James Gunn & What Superhero Movies Can Learn From Deadpool's Success

Deadpool IMAX teaser and poster

Fans of Wade "The Merc With a Mouth" spent years pushing for 20th Century Fox to make a live-action Deadpool solo film starring Ryan Reynolds and drawing from the script draft by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland), before test footage for director Tim Miller's vision of the project was leaked online in 2014. This proved to be the key development that helped the film on its journey to getting an official green-light, once Fox saw just how much demand there is for a Deadpool movie done right (read: not like the version of the character that Reynolds played in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Nevertheless, even the Merc's most die-hard fans have been taken off-guard by the sheer success of the project - not only in terms of the film's largely positive critical reception (read our review), but also its record-breaking opening weekend box office take, which set a new benchmark for the X-Men movie franchise in general... and yes, with an R Rating to boot. Naturally, this has fueled the discussion about not only what may come next for the X-Men film series (see that R-Rated X-Force movie that Reynolds hopes to make), but also the superhero genre in general.

Suffice it to say: Deadpool having grossed close to five times its $58 million budget during its opening weekend is a development that will have some effect on how studios approach upcoming superhero movie projects. However, the real lessons to take away here are far more universal (and useful) than "Make R-Rated superhero movies" or "Include fourth-wall breaking" (which is not to say either of those are inherently bad ideas, per se). Indeed, there's one filmmaker who has summed up the lessons to be taken away from Deadpool as simply, well, "Be Yourself" and "Be An Original."

Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus in Deadpool

After all, Deadpool, when you look below the "superhero origins movie" surface, actually has a unusual storyline for its genre. Namely, it's a film that's about a handsome guy who spends much of the film relentlessly pursuing another handsome, but evil, guy who made him ugly - in the hope of making the latter "cure" his bad looks, because the former believes his longtime girlfriend (Morena Baccarin) won't love him anymore otherwise.

In other words, Deadpool is a superhero movie that leads by example; its protagonist spends the majority of the movie needing to learn the lesson that the film itself very much embodies, which is that you should be yourself and trust that the people who really care about you will love you for you... even if who you are is an immature, possibly insane, and now messed-up looking mercenary. It's safe to say at this point that hardcore Deadpool fans by and large do, in fact, love the movie for exactly what it is - a sendup of superhero tropes filled with inspired gags and lowbrow humor - and that, in turn, studios would do well to take the same lesson to heart that Wade Wilson does in the movie.

Deadpool - Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin

That said, Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn has already expressed his concern that Hollywood will take the wrong lesson away from Deadpool's success - via his Facebook post, where he comments on (okay, rants about) a recently-published Deadline that claims that Deadpool is the first modern Marvel comic book movie adaptation that "pokes fun at itself":

Let's ignore Guardians for a moment, a movie that survives from moment to moment building itself up and cutting itself down - God knows I'm biased about that one. But what do you think Favreau and Downey did in Iron Man? What the f**k was Ant-Man??!

Come on, Deadline.

After every movie smashes records people here in Hollywood love to throw out the definitive reasons why the movie was a hit. I saw it happen with Guardians. It "wasn't afraid to be fun" or it "was colorful and funny" etc etc etc. And next thing I know I hear of a hundred film projects being set up "like Guardians," and I start seeing dozens of trailers exactly like the Guardians trailer with a big pop song and a bunch of quips. Ugh.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Seeing as nearly sixteen years have gone by since Hugh Jackman's Wolverine asked Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier "What do they call you - Wheels?" in director Bryan Singer's X-Men, Gunn has a solid point about how short-sighted it is to insinuate that superhero films took themselves (and the tropes of their genre) seriously, prior to the release of Deadpool. Most comic book/superhero movies might not take their self-aware humor to the extreme that Deadpool does (with its "fourth wall within fourth wall" jokes), but self-deprecatory humor and winks to the camera are practically part of Marvel Studios' film brand, like Gunn noted.

Heck, even a superhero film as brooding and straight-faced as director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel takes the time to include a scene where General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) is amused the first time someone refers to Kal-El as "Superman."

NEXT PAGE: The REAL Reason for Deadpool's Success

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