One’s preference in superhero movies says a lot about the individual, I think. That’s not to presume that you’re a flag-waving boy scout if you appreciate “Captain America: The First Avenger”, or a psychopathic gun nut should you dig “Punisher: War Zone”. But within our appreciation lies something less obvious, much deeper and more personal that is integral to who we are.
I just got back from seeing “Deadpool”. Now, despite my long held disinterest in the character, I am a lifelong Marvel fan. So I knew enough about “The Merc With A Mouth” to realize how badly “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” had mangled Deadpool (literally and character-wise) in 2009. I followed the bumpy road to faithful cinematic interpretation that Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller had taken since then, never fully believing they’d get their shot at doing a “true” Deadpool movie, but rooting for them anyway. So when the “leaked” (or planted, if you’re a comic movie conspiracy theorist) “Deadpool” footage went viral awhile back, and Fox realized they had a ready-made hit on their hands, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a faithfully interpreted film was, in fact, going to happen.
Pleasant surprisedly. But not excited. Just interested enough to dodge indifference.
So the movie went into production, played the back-scratching game with Fox by accepting a smaller budget for the freedom to be appropriately rated R in their execution, followed by a cheeky marketing campaign and eventually, a tsunami of nerd-fervour leading up to its release, and as of its Valentine’s Day unveiling, making it thus far the most successful film of 2016.
Again, I’m a Marvel fan. And unlike Fox’s recent “Fantastic Four” reboot, which I had zero interest or faith in (only Marvel Studios themselves can do those characters right, in my opinion), “Deadpool” was the little superhero movie that could, and I wanted to see its success on screen, regardless of my feelings for the character. The hype for it was huge, and well deserved. It gave Deadpool fans all the action, violence, humor and accuracy they deserved. But I’m not a Deadpool fan, and much of that was lost on me. I liked it, sure. But I don’t have that history with Deadpool, or the connectivity to him to make me love his movie as much as I do some superhero films.
Of course, I wasn’t a fan of the original “Guardians of the Galaxy comics, either. I owned some dog-eared copies from the 70’s, and was aware of their more modern interpretations in the early 2000’s, but the characters never did it for me. So when they announced “Guardians” as an unlikely entry into Marvel Studio’s heretofore mainstream roster of superhero films, I scratched my head with just a bit less confusion than those who’d never heard of the comic.
But as I followed the film’s development, saw the wild card director they’d chosen in James Gunn and geeked out over the inspired casting, my faith and excitement in the film hit maximum capacity. Seeing it on screen was sheer unadulterated bliss for me. I told more than a few friends that “Guardians” felt like a movie I would have made myself, from the 70’s pop soundtrack (I exclaimed “That’s my jam!” on every track, and reveled in how they wove them into the action and plot), to the designs, the humor, and to the choice of making a fuzzy little grump a central character (if you’ve read my comic “Bodie Troll”, you’ll understand my fondness for Rocket raccoon). And I still believe that Howard the Duck’s cameo is the greatest after-credits scene Marvel has ever done (as a thirty-year fan of Howard, I acknowledge my bias).
The point is, I found myself within the film, in many different ways. I related to Peter Quill, an outsider by circumstance, a goofball with mommy issues, and a character capable of being bad, but who still had a code that tilted him toward being good. I could relate to Rocket for being an ornery cuss who feels cursed by his appearance. And I could relate to Groot for his sweetness, and his clumsy affection for his friends. But “Deadpool” wasn’t me in any way. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie. But I couldn’t tuck it away within my secretive little nerd soul and make it a part of me, as I had with “Guardians”, or with other comic book films that washed over me in other such glorious ways (Robin William’s “Popeye” is still the gold standard for my superhero film appreciation).
But I’m sure “Deadpool” did have a profound effect on some viewers as these other films had on me, and that’s what I appreciate about the superhero movie genre. There’s something for everybody, which allows us in our individual ways to peel back the facades of our secret identities, and to soar through the magic of cinema as we truly see ourselves.