Deadpool, and the problem with Hollywood protagonists

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Did you go to see Deadpool at the cinema? I certainly did, and the audience I sat with certainly seemed to enjoy it. The more nerdy types like me were pleased to finally see an accurate portrayal of Deadpool after the atrocity that was X Men Origins. The less nerdy, more laddish types, were laughing their heads off at all the dirty jokes Deadpool made. The character was appealing to more than just a niche audience of fans. He was appealing enough that the movie is one of the highest grossing R-rated movies ever made.

And it wouldn’t have been if the Hollywood executives had gotten their way.

You see, the execs over at Fox, specifically one by the name of Tom Rothman, seemed rather adamant to not make the movie, believing the character just wouldn’t click with audiences. Indeed, Rothman was supposedly the man responsible for sewing Deadpool’s mouth shut in his previous appearance

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Clearly these men know what audiences really want.

As I’m sure many people have heard, Deadpool as a movie went through development hell. Had the test footage not been leaked, it wouldn’t have been made. I can’t speak for Tom Rothman, but he seemed to have some weird vendetta against the character. Despite the test footage’s universal praise, the movie still wasn’t greenlit until Rothman left the company. His final film greenlit was the 2015 version of Fantastic Four…making this one of the most cathartic tales of an executive being wrong in film history.

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And making him partially responsible for this too.

But this isn’t just about the fact that Hollywood executives are idiots who base what they think audiences want entirely on charts and focus groups.

Deadpool is a lot different to most action protagonists we see nowadays, in that he’s actually an interesting character with a personality that makes him stand out. But what about all the other fun heroes, you ask. What about Iron Man and Captain America and Wolverine.

Yes. All the heroes you remember.

I like Pacific Rim as a movie, but does anybody remember the main character? No, not Mako Mori, but Raleigh Beckett, that guy who already drives Gypsy Danger. The guy who’s bland as all hell and everyone forgets in favour of Mako.

It’s become commonplace in Hollywood to make the main protagonist as bland as a piece of un-buttered brown bread. So long as they fit into the mould of “strong American white guy who saves the day”, it’s good enough. And, unfortunately, many writers aren’t really going past the standard mould.

Most of the characters you remember, you remember because they do go beyond that mould. Iron Man is a strong white guy who saves the day, but he’s also snarky and entertainingly egotistical. Captain America is a strong white guy who saves the day, but he has a good heart and a strong sense of justice. Wolverine is a strong white guy who saves the day, but he’s also angry and fierce and protective.x-men-origins-wolverine.jpg

Also Wolverine is Canadian.

So, if Hollywood is capable of giving us good protagonists, then why are they swamped in so many lousy lazy ones?

Well, it’s simple.Hollywood wants as much profit as possible, and so wants to appeal to as many audiences as possible. For a moment, imagine a movie is like a meal. A meal that needs to appeal to everyone. This includes vegans, people with nut allergies, people with soy allergies, people with celiac disease,  people who don’t drink alcohol, people who can’t stand spicy food, people with diabetes, the list goes on.

A talented chef could look at those limits and probably still make something great. Characters like Captain America fit all the requirements and still end up being beloved. Unfortunately, a lot of the writers being hired by Hollywood either don’t have the talent, or are working with executives breathing down their neck. Their “dishes” end up being some kind of grey, tasteless soup, with a vaguely vanilla flavoured cracker for desert.

Of course the pretty aesthetics and atmosphere of the restaurant, along with some decent side dishes, mean that audiences keep returning. Unfortunately, Hollywood still doesn’t feel it needs to change that bland main dish, in spite of the fact that Deadpool proves it could.

Almost the entirety of Deadpool’s marketing focused on the main character. Many of the videos involved him talking to the camera. Most of the posters only featured him.

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And did not exactly paint him as anything but Deadpool.

The main selling point of this movie was “Deadpool is a funny character”. And it worked, despite what execs like Tom Rothman predicted. This loudmouthed, snarky, fourth wall breaking anti hero who refuses to take things seriously managed to prove to be one of the most popular superheroes of the decade.

Deadpool as a movie mostly follows the typical superhero origin story cliches. The film more or less admits to it given the opening credits don’t name the cast or characters but rather just give the cliched role they fill. Vanessa is the hot chick, Francis is the British villain, Nega Sonic Teenage Warhead is the moody teen. What makes the film completely stand out from all the others is, you guessed it, Deadpool himself, and his behaviour and reactions throughout the movie.

Deadpool’s audience was already limited due to its R-Rating, and it still beat out all the other movies in the X Men franchise in terms of worldwide box office gross. I think this is enough to prove that audiences like Deadpool.

At least, most of them do.

I am aware that there are people out there who don’t like Deadpool as a character. There are many audience members out there who would simply find him annoying.

The amount of people who like Deadpool, however, were enough to make the film a smash hit. This is something that Hollywood executives just can’t seem to grasp. To an executives, they cannot simply attract some audiences. They have to attract all audiences. That’s why every previous marvel superhero hasn’t been R-rated-because it limits the audience.

As long as Hollywood believes that characters who step out of the boundaries of “bland and relatable”, we’re going to see more vanilla protagonists, and fewer films dedicated to characters like Deadpool. And those few films that do step out of the boundaries quite often don’t get the funding.

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 “It’s a big house, and yet I only ever see two of you. It’s almost as though the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man”

Hollywood has never been particularly good at dealing with change (more on this in a future post, most likely). I have no doubt that Deadpool’s success, rather than encouraging more diverse personalities amongst their protagonists, they will simply try to force more characters like Deadpool. And the cycle of homogeneity will continue.

But, to writers looking to make their protagonists interesting, I will give this advice: remove Deadpool from his own movie, and replace him with another hero, and it would be a completely different film.

Make a protagonist like that.

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