The best thing about the conclusion of yet another Oscar season is that we are free to start enjoying — or at least talking about — a whole new crop of movies. And it was in this spirit that I finally made it to see “Deadpool,” director Tim Miller’s hyper-violent movie about a mercenary-turned-, well, superhero isn’t the right word, at least not at this stage. Many writers have already weighed in on the phenomenal success “Deadpool” has registered at the box office, noting the film’s savage sense of humor, its clever romantic comedy and Miller’s commitment to making a superhero movie that’s aimed at the people who can get into an R-rated movie without an adult chaperon. And the New Yorker’s Richard Brody has offered a trenchant critique of the film’s ultimately fairly conventional values.
But I was struck by another element of the film. For all that “Deadpool” is an adult movie in its approach to sex and violence, it’s also unusually thoughtful — at least by the standards of its genre — about teenage girls.
Blake Snyder, author of “Save the Cat,” an influential book on screenwriting, argues that an important element of any successful movie is the moment from which his tome draws its title: “It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something — like saving a cat — that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.” In “Deadpool,” the Save the Cat moment comes when Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) confronts a nerdy pizza delivery guy (Style Dayne) who has been stalking a teenage girl named Meghan (Taylor Hickson) and warns him to stay away from her. Meghan isn’t necessarily a damsel in distress; after Wade’s intervention, we see her chatting around a bonfire with some friends. But she’s grateful for his help. It’s not weakness to acknowledge that sometimes you need help.
And Meghan’s not the only teenage girl in the movie. After Wade becomes Deadpool through an experimental treatment paired with a nasty side of torture, the X-Men, particularly Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), keep trying to recruit him to the team. As a result, Colossus keeps dragging along his mentee, the young mutant Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). She has facial piercings, close-buzzed dark hair and a laconic attitude, and while Deadpool knows precisely how to tweak Colossus, he keeps trying and failing to get a reaction out of Negasonic Teenage Warhead, teasing her about everything from her Goth look to the way teenage girls talk.
Deadpool and “Deadpool” take the revenge mission at the heart of the movie very seriously. But Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s relative indifference to his violent antics, and to Colossus’s dismay at those antics, functions as a sort of internal critique of all this frenzied running and jumping and moral debate. It’s not so much that she devalues Deadpool’s yearning for a love he thinks is lost to him, or his quest for some richly deserved vengeance. But Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s presence in “Deadpool” punctures the self-importance that so many superhero movies have adopted in recent years. I’d love to watch Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) try to impress her.
But just because Negasonic Teenage Warhead isn’t awed by the grown men in “Deadpool,” that doesn’t mean she’s ineffective when it comes time to throw down. In fact, Miller and his colleague make Negasonic Teenage Warhead absolutely crucial to the final confrontation between herself, Colossus and Deadpool on one side, and Ajax (Ed Skrein), the rogue scientist who tortured Wade, and his compatriot Angel Dust (Gina Carano) on the other.
When Deadpool needs to get to the top of the wrecked warship where Ajax is holding Deadpool’s fiancee Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) captive, it’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead who gives him a boost. And when Angel Dust is choking Colossus to death, it’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead who bails out her older and more physically imposing teammate with an explosion that knocks Angel Dust for a loop and brings the ship Ajax is standing on crashing to the ground. Without Negasonic Teenage Warhead, it’s likely that the grown men around her go down to a painful defeat.
At the end of the climactic battle, Negasonic Teenage Warhead finally renders her verdict on Deadpool, declaring him cool. Maybe audiences have reached their own conclusions on him before this, and Deadpool reacts to her with a mixture of sarcasm and a tiny dose of sincerity. But in “Deadpool,” a teenage girl’s good opinion still counts for something.