Roaring into cinemas this week on a tidal wave of hype, darkly hilarious superhero icon Deadpool appears to be finally getting the movie he deserves with his new self-titled cinematic feature film.
As promised, it’s laden with profanity and gory violence – even if some easily-offended mums were dearly hoping it wouldn’t be.
We’ve come a long way from watching chisel-jawed Superman politely saving the day in the ’70s, and Adam West’s Batman enjoy a bit of costumed panto with about as much edge as a sanded sphere.
Now, more and more comic book movies are proudly boasting their brutal, uncompromising credentials, and that’s a great thing.
Why you ask? Well…
Look back over the most acclaimed action movies from the past few years, and you’ll see one thing that immediately stands out.
From the edge-of-the-seat corridor scraps of The Raid to the explosive gun-fu of John Wick, the films with the very best action are visceral, hard-hitting sagas. Not family-oriented popcorn fare.
X-Rated comic book flicks know this. And they thrive on it.
From the moment Marv leaps feet-first through a cop car window to smash heads in Sin City, before dragging a guy face-first along a road soon after, you know you’re in for the kind of adrenaline-pumping bombast kid-friendly flicks just can’t muster.
You can leave your PG-rated scraps involving our cape-wearing friends at home. They’re increasingly bland, and literally bloodless.
Fight scenes from the most recent Spider-Man movies and even Marvel’s entertaining stable feel kind of twee compared with Watchmen’s prison fight, or Big Daddy’s warehouse rampage in Kick-Ass.
This is Deadpool’s forte really. The merc with a mouth specialises in everything from dirty asides to fourth-wall breaking mockery, and seeing him gleefully landing belly laughs without having to worry about the censors is certainly set to be a joy.
There are definitely plenty of cinematic comedy highlights we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for more ‘edgy’ comic book movies.
From Watchmen’s deliberately ludicrous sex scene in a floating owl ship, to Hit Girl’s ingenious toilet humoured revenge on the popular girls at her school in Kick-Ass 2, where would we be without a little dose of outrageous superhero smut now and then?
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, adapted from the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore, packs its source material’s punch of killer political commentary, superhero parody and social satire into a winning audio-visual KO that no PG-rated film could match.
This is a movie where half the ‘heroes’ are fascistic vigilante psychopaths slaughtering children or citizens, where Batman is an impotent, insecure nerd who can only get his rocks off after a long night’s work of beating up criminals, and where Superman is an increasingly disturbed, humanity-shedding demi-God wallowing in a tragic mire of cosmic alienation.
You look at Snyder’s upcoming Batman Vs Superman movie, and it’s obvious that he’s attempting to re-purpose Doctor Manhattan’s terrifying implications into the Man Of Steel himself this time around; the deity-like being, feared and worshipped in equal measure.
But with a child-friendly demographic in mind, even this ‘darker’ approach to DC’s pin-up can’t hope to rival Watchmen’s bitter grit.
Then you look at the brilliant Kick-Ass and, if you’re really being bold, James Gunn’s extremely underrated and fantastically close-to-the-knuckle Super, which take the ‘what would superheroes be like in the real world?’ question on with darkly comic wit, and deftly handled shock-value.
Watching the protagonist of Kick-Ass get stabbed and run-over early in the movie (and worse later on) is genuinely disturbing due to the visceral and non-glamorous portrayal of that violence, just as watching Rainn Wilson smashing people’s heads in with a wrench in Super leaves you open-mouthed in a half-hilarious, half-horrifying way.
When comic book movies have such bite, they’re extremely effective at satirising both the way in which superheroes are portrayed generally, and the way in which we think of them as a result.
A bolder spin on superheroes
We all know that the best characters are complex, morally ambiguous ones. Hell, some of the most iconic protagonists in pop culture history are full-on anti-heroes.
Adult-oriented comic book movies allow for their central figures to be more complex, and therefore more rewarding to follow, because their actions are depicted in a manner that allows for more vivid, deep and meaningful personalities to develop.
Look over the movies we’ve discussed above, and this much is obvious.
Rorschach of Watchmen fame and Marv from Sin City are terrible yet sympathetic men; their bloody, mentally-unstable rampages of torture and murder informed by a moral code of sorts, and seemingly driven by a nihilistic rage born out of abuse and mistreatment.
Super’s Frank is a tragic figure; a psychologically-disturbed loner who has visions of a Christian superhero guiding him, wishes to save his drug addict ex from the despicable thugs who are exploiting her, and – in an extraordinarily powerful outburst near the end of the film, which leaves a poignant spin on what has come before – reveals a psyche wrecked by the everyday transgressions he sees around him.
So yeah. Adult-edged comic book movies give us weighty themes and striking, multi-layered characters into the bargain. Though the ball-busting action and shocking gags certainly don’t hurt either.
Deadpool is in UK cinemas from Wednesday