Deadpool disciples have long waited to see if their cheerfully vulgar hero would make it to the screen with every dirty word and gleeful spray of blood intact. A former special forces operative transformed into a disfigured mutant, Deadpool graduated from a sleepy cameo in one of the Marvel Universe’s worst films to a hotly anticipated movie all his own, largely thanks to the prospect of an on-screen hero every bit as indulgent and subversive as the one featured in the comic books. Word of a “hard R” rating occasioned joy from fans. And the filmmakers have stoked this anticipation themselves, including Ryan Reynolds, who both stars and shares a producing credit. “You have moments when you’re shooting where you think, ‘This is, uh, a little excessive. This is a comic book movie. Are we gonna get away with this?’ ” he said in an interview. “But so far so good. Studio hasn’t crushed us with anything.”
Nothing at all? In an interview with Collider, director Tim Miller got even more specific after a reporter asked about the movie’s “hypersexualized” depiction of Deadpool. “Pansexual!” he corrected. “I want that quoted. Pansexual Deadpool.” OK, pansexual Deadpool. This turned some heads, since the character's sexuality is also important to many fans, and it might have represented a quiet breakthrough—a Marvel-backed hero attracted to women, men, and people regardless of gender identity. Deadpool, stealthily, could have been Marvel’s first “out” superhero in a major movie. Could such a milestone really happen so easily, so nonchalantly?
No, of course it couldn't. Despite a few smirking nods to extremely in-the-know viewers, Reynolds’ film version of Deadpool is no more pansexual than a frat boy who smacks another brother’s ass and then giggles about it, acknowledging a homoerotic energy he only knows how to dismiss with a joke. And that’s more disappointing—and even insulting—than it might seem.
Let’s first allow that even if Deadpool is pansexual in the comics, that doesn’t mean he has to be in the movie. Many fans, especially those most excited by Miller’s Collider interview, have long detected queer elements in the character, teasing out his pansexuality in online forums and social media. For his part, Fabian Nicieza, who created the comics with artist/writer Rob Liefeld, has weighed in amusingly on this question with fans on Twitter, explaining that Deadpool is many sexualities at once. Or something. “Have answered so many times,” he wrote in one petulant tweet. “DP brain cells are in CONSTANT FLUX. He can be gay one minute, hetero the next, etc. ALL ARE VALID.” Oh, OK. Others on the comic’s creative team have referred to him as “omnisexual.” Ultimately, Deadpool’s sexual identity in the comics is up to particular readers and how they choose to interpret their distinct corner of the Marvel sandbox. It seems fair, at the very least, to say his sexuality is more nuanced than your typical Marvel hero.
Still, that doesn’t have to be in the film version of Deadpool for it to work, even if omitting it is clearly a concession to the international bottom line. But then Miller, along with two credited screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, seem to congratulate themselves on ostensibly bringing this very sexuality to the movie. Aside from Miller’s must-quote declaration, Reese, referring to reports about Deadpool’s pansexuality, told Variety: “We knew that was part of the comics. We wanted to honor that in the movie. But we did it in subtle ways.” “There’s veiled references to it in this film. It’s in the DNA of the character,” producer Simon Kinberg said. As he put it last summer: “Nothing is taboo. You either commit to a truly outrageous, boundary-pushing kind of movie, or you don’t.”
So what are these taboo-free, trailblazing representations of Deadpool’s sexuality, his pansexual genetic markers? From my spoiler-filled notes:
- Deadpool references Wolverine’s balls, and seems to have an obsession with Hugh Jackman, in a kind of playful homosocial way. (Since Wolverine in the comics is sometimes understood to be bisexual, I guess this could be an in-joke?)
- Deadpool refers to his ass as “Main Street,” if you get my meaning.
- Deadpool threatens a pizza boy who stalks a young woman, saying he will meet Deadpool's “hard” end if he doesn’t stop. He says he may or may not mean this literally, then pecks the pizza boy on the cheek. Gay?
- Deadpool wears a Rent T-shirt.
- Deadpool sews, loves unicorns, and masturbates to Bernadette Peters. Admittedly, these are inconclusive.
- Deadpool allows his girlfriend to peg him in one scene, albeit reluctantly and to his clear displeasure. This act is, of course, as open to straight follks as it is to pansexuals, but I suspect the filmmakers don’t quite get that.
- The most explicit wink: During the closing credits, an animated proxy for Deadpool pops an erection for a female cast member, whom on-screen texts notes is “hot.” But the erection grows much larger when the name of the villain, Ed Skrein, appears on screen. He, the on-screen text says, is even “hotter.” Hmmm.
The latter is by far the most aggressive hint the film drops, a final shove just in case you missed all the teasing nudges. Yet, tellingly, it comes when viewers are least likely to pay attention—and only a few minutes after Deadpool jumped on top of the same pretty villain, preparing to finish him off. Where was the throbbing erection then? The two trade caustic barbs throughout the movie, not to mention very physical scenes, but the first hint of sexualized rapport comes after the movie has already ended. The nod ultimately plays more like an equal-opportunity boner joke than a hint of real lust, god forbid.
And that’s the thing about all these “subtle,” “veiled references”: They read as gags, barely edgy jokes from our enlightened-bro hero that exist mostly to establish his alpha-male bravado. One might argue that since everything is a joke to Deadpool, it makes sense that references to his sexuality would be, too. Except they aren’t when it comes to his heterosexual love interest. Indeed, the one thing the movie takes seriously—the lone, plot-propelling story thread—concerns Deadpool’s desire to return to his lost (female) lover. Not five minutes after he encounters her in the movie, the two embark on a long, acrobatic sex montage, the only time in the movie that Deadpool’s erotic energy actually manifests as real lust for another person. Simply put, the movie unmistakably codes Deadpool as a straight man, albeit one who uses his sexual swagger (and Reynolds has plenty in this movie) to make other men uncomfortable. It’s hard to imagine what audience, outside of grasping fans, will experience his character any other way.
That’s regrettable for a couple reasons. For one, Miller and his screenwriters seem to believe they have already “honored” the comic-book character’s sexuality in a credible way, when in fact they merely twisted it into an adolescent punchline. This isn’t what queer representation looks like, and it’s depressing that smart, creative people think it is. But the bigger problem, at least for this bored blockbuster viewer, is simply that the movie didn’t have the bravery to go all-in on its convictions. With each coy, bashful wink, it betrayed both the filmmakers’ “nothing is taboo” bluster and Deadpool’s burn-it-all-down ethos. In the same Variety interview, Reynolds said it would be “great” if his character got a boyfriend in future installments, adding, “I certainly wouldn’t be the guy standing in the way of that.” That’s curious, given that he and his cohorts said the studio never blocked anything they did.
Whoever is standing in the way, could you please move? If Deadpool can get away with making fun of Marvel’s industrial churn—and it does, repeatedly—then surely it can survive its hero stealing a kiss from a guy. Deadpool 2, all eyes on you.