I’m not sure if this is what my instructor was looking for when writing a film theory, but it made me happy to write it.
Deadpool is the latest gem in the lucrative Marvel stable of movies and characters, Marvel, and all of its incarnations over the last decade, owe their popularity and profitability to the tenacity of Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. Feige has taken risks with the Marvel franchise that have paid off tremendously. The entire enterprise is built on the back of Iron Man, and one actor in particular, that no one really wanted at the time. Robert Downey, Jr had been in and out of jails and drug rehabs for years and most other studios would have passed on taking a chance with such a problematic wildcard. It is now, however impossible to imagine any other actor in the starring role of Tony Stark. Instead of rushing into a compilation, he began introducing characters in their own movies that would eventually become The Avengers. 2008’s Iron Man was soon followed up with The Hulk, Thor, Captain America and ultimately the first of the Avenger movies in 2012. The enormous success of these popular characters allowed the studio to take chances with more risky projects such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Antman, and Deadpool. Why then has Marvel hit such a successful chord with the viewing public? Screenwriters for the Captain America franchise have stated that the super hero movies are akin to the Westerns of yesteryear. When questioned about the popularity of Marvel, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely responded:
“We’ve become a genre that you can do well now given the world of computers and perhaps it’s also just a time in the sun. You went to the movies in the 50s and 60s you went to a western. So at this point, you’re going to a superhero movie. It’s taking over that same black hat, white hat myth-making surface. I don’t have a much smarter answer than that” (Romano, 2015).
It is, however, Joseph Campbell, who penned the “Hero’s Journey”, a twelve step narrative process found throughout narrative history for masterful storytelling, which you can find throughout the Marvel universe and beyond. George Lucas has even credited Joseph Campbell as being his “Yoda” (BANCKS, 2003).
Like so many movies before, Deadpool while consistently being an anti-hero story, still follows the same formulaic hero’s journey, which Joseph Campbell so easily recognized throughout history. The story uses this to great advantage to create a sympathetic character that audiences can enjoy and cheer for, regardless of the main character’s crassness and vulgar nature. The protagonist, in true Joseph Campbell fashion, begins his journey in “The Ordinary World” (step one). He is a mercenary with double-edged characteristics of both virtue and vice. The audience sees Wade Wilson doing a favor for someone by using his mercenary skills to deter a girl’s stalker. So, even though the character tries to convince the viewer of his selfish nature the audience is shown a glimmer of integrity to give them a worthy candidate for their adoration.
The second step in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” is “The Call to Adventure”. This is put into motion in Deadpool after Wade Wilson collapses and is diagnosed with cancer. A recruiter approaches the character to a secret program that is billed as a “superhero program” that can cure Wade’s condition. Wade initially refuses the treatment, which is Campbell’s step three: “Refusal of the Call”. Sitting up with his fiancé still asleep in bed beside him, he decides to do what is best for her, and accept the super-hero path to salvation.
Deadpool is a non-linear movie, so Campbell’s fourth step is actually revealed much earlier in the film than in the actual timeline. The audience is introduced to Colossus, who at first tries to force Deadpool into the role of hero, but Deadpool is single-mindedly intent on retribution. It is not until Wade’s fiancé is kidnapped that Deadpool accepts help from his mentor and becomes the hero everyone knew he could be.
Through Wilson’s transformation from mortal to mutant, the viewer sees Campbell’s fifth step, “Crossing the Threshold” fulfilled. Wade makes the decision to become a superhero for salvation, but it does not quite work out as planned. During the transformation, the audience is introduced to the antagonist of the film Frances (aka Ajax) who reveals through the transformation that he is not becoming a super-hero at all, but rather a super slave. Amid the metamorphosis, our hero becomes horribly disfigured, and Frances alludes to the fact that he could fix his disfigurement but will not. Instead of submitting to becoming a slave, Wilson burns the building down but due to his restorative mutation, is able to survive the fire, and thus begins his journey of vengeance.
In the non-linear world of Deadpool, Campbell’s step six “Tests, Allies, and Enemies” is revealed very early on in the movie. Before the audience even knows why Deadpool is trying to kill his adversary, he is thwarted in his efforts by the character who will eventually become his mentor. This is also, where the viewer first learns the extent of Deadpool’s regenerative powers, which have made him immortal.
When Wade learns that his fiancé is in mortal danger, Campbell’s step seven the “Approach” unfolds. Wade must face his fear of rejection from the only person on earth that he truly loves. Unfortunately, he is more fearful of rejection and he fails to warn his beloved of the threat on her life before it is too late. His cowardice allows his nemesis the time he needs to kidnap Vanessa putting her life at risk.
Through Wade’s transformation, Campbell’s eighth step, “the Ordeal”, is additionally presented. The beginning of the movie is finally explained and the audience now understands why Deadpool is so intent upon revenge on Frances/Ajax. Since the timeline of the movie is not in chronological order, neither are the steps of the “Hero’s Journey”. Wade escapes his prison by setting fire with a stolen match. The two adversaries fight and Wade is impaled and literally trapped inside the building, Due to his mutative abilities he survives the fire and sets out. Unfortunately, he realizes that he can never return to his fiancé because he has become a monster outside as well as inside, and he does not want to face Vanessa’s rejection.
Step Nine, “The Reward”, in this case proves to be a double-edged sword. Wade is cured of cancer, in fact, he is cured of everything, but he has lost his true love. Therefore, the reward is also, what pushes him towards payback and restitution. Ironically, his desire for retaliation only sets in motion the events that will lead to his fiancé being kidnapped.
Step Ten “The road back”, occurs in Deadpool when his fiancé is kidnapped by Frances/Ajax, Deadpool, against all of his efforts to avoid it, must now become the hero that he is destined to be. He finds himself forced to join forces with an annoying but powerful sidekick and the mentor he did not want.
Wade finally faces his fear of rejection, because ultimately his fear of losing the one most special to him is far greater. This is where Campbell’s eleventh step “The Resurrection” takes place. Wade knows that he must save Vanessa before Frances aka Ajax harms her. In doing so, he finally faces his fear of rejection, and instead wins the heart of his true love who reveals that she still loves him regardless of what his current appearance is. Wade learns through this ordeal that to be a hero he does not have to be heroic all the time, just “4 or 5 moments”. Even though he kills his nemesis, the seed is planted for him to become a hero.
Finally, Step Twelve “Return with the Elixir”, comes to fruition when Wade gets the girl. The movie is left open for additional movies and establishes his alliance with the X-Men, further continuing the Marvel franchise and the chance of another conglomerate movie.
The writers of Deadpool, like so many before them, have taken a proven formula and produced it for wide audience consumption. While Deadpool may not be likeable to all moviegoers and is a movie that definitely has its opposition, he is still a hero that through Joseph Campbell’s Twelve Step Hero’s journey, whom audiences can support and cheer. The Hero’s Journey has a proven record of accomplishment of success and Deadpool, like so many movies and stories before it has cashed in with its ultimate success at the box-office.
BANCKS, T. (2003). “Beyond The Hero’s Journey.”. Australian Screen Education 33, pp. 32-34. Retrieved April 19, 2016
Romano, N. (2015, April 1). Why Superhero Movies Are Popular Right Now, According To Superhero Screenwriters. Cinema Blend. Retrieved April 19, 2016