He’s brash, brightly colored, wears an impeccably tailored suit, and says whatever is on his mind. The ladies love him. He’s sarcastic. He’s full of himself. He makes too many off-color jokes for a PG-13 movie. He’s definitely rated R. He breaks the fourth wall. Defies conventions. Chews through enemies like they’re paper dolls. And just when you think he’s finally taken a beating even he can’t handle, his incredible healing factor kicks in and he mysteriously, almost magically, comes back to life, often even stronger than before.
His name is Donald Trump, and he appears to be Weapon X’s own answer to American politics.
The parallels between Marvel’s fictional, foul-mouthed, always-inappropriate anti-superhero and The Donald are hard to ignore. Both rose to prominence in their respective arenas at the same time, both pretty much out of the blue. Neither were expected to succeed. Both were viewed as little more than crass, abrasive forms of niche entertainment that would fizzle out fast.
But the Deadpool movie has far-exceeded expectations. With a $58 million production budget, the film has now raked in over $600 million in global ticket sales, holding the top spot at the box office for weeks. The Donald’s blockbuster poll numbers are no less impressive. Up until now, he’s completely dominated the GOP field.
It seems that as a society, we’re pining for shock value. Violence. Sex. Vulgarity. Humor. Say anything, as long as it’s not the same old same old.
I haven’t seen Deadpool. (I’ll admit that it looks pretty amusing, but I’m kind of a horrible person.) I also haven’t paid that much attention to Trump. He appears similarly entertaining, although, as this insufferable campaign season goes on, he’s becoming less so. Antiheroes, if they’re interesting enough, can be appealing. But only for a while. Anyone whose entire motif is to be over the top is only enjoyable in limited doses. After a while, it gets really old, really fast.
That’s the risk of being that guy.
James Gunn, the director of the very funny sci-fi/superhero sleeper hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, made an observation about Deadpool that bears repeating. I think it also reflects on Trump:
After every movie smashes records people here in Hollywood love to throw out the definitive reasons why the movie was a hit. I saw it happen with Guardians. It “wasn’t afraid to be fun” or it “was colorful and funny” etc etc etc. And next thing I know I hear of a hundred film projects being set up “like Guardians,” and I start seeing dozens of trailers exactly like the Guardians trailer with a big pop song and a bunch of quips. Ugh.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
Deadpool wasn’t that. Deadpool was its own thing. THAT’S what people are reacting to. It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks.
For the theatrical experience to survive, spectacle films need to expand their definition of what they can be. They need to be unique and true voices of the filmmakers behind them. They can’t just be copying what came before them.
So, over the next few months, if you pay attention to the trades, you’ll see Hollywood misunderstanding the lesson they should be learning with Deadpool. They’ll be green lighting films “like Deadpool” – but, by that, they won’t mean “good and original” but “a raunchy superhero film” or “it breaks the fourth wall.” They’ll treat you like you’re stupid, which is the one thing Deadpool didn’t do.
But hopefully in the midst of all this there will be a studio or two that will take the right lesson from this – like Fox did with Guardians by green-lighting Deadpool – and say – “Boy, maybe we can give them something they don’t already have.”
And that’s who is going to succeed.
We don’t need a whole bunch of candidates for high office acting like Trump. Marco Rubio’s latest attempt to imitate Trump’s trash-talking style show unequivocally that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to politics. And just like I suspect that a Deadpool sequel wouldn’t be nearly as successful as the original, I don’t think a Trump second term would go over very well. Maybe not even a first one. People would be sick of him long before the end of four years. We have only so much appetite for absurdity.
Sometimes, when you’re stuck in a rut, you want someone to come in and shake things up. To break things. To defy convention. For a Hollywood obsessed with safe bets and remakes, Deadpool seems to have scratched a particular itch with originality and creativity. It was something that hadn’t been done before. It’s something that may never successfully be done again.
Trump is popular for the same reason. But unlike a movie about a destructive, foul-mouthed funny man, we don’t get to go home from a Trump presidency and watch something else. We don’t get a break from the ego-show. Long after the popcorn is gone, we’re stuck with the man, the mouth, and the consequences. That’s something to seriously consider.
I’m not about to tell you that the solutions Trump says he’ll offer aren’t what the doctor ordered for America. (I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s Joker exclaiming, “This town needs an enema!”) I haven’t reached a conclusion on that yet.
But I have no doubt that if he’s elected, I’ll be happy never to hear from him again by the time the 2020 election comes around. By then, I’ll be wishing he was more similar to the version of Deadpool who showed up in that Wolverine movie. You know what I’m talking about. The forgettable one – the one with his mouth melted shut.