Caution: This Post Contains Spoilers
How can I say this any clearer? I flippin’ LOVED Deadpool. My husband and I went to see it on Valentine’s Day, watching it back to back with Zoolander 2 (which unfortunately won’t be mentioned again on this site). Sure, I had a feeling I would like this movie, but I walked away hardcore crushing on Deadpool.
Here’s how it stood up to the HerStoryArc Scale of Inclusivity:
- Not offensive to women 0/1 points
- Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character 2/2 points
- Passes the Bechdel Test 0/3 points
- Artistic and/or entertaining 4/4 points
- Above and beyond general media 2.5/5 points
- Total points = 8.5/15 or 50%
It might surprise you that a movie I just said I LOVED only gets a 8.5 out of 15, but the goal of the point system is to measure how much women are present, positively represented, and relevant to the story at hand. Much like the stand-alone Bechdel test, succeeding or not doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is or isn’t worth watching. Given that Deadpool is named for and mainly stars a dude, an 8.5 out of 15 is pretty good. I’d also like to take this moment to remind readers (especially of the hackles-raise-at-the-mention-of-the-word-feminism variety) that we are not implying that all movies should be scoring 15/15 on this scale. What we ARE saying is that NOT ALL movies should be getting a perfect score on the “movies featuring dudes” scale, and I’m pretty sure Deadpool would agree with me on this one.
Deadpool features four supporting woman characters: Vanessa Carlysle (the love interest), Blind Al (the roommate), Angel Dust (the muscle), and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (who is exactly what she sounds like). I honestly enjoyed each of them, and I felt that all four had at least one moment where they shined during the film. Which means I found myself in disagreement with a recently posted article on Bitch Flicks (a site I adore) entitled “The Women of ‘Deadpool“, whose author wrote:
“it’s disappointing to see a film work so hard to expose and subvert genre conventions in a hilarious way and then just turn around and fail to do that same work with its female characters”
While she is completely entitled to have that opinion, here is why I disagree. Let’s start with the character Vanessa. Vanessa is a prostitute who also works at a strip club. Wade (aka Deadpool) does not so much as blink an eye at her occupation, and in fact pays for her services in order to take her out on a date. They bond over how terrible their childhoods were, sharing a dark and twisted sense of humor that one adapts when the world has f***ed you over. Once they start dating, it can be presumed she continues with her current occupation, and indeed later in the film we see she is working at a strip club when Wade goes to reunite with her. Not once is Vanessa looked down on or treated derogatorily in the film due to being a sex-worker. She is also clearly in charge of her sex life and enjoys experimenting with Wade, which results in a lot of audience laughs as they try to incorporate each holiday into their trysts. I’m pretty sure the feminist in me high-fived a million angels after the “Women’s History Month” scene!
Oh yeah, and she frees herself from being captured and stabs a bad guy with a sword to save Wade/Deadpool from completely losing brain functionality. I don’t think that qualifies her as a damsel in distress, do you?
Then there’s Blind Al. Somehow she becomes Deadpool’s roommate during the interim period of his life not show in the film. She is a cantankerous black woman who can verbally spar with Deadpool and beat him at his own game. While Deadpool is a complete jerk to her, she holds her own and is a complete jerk in return. The two of them are a perversion of the Odd Couple trope, somehow finding companionship in how f**** up their lives are. Blind Al doesn’t give a s**t about what anyone thinks of her, and neither does Deadpool, which makes their banter some of the funniest in the film. Old women aren’t often allowed to have a lot of screen time, much less be a**holes simultaneously.
Deadpool: It reeks like old lady pants in here.
Blind Al: Well I am old, and I wear pants.
Ah, Negasonic Teenage Warhead. We were all introduced to her first in the movie trailers, as she held her finger up to Deadpool to hold on a sec’ while she finished tweeting during the middle of a fight. An exaggeration of the standoffish teenager trope, she doesn’t warm up to Deadpool so much as enjoy watching him make an a** of himself. However, despite not saying much, her brooding presence doesn’t waver in the face of battle, and she doesn’t back down from a fight. She looks for strategic ways to use her awesomely powerful nuclear explosion attack, as well as rescues Colossus from being strangled to death by Angel.
Speaking of which, I think my favorite scene in the movie is the fight between Colossus and Angel. As I stated already, the ONLY reason Colossus didn’t get strangled to death is because Negasonic Teenage Warhead saved him. When Colossus shows discomfort with a woman’s anatomy (he covers his eyes when Angel’s breast pops out of her shirt), Angel exploits his misplaced chivalry and kicks his butt.
In the Bitch Flicks article I quoted earlier the author found Angel’s role as “the muscle” to be limiting. In my opinion, it is refreshing to see a woman cast in in a role almost exclusively residing in the male trope category. I have a hard time thinking of any other film where a woman is the strong arm on the villain’s team (but please correct me in the comment section). Angel doesn’t seem all that intelligent, and she obeys orders readily, but when she gets the go ahead it’s clobbering time! Her character could have easily been a dude, but instead they chose to defy expectations and I applaud them for it.
There are other feminist attributes worth noting in the film. While, yes, we do have a pretty gratuitous strip club scene (somewhat justified by Vanessa’s employment there) we ALSO see Ryan Reynolds nude (both CG and actually) in various scenes, some of which felt catered to a woman’s gaze. Do two wrongs make a right? I’m not sure, which is why I didn’t give this movie any points in the “not offensive to women” category, so I’ll let you be the judge. I also appreciated that they didn’t have Angel and Negasonic Teenage Warhead fight one another. Too often the only women present are pitted against one another in climactic fight scenes.
One of the reasons I loved this film so much is because Wade has so many layers. I really feel for him when he struggles with losing his good looks, and it was gut wrenching when he decided to go forward with the questionable treatment to make Vanessa happy. It completely flips upside down the trope of a woman’s death being the springboard for a plot. In this case it is Wade’s own looming death, and him wanting to ensure Vanessa’s happiness, that provide the fodder for his origin story. I think the raw and honest emotions Ryan Reynolds brought to the screen are just as feminist a message as everything else I’ve mentioned. Men can be vulnerable, they can be vain, and they can be afraid of judgement, just as women are so often depicted as being.
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