Deadpool Wants You to Watch Bad Movies

By  · Published on February 9th, 2016

Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Deadpool will protect us from many things, most notably his ugly mug. But he’s no superhero. One of the things he won’t save us from is bad movies, most notably bad superhero movies. In fact, he needs us to watch bad superhero movies in order that he be more relevant. So much of his wisecracking humor depends on our familiarity with these bad superhero movies. And his own movie, Deadpool (which is neither bad, according to me, nor a superhero movie, according to him), is also better enjoyed if we’ve seen all the crap it mockingly references.

Much of the roasting done by the character and his movie fall into the category of meta fan service. There are the jabs at X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is part of the same Marvel-based mutant-universe franchise as Deadpool and was the previous place to find the character (there, as here, played by Ryan Reynolds), albeit in nearly unrecognizable and totally disapproved form. And there are the blows to Green Lantern, which also stars Reynolds as the title DC Comics superhero and is almost equally despised, especially by comic book geeks.

To fans of Deadpool, Green Lantern and/or Reynolds, Deadpool is about redemption. Not just in the plot, which sees the character seeking revenge against the people who turned him into something resembling “a testicle with teeth.” It’s a movie that apologizes for those two specific superhero movies through self-deprecation and repentant ridicule. It says, “We’re sorry, we’ve got it right this time, and this will even make up for everything we put you through in the past.” And it’s true, they did get Deadpool right this time. And they got Reynolds right, too.

But if you didn’t see the movies and so didn’t suffer anything, or it didn’t hurt that bad because you don’t care about the character or the genre as a whole enough, then this angle taken by Deadpool isn’t going to mean much to you. As comedy or atonement. A lot of the humor in this movie is additionally at the expense of its own franchise and genre in total, not just the bad stuff. There are huge digs at the appeal of Hugh Jackman/Wolverine, the main X-Men series’ timeline and casting reboots and the Marvel Cinematic Universe format, as well as a climactic battle that sends up the Avengers movies.

It’s certainly a movie specifically for people who like superhero movies and who’ve seen them all. Yet it also sometimes comes off as not respecting its own crowd. There’s a joke about the Blade films that is primarily directed towards fans of the Blade films. And if you like the X-Men characters Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, then be prepared for them to be the butts of many insults. One of which loops in a side jab at Batman and Robin, the general concept of sidekicks and of course a hint that those two DC heroes are romantically involved with each other.

The digs and references do extend beyond the genre. Deadpool also wants you to see or to have seen the Taken trilogy to appreciate a derisive quip, the much-hated Alien 3 for a character put-down and a particular teen movie (I won’t spoil this one) to recognize a scene that pays it homage. Yes, there are actually a few positive nods here, whether in the form of a potentially unwelcome sexual comment about Bernadette Peters (who starred in a comic book movie, if we count Annie) or a celebration of Wham! or a parodic re-creation of a classic 1980s movie moment.

What keeps the whole movie from being classifiable as parody – or self-parody since it’s a part of the very thing it’d supposedly be lampooning – is in the majority of its ridicule being truly ill-natured. Not exactly mean-spirited but definitely contemptuous. While not as loving as pastiche, parody should tend to be more in good fun, having a laugh at things that are popular and maybe accepted as good yet still easy to mock, a la Spaceballs with Star Wars and This Is Spinal Tap with music documentaries. Or, on a less interesting level, they can lazily spoof the negative essence of a thing that doesn’t necessarily have to be well known to the audience, because the attack strategy is so broad and obvious and common, a la the Friedberg and Seltzer style.


Deadpool, on the other hand, is rare in its expectation for the audience to be totally familiar with bad things and agree that they’re indeed totally awful through having experienced them, not just knowing of their infamy. It is possible to at least get the idea of the humor without such context. I’ve never seen Green Lantern, but I’m aware of its reputation and enough of what it is people don’t like about it to catch the snarky winking going on with the dialogue throwing it shade. But I can’t appreciate it the same way I might had I seen the movie and let it affect me in such a way that I passionately despise its existence and salute anyone and anything trashing it.

I also haven’t seen every Taken installment, but I get the weak joke made about those movies, enough that I’m actually pretty sure Deadpool hasn’t seen them all either. Meanwhile, there are sure to be younger fans in the audience who don’t know of Peters or Yakov Smirnoff or Spin Doctors. That’s fine, as those are throwaway cracks. Plenty of comedies have a lot of pop culture references that can be hit or miss for viewers depending on their trivial knowledge. The nods to X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern, though, are something else. It’s hard to believe Deadpool would even exist if it wasn’t for them.

Or exist without the fact that enough people saw them and hated them for this to be a kind of responsive continuation of them. Due to its meta fourth wall breakage, Deadpool takes place in the real world as much as it takes place in its own (and the X-Men franchise’s) fictional universe. So it’s able to be a special sort of extratextual sequel to the otherwise unrelated X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern. And here you thought it would allow you to finally put those bad movies behind you. The jokes on you.

Related Topics:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.