There’s a lot riding on the shoulders of Deadpool 2. That seems odd to say considering no-one really expected the first Deadpool to be all that big of a hit and it’s not like there’s been much of a shortage of superhero movies over the last decade anyway.
But with the prospect of a Disney take-over of rival studio Fox – home of a handful of Marvel comics properties, including the failed Fantastic Four films and the X-Men movies and their spin-offs (Logan, Deadpool) – and the other major superhero franchise in Warner’s DC titles struggling aside from Wonder Woman, it may not be too long before superhero movies at the cinema reflect what’s on comic book shelves: two main companies and not a lot else. Which is a problem, because one of those companies (DC) can’t seem to get their movies to work and the other (Marvel) seems to have thrown away a lot of the goodwill generated by their last few films with an Avengers movie that has failed to satisfy a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.
The relevant complaint here is that the most recent Avengers movie feels a little too much like a disdainful cash grab, the kind of power move a studio makes when they know you’re going to be coming along for the ride so they can focus entirely on what they want to give you – a series of advertisements promoting characters they’ll be putting into future movies where audiences can but hope they get to do something slightly more interesting. It’s been a reminder that Disney has always been a company with both eyes on the marketing prize, and the moment they think that marketing and storytelling are in conflict storytelling is heading out the door. Which is a concern, because at the moment they’re leading the superhero market, and the superhero market is what’s keeping Hollywood ticking over.
Avengers: Infinity War has already made a billion dollars and it’s barely a movie in any conventional sense; if Marvel decides that the thing that’s making them all the money is simply smashing popular characters together, then that’ll be the movies we get for the next decade. But the surprise success of the first Deadpool showed that superhero movies with old-fashioned virtues – characters, jokes, memorable action, a halfway decent story – could also bring in the crowds. And that’s why Deadpool 2 is so important.
If it fizzles out, then the first one was a fluke and we can all go back to figuring out ways to make superhero movies more like watching three hours of commercials. If it’s a hit – and more importantly, if it’s the kind of hit that has people leaving the cinemas glad they saw it – then it means there’s room for a variety of approaches to superheroes beyond the mighty Marvel movie manner. Which is important for movies in general, because while having maybe ten superhero movies come out a year doesn’t sound like much, when those ten movies make up 80% of the conversation about movies, they really need to mix things up a little or movies themselves are going to seem kind of boring.
And with everything else out there competing for our attention, “boring” just isn’t going to cut it.