Opinion: ‘Deadpool 2’, White Male Toxicity, and Tokenism

A few weeks ago, Deadpool 2, the sequel to the 2016 comic book action flick/rom-com, opened at a successful yet comparatively underwhelming $125 million at the box office, missing its $130-150 million target. On its second weekend, it dropped at an alarming 66% against Avengers: Infinity War and the opening to Solo: A Star Wars Story–meaning there is an apparent large gap between the performance of the first film and its sequel.

Theorizing about its box office performance is a more complicated conversation, as there are tons of factors going into these numbers (in fact, I would love if the money bar would stop raising for huge blockbusters). However, I do find that it is time to question if whether or not Deadpool‘s Family Guy-esque brand of humor and egregious use of comedic, lighthearted violence can stay relevant in the charged times we’re currently living in. Is Deadpool simply just outdated for the majority of today’s modern audience? For me anyway, the answer is: absolutely.

Since 2016, we’ve only grown to start having conversations about the assets of respectability, tokenism, and violence in our movies. While a lot of studio movies are still stuck in the past, and are still not making enough effort to progress, there’s a lot to be desired with how Deadpool 2 handles inclusiveness and diversity. This entry adds a found family plot of misfit outcasts, boasts an LGBT couple, and adds some people of color to X-Force team, so it’s certain Fox was trying to adjust itself with the movement this time around. But let’s face it, the approach of these films needs major refocusing. The Deadpool franchise wants to play up its representation for the brownie points, but it also wants to maintain its edgy brand of humor at the expense of its marginalized characters. You simply can’t have it both ways.

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Shiori Kutsuna as Yukio and Briana Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, both in this movie for about 5 minutes.

When the first Deadpool movie stepped into the comic book landscape in 2016, it was highly praised for being a subversive move by Ryan Reynolds, validating the idea that Rated R comic book films can be successful; however, it doesn’t really do much to break the mold. Reynolds’s interpretation of Wade Wilson is a full white male power fantasy, who saves the manic pixie dream girl from distress, and then deals with the man-pain of her death. Both of the films often poke fun at comic book film tropes, but then don’t do much to break them, as they rely on constructing their emotional beats with “been there, done that” conventions. Deadpool is a character that has the potential to be both the fourth wall meta-action hero that the common audience knows him as, but these films absolutely fail to allow him to be anything more than he was built up to be in comics’ canon.

Important assets from Wade’s comic origins–gripping with his child sexual abuse, his pansexuality, his longing to become a parent and right the wrongs of his own father–are often skimmed over or used as punchlines. The comic iterations of Wade Wilson generated a large LGBT fanbase through his open pansexuality, and the producers confirmed he was canonically pansexual offscreen, but the text in the film itself never plays Wade’s attraction to men as anything other than a joke. It’s invalidating and infuriating to see Fox try to appeal to the LGBT Deadpool fans while also trying to cater towards the general heterosexual white male audience. The dumbing down of Wade Wilson’s interesting character depth to make him a commercialized, toxic nerd icon to appeal to straight white men should have already been enough damage the Deadpool movies have contributed, but for the sequel, the pandering became even more damaging as it undermined its own storytelling.

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Deadpool flirting with Thor.

Deadpool 2 is a movie with themes about found family, people from different backgrounds and different traumas coming together and learning to be better from each other–or at least it says that it is. Every character of color except for the amazing Firefist played by Julian Dennison (one of the only plotlines that worked for me), was sidelined, stereotyped or, sometimes violently, degraded in service of the film’s humor (lines such as, “Black Black Widow,” and “Brown Panther”). You begin to wonder, who is this movie for? What is the point of this blatant tokenism and forced family narrative if the filmmakers themselves can’t even validate these different groups of people it tries to represent? Any emotional core this film tries to have is bankrupt in service of degrading its characters so that Wade is the star of the show.

At this point, the direction of this franchise is set. The claims to being a self-aware movie have already charted its course and probably won’t acknowledge the issues presented. If somehow Deadpool 3 makes it out of the Disney/Fox deal alive, they have a lot of work to do to get me to believe this group of misfits is a truly a family.

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