No one can argue that Deadpool hasn’t been everything Ryan Reynolds dreamed of: it’s a blockbuster success, busting all kinds of records, and fans seem to love it. Lady Geek Girl loved it and pointed out how it’s actually a progressive and feminist superhero movie. There are so many things you can say about the movie, but today I want to take a moment to take another look at why it’s such a feminist movie. Too often our movies, particularly super hero or adventure movies, treat women like fragile prizes. Namely, it’s the male hero who gets the beautiful lady, and she rewards him at the end of the plot with sex and/or romance. These movies promote a narrative that says men should aspire to treat women in a particular way, like fragile and virtuous dolls. Deadpool smashes that narrative to bits.
Deadpool plays pretty fast and loose with all kinds of the usual tropes, from the opening credits through the whole of the movie. It’s the meta-humor that’s part of the merc’s charm, and part of what makes the movie so entertaining. The movie tries to make fun of as many of those tropes as it can. But within the plot there’s actually a great contrast established between Deadpool and Colossus.
Deadpool is our antihero—he hates authority and his moral code is totally internally driven. Deadpool does what Deadpool thinks is right, not really because it’s right, but because Deadpool wants to do it. Sometimes that means he acts heroically, sometimes that means he’s the villain. On the other hand, Colossus is our stand-in for the traditional male superhero. He’s a member of the X-men and lives at Xavier’s school. He’s powerful because he’s big and strong. If Colossus were an RPG character, someone maxed out his constitution and strength points, while Deadpool is all dexterity (with regenerative healing and a red suit for when he gets hit, of course). Colossus has a spunky sidekick trainee. He constantly nags Deadpool to do the right, honorable, acceptable, appropriate thing, mostly by trying to get Deadpool to join the X-men team. Deadpool says whatever (hilariously) crass thought pops into his brain, and is the ultimate independent rebel. These two men couldn’t be more different.
What’s even more striking, though, is how these two men treat women. Colossus, our stereotypical male hero, clearly embraces the traditional gender role stereotype. He certainly doesn’t believe women are only good for homemaking and babymaking, but he embraces a kind of chivalry that was all the rage a few generations ago. Colossus seems to be a bumbling, stoic father figure to Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who rolls her eyes and begrudgingly does what he asks. He cares about her, but he doesn’t really get her. When Colossus goes up against Angel, a powerful female superhero, he begins by more or less asking for a truce because he doesn’t want to hit a woman. Colossus can’t plead ignorance to her power, either; she’s just performed a spectacular “super hero landing” jump from the top of a building, clearly showcasing her toughness. So naturally, with Colossus refusing to make the first move, Angel knocks him on his ass, and then two start fighting. She’s every bit the equal to his power. In a moment where Angel has a wardrobe malfunction (seriously, why aren’t there more wardrobe malfunctions when heroes have to wear sexy outfits?), Colossus pauses to tell her about it while blocking her breast with his hand from the audience’s view, and she politely thanks him… right before using the distraction to knock him on his ass again.
Colossus’ instincts are to protect women simply because they’re women. He doesn’t want to fight Angel because it’s not polite, and the only reason why it’s not polite to fight women is because they’re “supposed to” be the physically weaker sex. He shields the audience to protect Angel’s modesty, because protecting a woman’s virtue (chiefly, through modesty) is important because women are “supposed to” be more virtuous than men. But Angel is
Ajax’s Francis’s trusted right-hand woman, his partner in nefarious crimes, and partially responsible for Deadpool’s torture. She’s a bad guy! She’s not virtuous, by any sense of the word.
On the other hand, Deadpool is a hero with an incredibly modern attitude toward women. When Deadpool meets Negasonic Teenage Warhead, he teases her about her sullen attitude. After he unsuccessfully sends Colossus at Angel, he turns to Negasonic and gives her a go, and discovers that she’s basically an atomic warhead. Deadpool’s genuinely impressed with her power, not because she’s a teenage girl, but because she’s clearly more powerful than any of them there. By the end of the movie, Deadpool gets Negasonic to crack a smile. Instead of trying to be another father figure, Deadpool acts like an older brother.
What’s more important is how the movie treats Deadpool’s “damsel”, Vanessa. Vanessa is basically the total antithesis to the ideal feminine lady. She’s beautiful, sure, but that’s it. She’s a sex worker with a past, and enjoys her job. When
Deadpool Wade Wilson attempts to propose marriage to her, she tries to ask him to put “it” in her something we never hear. She’s incredibly sexually adventurous and enthusiastic about it. She’s hilarious and offbeat and crass and every bit the personality match of Wade. When Vanessa is captured and fridged, she’s able to break out and gets in on the action, even though she’s the least physically powerful person there. In captivity she’s pretty fearless, and shows more emotion when she realizes that Wade is alive and was hiding from her. Anything Deadpool does to save her is because he loves her so much, not because she’s a defenseless lady. And Deadpool must save her not because she’s a woman, but because he has superpowers and she doesn’t. Heading into battle, Deadpool calls Vanessa his “future baby mama”. The line works because Vanessa has been already established as anything but a typical baby mama. If Colossus had said a similar line about one of his love interests, we would assume that on some level, he expects her to be that baby mama. The fact that Vanessa is a woman is totally incidental to her character. Swap her with any other gender identity and the whole movie still works. This is because the movie treats her like a person, not an object to be protected or won.
Deadpool’s Deadpool shows us a man who treats women well, in both platonic and romantic contexts. This movie isn’t genre-bashing because it’s the first wildly successful R-rated superhero movie. It’s not progressive because it’s crass. It’s a feminist movie because it shows how a modern male hero should treat women. Modern people don’t want a White Knight, they want a partner in crime. Until Hollywood wakes up and starts giving us more well-rounded female leads in our superhero movies, they should take a page out of Wade Wilson’s notebook.