“Deadpool 2,” the sequel to 2015’s extraordinarily unlikely hit “Deadpool,” arrives in theaters this weekend, proudly bringing with it Deadpool’s trademark gross-out humor and R-rating. But R-rated movies and gross out humor can only get one so far in the box office derby. Understanding this, “Deadpool 2” has attempted to make itself into something akin to a family film, hoping that such a pivot will ensure the franchise survives despite 21st Century Fox’s merger with Disney.
The original “Deadpool” worked not because it was a great stand-alone movie, but because it was great satire. “Deadpool” is like “Spaceballs” or a Weird Al song in that it requires most of the audience to be familiar with the Marvel superhero tropes it's constantly mocking. In order to do that, however, it then has to stick by those tropes, making it a predictable if fun romp. But “Spaceballs” never got a sequel, and Weird Al never covers the same song twice.
Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox is currently in the middle of merging with Disney, owners of the G-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films that both “Deadpool” films satirize. The Deadpool franchise has been discussed as one of the more “problematic elements” of Fox’s holding, and prognosticators of such things view it as a coming casualty of the union. (The deal should be finalized in 2019, unless Comcast comes in and spoil things.)
But even if a Disney merger fails, it seems unavoidable that sooner or later the Deadpool franchise will find itself in a home somewhere a lot less friendly to its core concept. Showing it has the ability to be serious when needed, and that the franchise might have the flexibility to be a little more than a one-note joke, may be the best way to guarantee that a “Deadpool 3” will follow.
The film’s entire existence is an unlikely one to begin with. The character of Deadpool was first introduced as a sidekick in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” part of the first wave of 20th Century Fox’s attempts to reboot the franchise following the success of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fox had purchased the rights to “The X-Men” nearly two decades before, in the mid-1990s. It was one of Marvel’s many not-so-savvy deals, in which the studio dictates the terms of holding. This deal essentially incentivized sequels; if characters stopped being used regularly (i.e. didn’t make money for the studio) it could quickly stop having to pay for them.
As most know, in 1999 “The X-Men” was a massive hit, kicking off the comic book film craze. But by 2009, Fox had a decade-old franchise that was running out of ideas. In another era, the studio would likely have just let the rights to the characters lapse, but the success of Marvel’s partnership with Disney made quitting impossible, since it meant sending the rights not back to Marvel, but over to rival Disney. In response, Fox began greenlighting anything that included X-Men related characters, including Ryan Reynold’s pet Deadpool project he had been pushing for since the moment he was cast in “Wolverine.”
Still, it seemed like no one thought the original “Deadpool” would actually work. It took Reynolds 11 years to get it greenlit, and even then box office predictions put it around $55 million for its debut. On the other hand, simply having the movie in production bought the main X-Men franchise time. In the end “Deadpool” did work, though — it was the biggest R-rating opening in history, even bigger than “Passion Of The Christ.” Its $132 million opening weekend held the top spot until “Black Panther” came along. Success brought the necessity of a sequel, but a sequel meant fresh ideas. In lieu of fresh ideas, however, Reynolds opted for a savvy pivot. If you can’t beat “The Avengers,” maybe copy them a little.
The movie is so invested in its warmer and fuzzier theme that it even opens with a Reynolds voice over, telling the audience that they are indeed watching a family film. In classic “Deadpool” style, this voiceover is paired with a scene of extreme violence in which Reynolds commits suicide. (Don’t worry, he’s sent back to the land of the living because “his heart isn’t in the right place.” This happens a lot.)
But while certainly raunchier and more violent than a PG-rated X-Men film — and certainly far more meta — “Deadpool 2” is a film about chosen families in much the same way that family drives “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Even as he jokes about superhero franchises and pokes fun at Marvel characters from both Disney and Fox's pantheons, our irreverent hero Deadpool is assembling a team of admittedly damaged characters that in the end form a sort of motley family unit.
There’s a reason for all of this: Ryan Reynolds is a smart guy, and he wasn’t going to let a project that took more than a decade to get off the ground be sidetracked by business mergers and acquisitions. If the title “Deadpool” is deemed too toxic or too raunchy by his new overlords, “Deadpool 2” allows him the option to rebrand and the next sequel under the name of his new family team “The X-Force.”
In planning for the future, the franchise once again experiences a meta twist. Deadpool repeatedly notes throughout the movie that creating a family “pushes you to be better than you are.” And indeed, in creating a family-friendly movie, Deadpool the franchise has also grown up a little, and started to take itself more seriously similar to other Marvel franchises. False endings and time travel jokes aside, this is a film that is serious about the value of togetherness and loyalty. It turns out Reynolds wasn’t kidding when he said this was a family film.
Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. Regular bylines can be found at Elite Daily, WETA's TellyVisions, and Ani-Izzy.com.