04 April 2016

X-Men vs. Deadpool: What Happens When Your Kid Makes More Money than You?

A very curious thing happened this past weekend - Deadpool (2016), which was famously batted around 20th Century Fox for years and years struggling to get funding at all, finally passed X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) to become the highest worldwide grossing X-Men movie of all time. Considering there's actually eight of these films, with a ninth coming up shortly, that's a significant feat.

Domestically, Deadpool has well-surpassed the previous highest-grossing entry, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) long ago, even adjusting for inflation. It's also at this point almost doubled the previous bastard incarnation of the character seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), while also blasting part the other solo outing for that character, 2013's The Wolverine. Got all that?

One more thing - the film seems irrevocably poise to shoot past American Sniper (2014) and has an outside chance at taking down The Passion of the Christ (2004) to become the highest-grossing R-Rated domestic film of all time. It of course already has this distinction worldwide, surpassing The Matrix Reloaded (2003) last weekend to do it. Let all that sink in for a second and realize that fucking Deadpool has earned this accomplishment, zany irreverence and meta-in jokes and all.

The big question, then is what the hell will X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) do now? It has to do better than Deadpool, right? I mean, this is the build-up to that Universe's Omega-level Boss that's the equivalent of Thanos and Darkseid that the Avengers and Justice League have been building to for years / this whole week respectively. Days of Future Past was their decades-long build-up movie for sure, smashing two disparate casts together for lots of fun with the series' mythology, and while that was a success both financially and culturally (I'm tempted to call it the best or second-best X-Men film), it seemed to also prove that this series has a ceiling that's well underneath the lofty heights that Marvel reaches. Obviously, referring to the Marvel Studio here, folks, don't patronize my knowledge of nerddom.

All this is to say that Deadpool should have been this weird X-Men step child - a spin-off film from a spin-off that wasn't really a spin-off film at all (it certainly wasn't this character, and absolutely wasn't the tone). It only tangentially references the X-Men, and if you take away Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who is virtually unknown, you basically just have Colossus. This twists the knife even more considering they abandoned the Daniel Cudmore Colossus who never really did anything in favor of this comic book-accurate portrayal, and it works so damn well. That's mostly because his do-gooder personality bounces off Wade Wilson while remaining a huge and visually pleasing force on screen. It's the same reason why he usually pairs so well with Cable.

Getting back to Negasonic Teenage Warhead, actually, it's important to note that her character was completely changed, but nobody cared. On some level she also seems like she was included as a meta-joke about not being able to include many real X-Men. She was thrown in largely because of her name and how her powers spiced things up, but it's also this middle finger to the rest of the X-Men films that they can pick a random-ass New Mutant and make her a very impressionable character. There's no need to shoe-horn in cameos by the Blob or Multiple Man or other ridiculous crammed-in mutant. Deadpool just beat everyone with only Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

Underneath this is a multitude of other reasons for success. Deadpool didn't rely on the X-Men branding, it relied on its own meta-ness (super hitting right now, from Community to 22 Jump Street [2014]), its hilarity, and unique commentary on superhero films in general. Everything about it burst with must-see funness.

Now, let's watch the latest Apocalypse trailer again:

Soooo - a few things. First, there's nothing all that compelling about this that differentiates it from anything else we've seen every summer since forever. Now, out of all the wacky blockbusters coming out this year, I held out for this one being pretty good, and I still believe that, because I think Bryan Singer really knows these characters, is a masterful director of this kind of material, and will do a nice job putting his final stamp (...for now, obviously) on this franchise. But after Deadpool helped to show the stupidness of this whole mess, is it really going to land with enough sincerity for us to care?

It may just be the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) left in me, or the rapidly approaching Captain America: Civil War (2016), but I'm also struck by the fact that Apocalypse seems to largely feature our beloved heroes clashing against each other. The trailer shows a bit of Cyclops vs. Storm, Beast vs. Psylocke, Archangel vs. a bunch of them, and Magneto being all moody and whatever. Now, some of this is odd, because we haven't had Storm in a film for a while, and haven't  had Cyclops even longer. We saw bits of Angel in The Last Stand and have never seen Psylocke before - so it's not wholly like Civil War where all the pieces have been laid out and now they're duking it out - but this is still largely a battle between people we often know as friends. Magneto notwithstanding, although he's worked alongside our heroes plenty, notably fresh off Days of Future Past.

It's also odd how Mystique has sort of become this de facto leader, and you have to believe that has everything to do with Jennifer Lawrence becoming a megastar more than anything else. I don't have a problem with that, although the movies have always emphasized her much more than I think her place was in the comic book pantheon. I mean, no Mr. Sinister, ever? OR CALIBAN?! Alright, she's probably more significant than Caliban. But based on her box office appeal, it's no surprise that she's front and center in this marketing. And don't get me wrong, J-Law has made that change in the mythos so worthwhile. She's a compelling screen presence that is probably toe-to-toe with Fassbender and eclipsing McAvoy right now.

The X-franchise has always been interesting to me because it's the grand-daddy of all these current superhero films. Across nine films and sixteen years it's also had a (somewhat) consistent mythology, and as such it's been at the forefront of trends that are becoming more popular. The period film. The team-up film. The Omega-threat film. The movement towards comic-real costumes. It's fascinating and rewarding to follow. And now Deadpool has beaten all of them at the Box Office.

What do you think? Can Apocalypse manage to either culturally or commercially surpass its annoying stepson, Deadpool? Find out in a few months!

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