The critical and commercial success of X-Men: Days of Future Past proved that there’s still a lot of life in the X-Men as a film franchise. But while we’ve heard a lot about Sony Pictures specific plans to franchise random Spider-Man characters, even in spite of the lackluster returns of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s been mostly quiet over at Twentieth Century Fox aside from one announcement that the next X-Men film, Apocalypse, was in development. Although there’s occasionally talk of another spin-off film aside from the next Wolverine solo adventure, such as Jeff Wadlow’s X-Force project, there’s mostly been long periods of silence between small bits of news about process.
And then something weird happened. Either by accident or on purpose, test footage for a Deadpool film hit the internet last weekend as San Diego Comic Con, and its drought of genuine movie news, came to a close. Although fans were uncertain of the degree of legitimacy the nearly two-minute clip actually had, it was soon revealed by the production company that made it, the Culver City-based Blur Studios, that this was indeed commissioned by 20th Century Fox to do a proof of concept for an ultra-violent, hard-R-rated Deadpool movie. Now the question for the many Deadpool fans around the world is, would such a movie be allowed to come to fruition from a major Hollywood studio? And the answer, despite Blur’s instantaneous success in capturing the character on film, is no.
Let’s rewind. If you haven’t seen the footage yet, it’s available online and can be found with a minimum of effort despite the best efforts of Fox who’ve forgotten that this is the internet and if you cut off one head, two more shall take its place. (Hail HYDRA!) We won’t post it here because we fear Hollywood lawyers, but we can tell you that it features Deadpool, realized through motion capture performance by Ryan Reynolds, tearing apart some kind of gang traveling down a highway by SUV. It’s violent, it’s frantic, and it features two of Deadpool’s trademark characteristics: humor and breaking the fourth wall.
The clip opens with Deadpool sitting on the edge of an overpass, singing along to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” before telling the audience that the reason he wears a red suit is so bad guys don’t see him bleed. By that logic, Deadpool adds that he hopes the gangsters he’s about to hack his way through are wearing their brown pants. Then, after mugging his way through the killing of four black-clad criminals, “The Merc with the Mouth” takes care of a guy on a motorcycle, but not before showing him a crude doodle of Deadpool cutting off his head to let him know what’s coming.
Now you may have read that, and/or sought out the footage yourself and thought, wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like the Deadpool that was introduced and portrayed by Reynolds in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and you’d be right. Although using Reynolds in the film was obviously a plant, a seed for a potential Deadpool film later down the line, Origins turned out so bad, and treated the Deadpool character so poorly, that aside from the character’s die hard fans, no one’s really walked out of the theater and said, “Hey, when are we going to get that Deadpool movie?”
Aside from the fact that the makers of that first Wolverine film blew the opportunity to introduce the character well, Deadpool has also had an uphill climb against a risk averse culture at Fox. You may have noted Deadpool’s vigorous “Hi Tom!” at the end of the clip, a greeting to the former Chairman of Fox Tom Rothman, a name you may know and may actually revile. You see, Rothman was the guy who didn’t want Sentinels in the first three X-Men movies, he thought the idea of giant robots was ludicrous. He thought the same thing about Galactus, which is why the planet eater was a giant space cloud in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. He was also the guy that said, “thanks, but no thanks” to James Cameron and Ridley Scott when they came to him with an idea for Alien 5 because he thought Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien Vs Predator was going to be pretty solid.
Rothman’s been gone from Fox since 2012, so the Deadpool test footage dates back at least that far, and if this has been sitting on the shelf for more than two years, it’s no wonder that it leaked. If something this good was waiting for someone to notice it for so long, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it “accidentally” found its way online in the midst of the most nerd news heavy weekend of the year. Still, that doesn’t mean anyone’s about to spend good money making it happen.
First of all, superhero movies are almost all universally PG-13. True, strictly speaking Deadpool isn’t a superhero, at best he’s an anti-hero, but he dresses in a costume and appears in a comic book, and for a Hollywood system that fears complexity and sophistication, that’s good enough. In an alternate reality, the Wolverine movies should have been R-rated, as we are talking about a character whose primary weapon is metal claws. But despite the fact that the titular character uses those claws to tear through several bad guys, both films were largely bloodless in order to best secure that PG-13 rating.
But Wolverine isn’t alone in the “Shoulda been R-rated” category of comic book movies. Remember Spawn, based on Todd McFarlane’s Image comic about a soldier turned assassin who’s killed, goes to hell and returns to Earth as a general in Satan’s army and fights a vile, disgusting clown who’s also a giant 10-foot iguana man? Yup, rated PG-13. And Daredevil, the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck (also from Fox) is much better when seen as the R-rated director’s cut versus the PG-13 theatrical version, even in spite of the flaws that linger in its movie DNA.
Really, the most analogous thing to a Deadpool movie are the two Punisher movies: Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Punisher from 2004 and Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone from 2008. Despite the attempts, and two very different styles used, both Punisher flicks flopped, with War Zone doing one-fifth the business that the previous Hensleigh film did. It’s worth pointing out too that War Zone is by far the more violent of the two Punisher films, with Hensleigh’s Punisher focusing on Frank Castle’s meticulous takedown of his adversary Howard Saint and his organization, as opposed to Castle in War Zone whose plan is never more complicated than shooting stuff. I suspect a Deadpool movie will be more likely to follow War Zone’s example of gunshots to the face, bad guys getting blown up by RPGs and casual cannibalism.
But who is Punisher? He’s a regular, though heavily armed and well-trained guy in a skull shirt, which means you can make a Punisher film for $40 million or less. But Deadpool has super-powers, and he fights super-powered bad guys, and he wears a flashy costume, all of which means more money. You can point to Blade as well as an example of a successful R-rated superhero movie, but with its horror movie trappings, it too could be made at a bargain price compared to something like Iron Man. Generally, the higher the price tag, the more a studio wants to hedge its bets by making sure that as many people as possible see it.
On top of it all, Ryan Reynolds is still a marquee player despite recent box office flops (R.I.P.D.) and a dubious past in comic book movies (Green Lantern), and studios never like it when their movie star has to hide his face behind a mask the whole film. And if there’s one thing that Deadpool fans know, it’s that you don’t want him walking around without his mask on:
So it’s impossible? Well, this is the age of making the impossible happen. Guardians of the Galaxy is a box office smash, a Veronica Mars movie was kickstarted, Joss Whedon is the second most financially successful filmmaker of all time, and we finally got an X-Men movie with Sentinels. So never say never, but unless demand is too great to be ignored, or someone high up at Fox is frisky enough to roll the dice and take a chance, a Deadpool movie will likely live solely in the hopes of fans. On the bright side, we now have one minute and 48 seconds more of a Deadpool movie than we did a week ago.