Does Deadpool 2 Contain a Sexist Trope? (SPOILERS!)
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I just saw Deadpool 2 and I have to talk about it so heads up! Major, major spoilers are incoming. I’m giving you 5 seconds to nope out of here if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to go in fresh.
Okay, ready? Let’s do this.
I freaking loved Deadpool 2, but I knew I would because the first Deadpool is one of my favorite superhero movies of all time and I expected this one to be just as good. It was. However, the beginning of the movie worried me a little and still makes me think that it could have been better in one major way. Again — spoilers.
“Women in Refrigerators” is a trope coined by comics writer Gail Simone to describe the plot device in which a male main character’s story arc is advanced by brutally murdering (or sometimes raping) his wife, girlfriend, crush, or whatever. It’s named after a particularly galling example in which a villain murders Green Lantern’s girlfriend and shoves her body in his fridge for him to find. It’s inherently sexist because it’s pretty much always a male protagonist and a female victim who is never heard from again. She literally only exists to die so that the protagonist can have some angst.
I really enjoy it when films subvert this narrative. One example is John Wick, in which he does lose his wife at the start of the film, but that’s not what drives the movie’s storyline. In fact, his dog gets put in the refrigerator. It’s the exact same trope, but instead of a woman, it’s his dog. I hate seeing an animal hurt in a film but I honestly loved that.
Deadpool 2 opens with DP’s girlfriend from the first film, Vanessa, getting murdered by a criminal who DP had been tracking down. This is classic refrigeration: she dies, which tears Deadpool apart and provides the impetus for him to build himself back up and to learn what family means. Because of that, I was disappointed, and considering how self-aware Deadpool is, I thought that they would immediately undo it somehow. Here’s the surprising thing, though: apparently the writers of this film weren’t actually as self-aware about comics as Deadpool usually is. And honestly? It’s probably because they’re men.
In an interview with Vulture, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick admitted they had never even heard of the trope and hadn’t considered it at all. In a way it’s understandable because they’re human and they can’t be expected to know everything, but in another way it’s a bit unforgiveable for the writers of Deadpool to miss such a huge trope. In case you don’t know, Deadpool’s entire thing is that he breaks the fourth wall and is fully aware that he’s in a comic book (or a comic book movie). He tells Josh Brolin’s Cable that he’s so dark he should be in the DC universe, and then calls him “Thanos” because Brolin also plays that character in Infinity Wars, just to name two examples. It’s what makes Deadpool so fun — it’s one of the few superhero movies where I manage to catch a lot of the easter eggs, as a person who was once completely obsessed with the 80s and 90s era X-Men.
It really feels like having a single woman look at the script could have helped them avoid a lazy, sexist trope, though then they might have had to rewrite the entire thing. As an aside, I am always available for punching up a script. For example, in the first Deadpool when Deadpool and Weasel walk into the strip club, Weasel asks DP how he knew Vanessa worked there. DP says it’s because he’s been following her but he should have said “Because Stan Lee is the announcer here.” See? I can help. Call me for Deadpool 3.
Anyway, back to Deadpool 2. Vanessa gets put in the fridge, but Gail Simone (who, again, helped coin this trope) says on Twitter that she doesn’t think this actually fits into the trope. She correctly points out that an important part of the trope is that the character being refrigerated disappears from the narrative, never to be seen again because she no longer matters. In Deadpool 2, Vanessa is still there as a beautiful angel in heaven (or some version thereof) who communicated with Wade in riddles, leading him to where he needs to go. And of course, in the end (well, after the end, mid-credits) Deadpool goes back in time and saves her.
It’s a fair point, but if anything it elevates Vanessa only slightly. She’s mostly absent from the story after her death, and when she is in it, she only exists to further motivate Deadpool. You could argue that every character in the film is there to move D eadpool along his hero’s journey, and you’d be right, of course, but many of them have their own motivations and arcs. Cable is trying to save his wife and child. Russell wants revenge on his abusers and to find a real family to love him. Peter…well, Peter just wants to have a fun adventure. But don’t be fooled, he IS a fully fleshed out character. Seriously, you can follow him on Twitter. He hates swans and loves his wife Susan and her personal trainer, Gus.
Vanessa, here, is really an anima — that otherworldly spirit that guides the protagonist along his journey.
So sure, she’s not just a girlfriend stuffed in a fridge, never to be seen again. But she was used in the typical cliche way that a murdered woman is usually used, and even though she at times subverts the trope, and even though the film is massively entertaining and I fucking loved it, it’s still a little disappointing that they didn’t do something more creative.
The good news, in my opinion, is that since Deadpool reversed her death, there’s a chance for Deadpool 3 to be really amazingly creative. I want to see Deadpool go through some shit with Vanessa still beside him, for once. I mean, she doesn’t need to be a superhero, though that could still happen, since the writers say they could finally turn her into Copycat, a mutant who can take on other mutant’s abilities. Honestly, that would be awesome, but I also think it would be awesome for Deadpool and Vanessa to start a family — a weird, fucked up family, but a family. My favorite part of the first Deadpool was how strong and surprisingly healthy their relationship was, and superhero films never really explore that sort of thing without, well, killing the wife and child to advance the storyline.
Okay, all I really want from Deadpool 3 is more amazing sex scenes between Wade and Vanessa. If they call it Deadpool 3: Happy International Women’s Day, all will be forgiven.
Anyway, I’m interested in hearing what you guys thought of it, and where you hope the series will go from here!
I would expect at least a “Killing your archnemesis’s girlfriend. Oh, how original.”
I am not much for superhero movies unless I want to spend time with friends and friends are going, so I was happy to take the spoilerage.
However I am completely down with the “hates swans.” I have nearly been mugged by swans twice. They may look good but they are pure malevolence.
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