I have more than a few thoughts about the “Deadpool” trailer that screened at Comic-Con International in San Diego — and if you wanna see the trailer, you’ll have to conduct your own covert search for it and hope you outrun Fox’s litigation force. This week, I’m using my words to complain about “Deadpool’s” words.
Oh I’m an old, old man. I’m a prude and a fuddy duddy. I detest all the pleasantries that the youth brigade gets from their talkin’ movin’ Internet tapes! I am completely aware that the road I’m about to travel down is going to make me sound like the ultimate killjoy, but I’ve got my walkin’ shoes on and I need to break them in.
That “Deadpool” trailer was groan inducing. It was everything I was hoping “Deadpool” wouldn’t be and it caters to a segment of pop culture fans that, well, don’t count me as a member. It also caters to people that get hearty laughs out of homophobia — because the “cockgobbler” line and Blind Al’s “dick in your mouth” diss are homophobic jokes, plain and simple. In case that last sentence didn’t make it clear, there’s gonna be some no-holds-barred, naughty language here, way more so than usual. You’ve been alerted.
Homophobic “jokes” like the ones lobbed at Colossus and Wade Wilson imply that any man that gobbles a cock is worthy of derision strictly because of said gobbled cock. Blind Al says that Wade Wilson has a dick in his mouth as a slam against him. Some of you might be thinking, “Put away your badge, PC police, they’re just jokes!” Yeah, they’re just jokes — they’re jokes that make me, a gay man, think that everyone laughing at them thinks I’m garbage.
So yes, I can see the humor in Deadpool having the misplaced guts to call a walking metal mountain of a man like Colossus a name in the heat of battle. Instinctively, a target in Colossus’ path should cower. Instead, Deadpool attacks him with words. It’s funny in theory. He could make fun of anything else going on with Colossus’ appearance; he could call him a “jacked up T-1000” or a “commemorated silver-plated Dolph Lundgren” or “President of Flat Tops for Men” or something more innovative devised by the actual screenwriter. Instead, no, “cockgobbler” is what we get — a lazy, homophobic, out of nowhere insult. Way to knock those highfalutin gay people down a peg with your witticisms, “Deadpool!”
I get that people will say, “This is Deadpool! He’s supposed to be irreverent and crude and childish!” As someone that has read his fair share of Deadpool comics, specifically the ones this movie pulls most of its characters from, I agree. Deadpool is irreverent and filthy and petty and crude! He’s also a tragically dark character, which is something the leaked trailer even hints at right up top. The right ingredients are there but the measurements are way off. As comic-accurate as the movie’s costume, cast, relationships and physics look, the language is incredibly inaccurate.
This is the big one, and it’s one I’ve already written about at length: Deadpool is a PG-13 character. I know that hardcore DP fans don’t want to hear that. For some reason an R-rating serves as inexplicable validation that this cartoon character is actually for serious adults. But, to reiterate a point I made last time around, only 19 Deadpool comics have been released under Marvel’s mature readers — or MAX — line. The rest, including every issue of all of his many long-running ongoing series as well as every other issue of his dozens of limited series have all been rated Marvel’s equivalent of PG-13. Deadpool and his cast saying “fuck” without it being censored in any way — which they do 4 times in the trailer’s 3 minutes — is not comic accurate. If you’re a stickler for the suit looking just right, why are you not a stickler for the character’s word choice, especially a character like DP whose words are basically a superpower?
The footage we’ve seen acts like a kid who just discovered that “fuck” is a bad word, so they’re running around saying it in front of everyone just because they can and just to get a reaction. There is no nuance or purpose to the usage of “fuck” in this trailer, which is a shame because it can be a deeply hilarious word. There’s the whole “you look like a BLANK fucked a BLANK” riff between Reynolds and T.J. Miller’s Weasel. Weasel says Wilson’s unmasked face looks like “Freddy Krueger face fucked a topographical map of Utah.” OK, sure, there’s originality in what they use to fill those blanks, but the joke formula itself is incredibly played out. It’s used here because it’s tried and true.
The “topographical map of Utah” bit is hilarious; it’s an unexpected reference and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a joke with the word “topographical” in it. The rest of the jokes in the trailer, though, were as fresh as the phrase “amazeballs.” Amazeballs is over people! Amazeballs is no longer awesomesauce — and also, awesomesauce is no longer an amazeballs adjective.
If you were to ask any middle schooler to write R-rated jokes, they would touch on three topics: poop, masturbation and the word fuck. We’ve got poop (“He wore the brown pants”), we’ve got masturbation (“I’m touching myself tonight”) and, as I’ve already covered, we’ve got a fuckton of fuck. There’s no surprise here. By the time we get to that final “touching myself” bit at the end, it feels more like the trailer knew it had one last box to check before it could say “That’s all, folks!”
I want to compare all of this to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which is so far the funniest superhero movie and, at least until “Deadpool” comes out, the filthiest one based on a Marvel superhero. Three jokes come to mind that demonstrate that crudeness need not be sacrificed for originality. Hold on, because I’m about to explain why jokes are funny, which is always entertaining.
First, there’s the Middle Finger Machine joke that was used in the official trailer; Star-Lord is in a line-up at the Nova Corps HQ and, because he’s such a stinker, he does the ol’ crank-up-the-middle-finger gag. Instead of letting that be enough, Chris Pratt’s character feigns shock and surprise and apologizes saying that he “didn’t know how this machine worked.” That’s not tame; the guy’s throwing up the middle finger, a gesture that is somehow still considered taboo. But it’s not lazy because the script recognizes that just giving the finger isn’t a joke (like how just saying “fuck” or mentioning masturbation is not the joke). It puts it in a new context by having the character react to the middle finger in a surprising and sarcastic way.
Another joke is the “they got my dick message!” line in the film’s third act. Peter Quill, in a moment of desperation, sends Nova Corps officer John C. Reilly a message calling for help, proclaiming that while Star-Lord “may be an a-hole” he’s not “100% a dick.” When the Nova Corps surprisingly shows up to help, Quill excitedly turns to Gamora and yells, “They got my dick message!” This is funny because it plays with a number of things all at once; it confirms that Quill did send that ridiculous message to John C. Reilly, it turns “dick message” into an unexpected pun because we know that Quill did not — we think — send John C. Reilly a picture of his junk, and it’s a moment of out-of-nowhere yet totally justified levity in the heat of battle.
And then there’s that joke about how filthy Quill’s spaceship is, where he jokes that if you turned on a black light it would look like a “Jackson Pollock painting.” Yeah, that’s a joke about how the Milano is covered in semen in a PG-13 movie. It’s in a PG-13 movie because it’s not direct; it’s hidden behind a devilishly hilarious simile. If the same joke was in the “Deadpool” trailer, Wade Wilson would probably just say the crudest euphemism for semen and be done with it.
I’m not arguing for a less crude “Deadpool,” although I am arguing for a 1000% less homophobic one. I’m arguing the point that words and word choice matter, especially when it comes to joke writing. “Fuck” doesn’t make things funny and homophobia is not original. It might be hard to write jokes that don’t rely solely on poop and bad words, but it’s worth it. Deadpool, a character known for his wit, deserves real jokes — crafted, crude jokes. It can be done. HBO’s “Veep” does it every single episode, and I can think of no better note to end on than a video of “Veep” insults and comebacks. And — of course — the language is super NSFW.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
UPDATE 7/15/2015 3:25 PM PT: “Deadpool” co-creator Rob Liefeld made it clear via Twitter that a line of dialogue in the footage shown at Comic-Con was in fact “Buck, Liefeld” — Deadpool greeting a character named Buck, then Liefeld — rather than “fuck Liefeld,” as has been widely interpreted, including in the original version of this column. The article has since been amended.