinema history where the comic book movies are dark and heavy and “gritty.” Deadpool was a welcome change of pace. Sure, a lot of its fun was derived from its childish, not-safe-for-work jokes but the lesson here lies in the lightness, not the crassness. Instead of focusing on the rating, focus on the content and how enjoyable it is. A superhero film can be fun and light like Deadpool without being as naughty and adult.
Here’s a major thing studios should be taking away from Deadpool: audiences want characters who are different and well-rounded. In a lot of ways, the success of Deadpool is like the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. Audiences are always starving for well-written, well-rounded, likable and interesting characters. New characters. We love Spider-Man and Batman and all their super friends but we have been with them for decades now. When someone new shows up on the scene – whether it be a talking tree and raccoon or The Merc With a Mouth – we get excited. That’s what happened with Deadpool. Yes, he was dirty and violent but he was someone different and fresh. G, PG, PG-13 or R – that’s what’s creating such buzz about the film. That’s not to say studios shouldn’t give us more of our beloved and reliable characters but dig in deep and find ways to make them feel new.
It seems likely that studios will disregard these examples of greatness from Deadpool. Instead, we will get an R-rated Wolverine and Batman V Superman and who knows what else. In fact, we could be on the verge of a new trend in Hollywood: vulgar superheroes. But vulgarity isn’t why Deadpool is blowing up theaters and the movie industry would be silly to ignore that. There’s so much more going on in Deadpool beyond its MPAA rating. There’s opportunity for growth and novel ideas in the superhero genre but it’s not just about bad words and bloodshed.