Is The Deadpool Movie a Dead Issue at Fox?

News Gabe Toro 8/15/2013 at 9:24AM

Despite the character's popularity, a rapidly expanding X-Men movie universe, and an enthusiastic leading man, the Deadpool movie appears to be going nowhere fast. Here's a look at everything we know, and at what might prevent it from happening.

Everyone knows that one superfan who never misses an opportunity to tell you a rumored film is actually happening, contrary to common sense. In the internet and superhero-movie age, that friend has been validated more often than not, leading to once-improbable pictures like Alien vs. Predator or The Avengers suddenly coming to fruition. And still there remain those geek white whales, like Halo or Justice League, but those pictures carry a pulse, a promise of box office gold, and no shortage of filmmakers ready to bring them to life. Lodged within that fantasia of fantasy films is one comic book adaptation that slowly shows fewer signs of life as the days go by. That would be Deadpool. And yes, your best bud swears it will happen.

A brief primer for those unfamiliar: Deadpool is a character from the Marvel universe, known as the “Merc With A Mouth.” Like many beloved comic characters, Deadpool’s creation is mostly a fluke-ish joke, drawn by Rob Liefeld to quite directly resemble DC’s mercenary villain Deathstroke. Writer Fabian Nicieza ran with it, creating a backstory that placed him firmly within the X-Men universe. Over the years, his deteriorating mental condition (ironically mixed with an excessively-powerful healing factor, a la Wolverine) led him to become both a hero and a villain in various titles, with a mysterious past not necessarily beholden to continuity due to the one bizarre trait that has gone on to define the character as is: he’s fully aware that he’s a character in a comic book.

Eventually, the character “formally” known as Wade Wilson began to address the audience, breaking the fourth wall to describe his troubled history, cast doubt on his own motives, or just crack an off-color joke or two. One musing suggested that Ryan Reynolds should play him in a movie. Somehow, Hollywood was listening. Deadpool ended up as part of the X-Men rights that Marvel sold to Fox in the 1990s, a union that so far has produced seven movies, including next year’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

Plans were put in motion for a Deadpool film years ago, with Fox loudly making overtures to director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado). A script was commissioned from Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, one that was proudly, defiantly R-rated. And, yep, Reynolds was, and remains attached. Eventually, special effects technician Tim Miller was tasked with making his directorial debut on the film. So with a script, a lead actor, and a director, the film has been sitting on the runway for more than a year now. What happened?

Ryan Reynolds happened. The actor went from promising young lead to bankable stud to box office poison remarkably quickly. And yet, he continues to do interviews where the poor guy is asked about Deadpool, a project that Fox is just begging to put out of its misery. He continues to say the same things, with the same level of enthusiasm and the same dedication to getting the character right, R-rating and all. The problem is, given the high-profile failures of films like Green Lantern and R.I.P.D., he's not someone you could bank on as the lead in an expensive R-rated superhero comedy.

This is made awkward by the fact that Reynolds has already played Deadpool in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where Reynolds was featured as Wade Wilson. Fans initially reacted with excitement that Reynolds would be playing the character, and the actor’s appearance in this film during the same summer's smash hit The Proposal suggested Reynolds was being groomed for his own movie. The warning signs should have been there, but fans didn’t heed them until it was too late: X-Men Origins: Wolverine is maybe the only actual hit Reynolds has had in regards to comic book material. Unfortunately, it isn't a very good film.

Not much sense can be made of the decision to use Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Grafting him onto that character’s origin story seemed like a sloppy shortcut. Even worse, Reynolds has perhaps ten to fifteen minutes of screentime at best, all in the film’s first act. He’s playing a beta version of Deadpool, essentially, with no mask, no degenerative disease, and no breaking of the fourth wall. Reynolds gets to be jokey, and he gets to show off his physique…and like that, he’s gone, a cruel tease.

The character resurfaces at the film’s end, now going by the name “The Deadpool” but the circumstances made fans of the character break out in hives. He’s genetically engineered (re-engineered?) by the Weapon XI program to sport the abilities of several other mutants in the film, including optic blasts and teleportation with adamantium swords protruding from his arms, none of which are present in the source material. Most of this performance is provided not by Reynolds, but by stunt double and current action star Scott Adkins, thanks to an innovation introduced by villain General Stryker (Danny Huston): his mouth has been sealed shut. The character is known for his loquaciousness, and in his first major film appearance, he’s rendered a mute who listlessly responds to commands typed into a computer by a supervillain. 

There’s been absolutely zero explanation as to why a studio interested in a character would adapt him in a way that leaves him completely unrecognizable. At the end of the film, the character is even beheaded, plummeting to his death. A last-minute post-credits coda shows his disembodied arm crawling towards his head; it is a Deadpool moment in spirit, but a bit too little and too late, and short a customary Deadpool quip that would make the moment memorable for fans.

And that is unfortunate for Wernick and Reese, who seem to have put the most commitment into making this film (and, thus far, have probably been paid the least). Their script is a fourth-wall destroying action adventure, one that easily distinguishes itself as a contemporary standalone film miles away from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There’s an origin story, a love story, and a ton of action, all established to show Deadpool in his gun-firing, katana-wielding glory. Best yet, the action is contained and ground-level, suggesting a massive budget wouldn’t be needed. It’s “Deadpool,” though, and it’s action: Unless your film is either micro-budgeted on camcorders or carrying a show-offy megabudget, it’s going to be tough to fund.

The sensibility is similar to Zombieland, but the consistent rat-a-tat joke dialogue recalls the manic pleasures of Community. If you know a fan of that show, chances are they read comics. And if they do, they would have seen this movie twice, then bought the Blu-Ray and slaved over the special features like an eagle protecting its nest. The story follows Wilson through his early days as a low-life mercenary to the discovery that he has cancer and his eventual recruitment into a super soldier program that goes awry. It’s also loaded with pop culture references, some intentionally dated, though it would have surely ushered DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” back into circulation, which is a plus.

The script also features a prominent role for Colossus, the mutant played by Daniel Cudmore in X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s the film’s biggest concession to continuity, as Deadpool and Colossus end up fighting side by side, while Deadpool cracks jokes that suggest the X-Men tried to recruit him into Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters (he refers to Professor X as a “Heaven’s Gate-looking motherfucker”).

But this is still unexplored territory in the world of “shared universe” films. X-Men Origins: Wolverine had a tough-enough time fitting with the X-Men continuity, to the point where several story points were eventually ignored for the follow-up X-Men: First Class. At least all those films had the benefit of being mainstream PG-13 audience pictures. How do you establish that Deadpool is a part of the X-Men universe when it’s a heavily R-rated action movie about a violent sociopath? This script manages that problem well enough, as Colossus emerges unchanged, ready to rejoin the X-Men at the mansion for the next go-round, and Deadpool remains a lone wolf.

But maybe that’s not how the studio wanted it to be. Fox has been spurred on by Marvel’s success in cross-pollination enough to attempt X-Men: Days Of Future Past, an experiment that merges the worlds of X-Men: First Class and the earlier trilogy. Some say that there are seeds being planted to suggest a shared universe between the merry mutants and Fox’s other superhero property, The Fantastic Four, a new film scheduled to arrive in 2015.

Perhaps it wasn’t good enough to provide a minimal amount of synergy for their X-films. Maybe Deadpool needed to actually meet that “Heaven’s Gate looking motherfucker” in order to convince Fox it was worth doing. The Tony Stark appearance in The Incredible Hulk is merely seconds and mostly irrelevant to the plot, but when they were releasing that film, they shoved that moment into commercials in order to get that dough. Word has it that Fox once considered calling this project X-Men Origins: Deadpool, tying it into the larger universe. Had that occurred, surely you’d have a trailer where we saw Hugh Jackman’s face before Deadpool’s.

Of course, then you’d be getting a Deadpool movie that carries a more family-friendly rating. Reese and Wernick got bloody for Zombieland, but the gore never felt gratuitous, and remained germane to the jokes. The same policy goes for the bloodshed in Deadpool, much of it is dedicated towards showing the outlandish amount of punishment Deadpool takes during each action sequence. A large part of the hook of both the character and this script is that he has those abilities of regeneration: by centering them on jokes, Fox is essentially making fun of Wolverine, who has been the lead character in six of the seven X-Men films thus far, lording over one of the industry’s strongest franchises. Is it worth mocking your flagship superhero tentpole character just to make Deadpool? A rational, smart person takes that gamble. Few of them work in Hollywood.

A standalone Deadpool movie as currently envisioned would essentially be an “original” property: despite his popularity in the Marvel universe (the current Brian Poeshn/Gerry Dugan comic is quite brilliant), he’s never risen above the B-List, and would be a bigger risk than any solo Marvel endeavor attempted thus far. And getting Hollywood to pony up for “original” properties seems like a fool’s game. Even the X-Men films have slumped since 2006, registering weaker grosses domestically, with the recent The Wolverine posting the smallest numbers yet despite the 3D-inflated prices.

Gambling on Deadpool, particularly with Reynolds still attached, would be seen as a massive risk by the studio. Getting rid of him would upset the fervent devotees of the character, who have stood by and waited for this promised film for years. These voices are a definite minority among potential Deadpool viewers, but they are certainly vocal, and if announcement was made next week of a Kellan Lutz-starring Deadpool from director Tim Miller, there would be fan rebellion.

More than likely, we’ll see the character pop up again in Fox’s planned X-Force film. The hope is that Days Of Future Past resets the continuity of the franchise, while also raising the profile of a diminished brand enough to entice fans to get on board for future films. In the comics, X-Force was one of several offshoots of the X-Men, groups that included X-Factor, Excalibur, Generation X, X-Statix, and the New Mutants (as well as a core X-Men so massive it split into Blue and Gold squads). The roster has fluctuated wildly, but it’s always been a paramilitary unit of mutants essentially doing wetwork assignments all over the Marvel universe.

Writer-director Jeff Wadlow is currently working on the X-Force script with comics writer Mark Millar, and the two have promised a five-member team. Days of Future Past features appearances by Sunspot and Warpath, two long-time members of the X-Force roster. Fan favorite Cable is one of the longest-tenured members of X-Force and a frequent leader. Being Cyclops’ son from the future, it would be (relatively) easy to integrate him into the mythology. That leaves two more slots, one likely earmarked for one of X-Force’s long-running female members like Boom-Boom or Domino. That leaves one slot for Deadpool.

Of course, other incarnations of X-Force have roughly been offshoots of the main X-Men crew, including a recent team led by Wolverine. Again, it all depends on how deeply they want to embed the team’s history within the world of X-Men. And that’s likely the same concern grounding the Deadpool movie for the time being: Why do something different when you’re blowing another opportunity at branding? Fans may get a version of Deadpool they love to like, but the hardcore fans just might have to deal with disappointment

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