This is not a review. I’m not good at old school film reviewing, Ebert style. I am better at meta that focuses on one thing about a movie and really pull apart its representation by theme. I have read great posts about Deadpool and sexuality, about trauma, and the film’s depiction of women and I recommend reading all of those. What I want to talk about here is social class.
For all Captain America’s 1930s Brooklyn poverty back-story, where does that come out on screen? He has a nice spacious apartment, and his friends are a warrior god from a feudal society, a highly-educated doctor with anger management issues, and a billionaire tech magnate. I hope Sam Wilson, Falcon, might turn out to be a little less privileged, so they can actually talk about normal people things – this should be in the upcoming Civil War movies, because it’s a major reason Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are different and just will not agree. It is, therefore, significant that Wade Wilson is very much not middle or upper-class like our other Marvel heroes.
Wade lives in a tiny bedsit, takes poorly paid jobs threatening teenage stalkers, and dresses like he had $5 to his name in a thrift store that takes the Sally Army rejects. I want to high-five Ryan Reynolds just for that. There is no point in this film where Reynolds gets to be the pretty boy; worst haircut imaginable, unflattering tracksuit, promotional t-shirts for 90s shows. (And that’s before we get to the prosthetics.) Wade’s comrades in the mercenaries’ bar dress for impact as bikers and brawlers, they look scary. Wade just looks poor. In narrative terms within a few minutes we get hints of a traumatic, abusive past, a stint in the armed forces that teaches him physical skills, a job as a mercenary, and cancer. Wade Wilson is very aware of his body, the space it takes up in the world, and its (potential) effect on other people.
Dead bodies, bleeding bodies, sexy bodies, traumatised bodies, badly-dressed bodies. From the beautifully shot bullet-time opening sequence, it’s made pretty clear that this is a film that is all about embodied experience – Deadpool is Deadpool because of what happens to his body. How does an attractive white man lose his specific privilege of being able to move unmarked through the world? To be able to go anywhere and be confident of a basic level of acceptance? The obvious answer here is disability, which Wade comes to realise once he is disfigured. But even before that, Wade’s poverty is visible. He is used to being judged by other people. His constant verbalisation and his violence are a direct result. Why has he got such a smart mouth? It’s a defence mechanism from before he had actual defensive moves, and access to guns.
And who are the real bad guys in this film? It’s not the grifters in the dive bars, the sex workers they date, or the henchmen just earning a crust for their family (Hi, Hydra Bob!). It’s the money making white men in suits manipulating them all for profit. Why does Wade find Ajax’s real name – Francis – so funny, and such a source of fiction between them? I’d say not because it’s effeminate, as some critics have suggested, but because it sounds cultured. Normal guys, like my grandfather in fact, just shorten it to Frank. Comedy over. Francis isn’t just another mutant; he has the connections, and the hired staff, to negotiate real power. What Francis and the men in suits are creating are super-serfs, hired out for their labour, but retaining none of the profit themselves. He outright laughs at Wade’s assumption that he will retain his autonomy once he’s become super-powered. Even with superpowers and autonomy, Wade still finds himself living in a shitty basement apartment, in the wrong part of town, using the laundromat. And his room mate is Blind Al, a disabled black woman.
No, this film does not pass the Bechdel test, and no it’s female characters don’t get autonomous screen time, and most of the non-white people on film are selling stuff in a street market. But these people aren’t objects and background colour, they’re workers and wasters just like the named characters. And they’re often funny in their own right. Your Marxism isn’t worth shit if it isn’t intersectional (as Engels probably said).
This is a film about how the 90% are screwed. This is a fun, beat-em-up comedy in which the violence ends in real pain, and actual death. There’s no secret base full of tech, no doctors and life insurance, to put people back together again. The anti-hero goes home and bleeds on the sofa into a dirty towel. The jokes aren’t about whose girlfriend is the most educated and successful (cough Avengers cough), they’re about building Ikea flatpack furniture when one of you is blind, and one missing a hand. Or about getting rid of your more handsome and successful cousin, and romantic rival. It’s dark, and twisted, and oddly real. Even if we suddenly had superpowers, what exactly would we be able to do with them? Wow, Wade, you can totally dodge paying for taxis by being super-scary. Neat. Deadpool might not be the first mainstream queer hero on screen, as some of us hoped, but he’s the first really working class superbody Marvel has put on screen yet.