Monday, April 04, 2016

The Morality of Deadpool

So Deadpool has been out and it was a lot of fun. Pew! Pew!

I wanna talk morality. It’s as close as this movie gets to having a theme. F’r fuckssake, the thing begins with a slo-mo, 3D pan of Deadpool killin’ folks to the tune of “Angel,” which is designed to tell you as quickly as possible Deadpool is no angel.

I'm pretty sure this is the right song.

“Deadpool is not a hero” is this movie’s mantra spelled out in dead bodies. It’s one half theme, one-half marketing gimmick. “This isn’t your dad’s superhero,” it says a mere seven to fifteen years into the first age of superhero films. There’s no paradigm to overturn that Wolverine & Tony Stark didn’t overturn on day fucking one. It’s edgy.

What I’m saying in a tortured but entertaining way that becomes less entertaining with each pop-culture reference is that Deadpool doth protest too much. Deadpool doesn’t give us any big moral speeches, but it clearly espouses an ideology through its protagonist. 

It’s best explored by sandwiching him between Francis, Deadpool’s villain, and Colossus, pictured here as the first paladin in every nerd circle’s first game of D&D.

The zeitgeist is so allergic to sincere goodness that Deadpool has to create the very hero they’re subverting. Deadpool’s Colossus doesn’t come from any source that exists in superhero movies short of what DC thinks will happen if you whisper “Superman” into a script three times.

“Wade, you’re wasting your talents.” “Wade, watch your language.” “Wade, quit killing people.” Can we retire the nagging housewife archetype and replace it with the Shitty Colossus archetype? “Man, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Chief O’Brien’s wife kind of a real shitty colossus.” 

Skyler White…not a shitty colossus.

Hollywood likes to jabber on about the spiritual damage of killing without actually understanding it. In terms of creating a story which illustrates that damage? Fugget about it. “It’s real bad” they assure us, as the grizzled heroic killer stops killing for a scene or two to act kinda sad about all of the murder that’s solving his problems.

This shitty colossus is at least honest in that he encapsulates everything Hollywood and their customers really think about traditional morality.

Francis, on the other hand, has gained superpowers at the cost of his nerve endings. He literally doesn’t feel & Ed Skrein does a pretty good job of selling that. His first words of introduction are the changes in his personality that have happened since gaining his powers. 

He attributes it to his work with Weapon X (or whatever), and given that he’s just a British villain for Deadpool to play off of, that’s as much depth as he gets. He sells tortured mutants into slavery and wants to kill our protagonist. He is the worst and he can’t feel his tortures obviously exist so he can feel something. 

He is evil and depraved because he can’t feel.

Deadpool feels. He is passionate to the point of irrationality, but he rejects the need for any set of principles. Is he good or bad then? He stiffs Dopinder. But he doesn’t kill pizza guy because he doesn’t have to.  He’s apparently done a lot of things that we’re assured are “real bad” and I take that on faith. On the other hand, he does give goons the opportunity to walk away. 

It’s a do-anything myopic morality that only pretends to subvert convention. He kills people because they act in the movie shorthand for bad guys and he spares them when he’s speaking in the movie shorthand for good guy. Everyone he kills has it coming. You never once say to yourself, “Maybe Deadpool shouldn’t have killed that guy.” 

I mentioned him letting goons walk away before but that’s salient; he literally makes them opt in to their own murders like it’s an Obama-led change in banking regulations from The Federal Reserve. Spoilers: Deadpool is a nice guy who kills bad people.

Deadpool doesn’t carry around a duffel bag of morality like Colossus. He’s no Francis either, motivated solely by anhedonia and profit. That he’s bookended by these two douchebags defined by their morality forces Deadpool’s actions to take a moral meaning.

He’s not a bog-standard action movie hero stopping the story to talk about how he’s uglier inside than out*, because that stops the movie. We’ve never liked that morality because we recognize it as an incongruous lie. Not a lie from a character but a lie from a movie which gleefully justifies every act of violence and destructive change wrought on the world by a self-righteous protagonist.

Deadpool has a moral code in the best tradition of Hollywood; he knows he’s in a movie and he knows that as the protagonist every action he takes is supported with a story, a POV, and a kick-ass score. His morality is one and the same as the morality of the warped, false world in which he exists. It’s the same old morality, he’s just done away with the pretense.


And possibly broken the fourth wall in doing so.

*actually he says these exact words and it’s excruciating.

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