I should've hated Deadpool's depiction of its female characters...but I didn't
Deadpool is an acquired taste. If you don’t like dirty jokes, the rat-a-tat of rapid fire quips, or gratuitously hilarious violence? You’re gonna have a bad time. This is a movie that is aimed squarely at everyone’s inner 15-year-old. A time when being crass was the height of rebellion and nothing was funnier than a well-timed joke about sex or drugs. If you’re still in touch with that inner moody teen — or better yet have access to one you can take with you to the theater — Deadpool is the superhero movie you’ve been waiting for.
However. There is a part of Deadpool I should have had issues with. The women. We’ve got the hot chick hooker with a heart of gold, the mostly silent but sexy muscle, the goth teen, and the blind roommate. None of these women have a story arc of their own, so the Mako Mori test is a bust. None of them ever converse with each other about anything other than a man, so the Bechdel test is out. Then there’s the scene at the strip club, with all its “boobs don’t work like that unless they’re fake” tropes. On paper, I should be disappointed and kind of revolted by this backwards take on women in film.
But I’m not. As soon as the credits rolled, it was my husband who pointed out Deadpool passed neither test. Bless him. I was shocked. I hadn’t even noticed. How could I have been so distracted? The question plagued me until I remembered a quote by a famous pirate, “They’re more like guidelines anyway.”
Both the Bechdel test and the Mako Mori test were designed to shine a spotlight on how poorly women have historically been served in film. But while a basic barometer for decent characterization, exceptions exist on both ends of the spectrum. For example, the original Star Wars doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, yet Princess Leia is a great character. Meanwhile the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot DOES pass, but that movie objectifies Megan Fox at every turn. So while screenwriters should definitely keep shooting to add more women having more conversations and character arcs to their films, these tests aren’t always indicative of good female characterization.
All of which is a long-winded way to say this: Deadpool is a movie with teen boy humor that treats women like people. Vanessa, Angel, Al, and Negasonic are as fully fleshed out as their male counterparts. They have varying personalities and flaws. You can imagine how they’d react differently to the same situation. On top of that? Deadpool has a few sly moments of progressiveness. When dealing with juvenile humor, programming in the message that “women aren’t objects” is a nice hat trick.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR DEADPOOL BEYOND THIS POINT.
For example, when we first meet Deadpool as Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), he’s putting on the hurt on a stalker on behalf of a teenage client. Any woman who’s existed in a public space can relate to wanting to hire someone to just make that one guy — you know the one — think twice. To have Deadpool blatantly proclaim that harassing women is the kind of thing that gets a hit taken out on you is kind of amazing. Then, When the audience is introduced to Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) it’s clear the lady knows how to take care of herself. She’s a prostitute but that’s never made a plot point or used as shorthand to characterize her. Wade even makes a crack that he wants to get to know her as a person, not a caricature of a “hot chick.” Vanessa’s crazy matches Wade’s crazy and their montage — including pegging to celebrate International Women’s Day — might be one the best off-beat romances of modern cinema. And in a world where cunnilingus is rarely shown in film, it gets TWO nods in Deadpool.
Then, while Vanessa's arc takes the standard “kidnapped to cause a man pain” route, her reaction to a dangerous situation showed quick-thinking and fortitude (and hopefully foreshadowing to her character’s future). There was a very Megara from Hercules feel going on there: “I’m a damsel. I’m in distress. I can handle this.”
The movie is peppered with these little subversive moments. Deadpool having an existential crisis over whether it’s more or less sexist to hit a girl when she’s a villain, Angel Dust (Gina Carano) using Colossus’ chivalry against him, Al (Leslie Uggams) talking about her healthy sex life. All while Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) stands in for the disaffected, perpetually jaded Millennial.
Could Deadpool have done a better job with its female characters? Absolutely. Opening the door to Vanessa’s transformation into Copycat would’ve been nice. A friend for her to interact in Deadpool’s absence perhaps. Or — if they’d really wanted to upset the status quo — maybe Vanessa wouldn’t have been waiting around for two years for a man she thought was dead. Maybe Deadpool should’ve had to try harder to win back her trust.
But, having taken my actual 15-year-old son to see Deadpool, I’m pleased that a movie aiming directly for his (mental) demographic had a variety of competent women who weren’t regulated to merely eye candy or screaming damsel. And for every shot of topless women in the strip club, there was Ryan Reynold's bits burnt and dangling.
Want more? Check out the video above or below for more thoughts on Deadpool ladies with my 'She Said/She Said' cohort Roth Cornet!