The first Deadpool broke cinematic records ($132M opening weekend - highest revenue for an R-rated movie). It got a Golden Globe nomination (as did Ryan Reynolds). I never thought I'd see a Marvel comics character get a Golden Globe nomination - ever. Such a great moment!
Deadpool 2 is repeating the first movie’s success with $502M in 2 weeks worldwide. It also included some cameo appearances with real X-Men (spoiler: Professor X and The Beast), some non-CGI X-Men, more of the same great cast, and 30 extra minutes. It broke more 4th walls and humor ethics than I can count. But they are now a proven franchise, so they can get away with it.
To sum up: Deadpool is a great character. Ryan Reynolds does a phenomenal interpretation. And it’s a tremendous Marvel franchise.
I pondered this question as I was walking into the theater to see Deadpool 2. People buy into brands because they can connect to them emotionally. If Ryan Reynolds was the only reason for Deadpool’s success, then I wouldn’t be one of the 5 Green Lantern fans in the world or a handful of Hannibal King fans (from Blade 3), or love The Proposal because of Sandra Bullock (wait a minute!). The Green Lantern character, Hal Jordan, was hard to relate to because he was an arrogant jerk, and only got super powers because an alien ring thought he meant well. He was a nice guy under all the arrogant veneer, but that was hard to see and the script didn't help make that come alive. Same with Hannibal King in Blade 3 - loved the jokes, the sarcasm, liked the backstory, but I didn't get to know who Hannibal really was and I couldn't connect to him emotionally.
However, Deadpool is one complex guy. He’s a contract killer, who deeply loves his girlfriend. He wants to live (ok, at some point he wants to die because he's like the EverReady Bunny and can’t stop ticking, but he was willing to get an experimental mutation to survive cancer). He often wants revenge - especially for Francis and then Cable. He’s someone we can all relate to in many ways. How many of us have wanted revenge?
Now, I don’t mean that we are all secretly contract killers. Or we want to become a mutant to cure our cancer ("I didn’t just get the cure to el cancer, I got the cure to el everything."). Or we'll hunt people down to kill them for revenge. We connect to Deadpool because we can relate events from our own lives (and their related emotions) to his thoughts and emotions.
We can all relate to Deadpool trying to mean well with selfish motives. How many of us do something nice for someone just because, for no reason? I thought not. It’s not bad, but it is something that we often won’t admit to. Look at his relationship with the cab driver, Dopinder. He gives him advice to win over his girlfriend, but not advice that's good for Dopinder - it's advice that Deadpool would use for himself. Or he gives Colossus a call when he needs muscle rather than just to say hello and get a coffee for no reason. And then there was his girlfriend who he avoided because he couldn't bear the rejection if his new mug scared her away. I think most of us can relate to all of that. I think some of us (me included) are guilty of some of those actions from time to time. It's human nature to be a little selfish (that's why we have religions - they help us try to get out of that nonsense.)
We can also relate to his need for revenge. Who wouldn't want to go after the ass who made you look like "an avocado who had revenge sex with another avocado?" Maybe we'd try to kill that person in our fantasies, though. And that's the hook. Deadpool does what we only dream.
He's also highly creative and says what most of us only think about. One of the best lines: "You're going to be killed by a Zamboni."
Again, not advocating for killing, but how many of us would want to say something like that in a similar situation? Right! But many of us wouldn't because we'd be afraid of hurting someone's fee-fees. Most of Deadpool's lines break through that nonsense and get right to those feelings. Here are some more classics where he uses words to cut like a knife:
- “I want to die a natural death at the age of 102 – like the city of Detroit.”
- “You can’t buy love, but you can rent it for three minutes!”
- “Okay guys, I only have twelve bullets, so you’re all going to have to share!”
But we don't just connect through his sarcasm or lack of filter. The connection goes deeper than all of that.
I think we all secretly see Deadpool as an aspirational character - someone who accepts himself and his faults unapologetically and enjoys being Deadpool. He’s not trying to be a hero. In fact, he avoids it because then he can’t be himself. Look at the conversation he often has with Colossus regarding what it means to be a hero. Heroes only need a handful of moments and good choices to be a hero (and Deadpool tends to reject them all, except for 2-3). But this is what makes him unique. He isn't perfect, and he sometimes tries, but mostly he is concerned with being himself and doing what he does best - and this is best.
He's unlike the rest of the Marvel universe. Thor and Iron Man don't really acknowledge that they have any flaws. Captain America beats himself up for his faults (he even beat himself up for what happened with Peggy Carter, which wasn't his fault.). The Hulk wrestles with which guy is showing up - the big green ball of violence or the overeducated doctor. All of these heroes try to do the right thing, but they are trying to improve themselves on purpose. Deadpool either openly admits that he kills people for revenge (or by accident) or is a good guy because he wants to be. That's admirable at some level and makes him a lot like Rogers.
Deadpool is comfortable with who he is, regenerative powers and all. He's who we all secretly wish we could be. His quirks, sarcasm, and need for revenge help us feel pangs of empathy towards him to love him as he is in the same way Mark Darcy loves Bridget Jones.
Heck, even Dopinder wants to be like Deadpool. And I think it's because he could relate to him (Dopinder put his girlfriend's suitor in his trunk and kill him in Deadpool 1 to impress Deadpool?) - it was the self-acceptance and confidence (even bravado) of Deadpool.
So the next time that someone says that a successful brand doesn't require empathy and connection, think about Deadpool and how in some ways, we are all a little like Deadpool inside. We can connect with his character and feel empathy (more on empathy). We can all look at our pasts and find situations and events that are kinda/sorta like what's in the movie, without the gratuitous violence. And that's why that movie is the top performing R rated movie. Ever.
Besides The Last Temptation of Christ by Mel Gibson in Aramaic (but who speaks Aramaic these days, anyway?).