2017’s Deadpool 2 doesn’t seem to get the same love and attention that its previous film did. The general reception I’ve received from other reviews and critics was that it’s “good” but far from the first one. I can understand where some of these critics are coming from; the first Deadpool movie satirized the Superhero film genre in a fresh and new way for adult audience members who weren’t too familiar with the Deadpool comics and pleased those that were. The second movie in the franchise is a lot more involved in its comic book lore. For someone a little bit more familiar with the comics, I appreciated its world-building and inclusion of new characters; others might see it as too many cooks in the kitchen. However, upon re-watching Deadpool 2 and thinking of the recent news of Justice League “Synder Cut” getting a release date for 2021 on HBO max, I had this random thought: Deadpool 2 is the better version of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Why those two specific cape-flicks one wonders? Both Deadpool 2 and Batman V Superman films have similar goals for their respective franchises; they aim to showcase a grand battle between two superheroes, and they both want to establish a superhero team by the end of it. However, one film resonated better with audiences like Deadpool 2, and the other one was received poorly like Batman V. Superman. Why is that? Let me break it down.
Hero on Hero Action
If Marvel is known for anything, it’s for putting conflict between two heroes as much as they do between hero and villain. The hero vs. hero trope was so well known in the Marvel Universe; it came to no surprise that the best MCU film would be Captain America: Civil War in which the Avengers are divided and have to fight each other. Any comic book reader can see this tradition of heroes fighting each-other going back to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four run, where the comics were filled with banter and arguments between Johnny and Ben, or Susan and Reed. The conflict between a band of heroes always seems exciting because it adds an extra battle within the story of good vs. evil. In the case of Deadpool 2 and Batman Vs. Superman, the marketing teams, knew this; they knew to advertise the big fights between icons would get more attention than merely showing off the villain that is designed for people to hate in the narrative. In my opinion, however, Deadpool 2 displays this conflict between two heroes better than Batman Vs. Superman.
Deadpool 2’s conflict between Wade Wilson (Deadpool) and Cable is better than Batman Vs. Superman because they have clearly defined and conflicting goals. Cable is a time-traveler that wants to kill a teenage boy named “Fire-fist” because he grows up to kill his family in the future, and Deadpool intends to protect the kid because he relates to his abuse and wants to help him. Immediately Wade and Cable’s conflicting goals make them butt-heads, and it clearly defined to the audience. Wade and Cable’s conflict also brings into question philosophical themes about destiny and being able to change; Wade and Cable are the two representations of the different sides such a problem can imply.
Meanwhile, the conflict between Batman and Superman is a bit flimsy, not compelling to the audience. Batman V. Superman starts strong with Bruce Wayne saving people in the wreckage of Superman’s fight with General Zod. The opening scene establishes through visuals the different methods of the two heroes: Batman is a ground-level superhero that focuses on small individual cases, and Superman is the big hero who takes on the world-ending threats.
It’s a perfect way to establish the two heroes’ different ideologies, but unfortunately, the rest of the movie’s narrative doesn’t go in-depth into those ideologies or their motivations. Superman doesn’t show much motivation beyond just wanting to live with Lois Lane and save people without the public complaining about it. Batman’s motivation is to kill Superman, which is fine by itself, but it doesn’t conflict with Superman’s motivation other than potentially getting in the way of him…living his life. Regardless, the two heroes rarely butt-heads throughout the movie, only having the briefest of interactions until the end where they fight. There’s no internal conflict or philosophical conflict between Batman and Superman, which is disappointing considering that the graphic novel it was based on The Dark Knight Returns did this effortlessly. In Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel, Superman is established as the government stooge for Ronald Regan and Batman as the anti-establishment vigilante. Based on those two roles, the reader sees how the two can conflict ideology, and its what makes their fight at the end all the more impactful. None of that is apparent or even implied Batman V. Superman, and it makes for a hollow conflict.
Superhero teams and World-building
Ever since Marvel’s success with the Avengers movie in 2012, other studios were scrambling to make a series of films that also connected and led to a big team-up flick at the end. Since the Avengers, however, no one has been able to copy or perfect that formula. The Dark Universe movies that Universal was pushing with Dracula: Untold and the Mummy reboot have been abandoned altogether. Warner Bros. has currently shifted their focus away from big team movies because of the bad critical reception Batman V. Superman and Justice League received. Point being, setting a connected universe with multiple characters can be tricky for a movie series, and only Marvel has perfected the formula. While X-Force wasn’t exactly a team fans were super excited, Deadpool 2 introduces its core members effectively within its narrative. While trying to stop Cable from killing Fire-fists, Deadpool implores other weapon-wielding mutants to help him on his mission. Deadpool 2 even makes fun of building a team by killing some of the members off immediately after they were introduced on their first mission. Still, the core members of Domino, Colossus, and even Cable stick around by the end. In satirizing the superhero team trope, Deadpool 2 establishes the X-Force as a part of the superhero joke, but as a legitimate positive force for Deadpool to live for by the end. That’s demonstrated in the end where (spoilers) Deadpool dies and has a chance to choose to be with his dead girlfriend Venessa in heaven or go back to the “family” he had grown to love in X-Force. Deadpool elects to stay in the land of the living with the X-Force. Even though the X-Force is in a weird state of limbo because of the X-Men property rights reverting to Marvel when they eventually get their movie audience members will already have somewhat of a connection with them. Cable is a serious and dedicated soldier, Colossus is a noble and kind gentleman, and Domino is a fun and care-free wild card:
So how does Batman V. Superman handle setting up one of the most famous and well-known superhero teams of all time? By introducing the members through hidden security footages, Wonder Woman found in her emails from Bruce Wayne….and that’s it The Justice League was established in a hidden email:
They weren’t integral to the film’s plot, and they barely interacted with the two leads. We as an audience don’t get to know them as characters, or even see them in live-action; all we know is that they exist and Batman wants to make the team with them. The idea of the Justice League is a waste of time in the plot of Batman V. Superman, and the email scene could’ve easily been switched to the beginning of the Justice League movie, and the audience wouldn’t be confused. It’s a lazy world-building, and such a big superhero team like the Justice League deserves a better introduction than what Zack Synder had given.
Overall I think examining these two movies are master-classes in superhero world-building and how you can tell a story and set up a franchise at the same time. I would say the most significant aspect that Deadpool 2 has over Batman V. Superman is character development. Everything about world-building and setting up cinematic universes relies on the audience liking the characters that are being presented. If the audience can’t connect or know anything about the characters’ motivations, fears, or ambitions, they can’t like them and won’t care if they show up in other movies. That’s why DC is having a hard time making an impact with their DCEU films; we barely got to know Superman as a character because he was so stoic in Man of Steel, and Batman V. Superman and Batman’s character hardly learns or changes throughout the latter film. Whereas audiences loved Deadpool as a character, and his first movie is set entirely from his perspective, we can understand his worldview, motivation, and see why he’s such an entertaining character. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool is so compelling that audience members who don’t even know what X-Force is will be happy to see it because it has Deadpool. If the audience doesn’t like the characters in the cinematic universe, they won’t like the movies in the cinematic world; and that is the primary lesson.