ANYONE REMEMBER two really unremarkable Hulk movies in the last 15 years or so?
Ang Lee had an interesting idea to do the Hulk as more of a character study back in 2003, but for some reason decided to intersperse that with actual comic book devices, turning the film into an insufferably serious mess that was periodically interrupted by out-of-place comic book structure. Then Ed Norton got in on the act, wresting control from director Louis Leterrier to turn the latest Hulk film into an example of superhero films at their worst: A few great moments, but generally long, bloated and, again, too self-serious.
So what did Hollywood learn from these two Hulk movies? That you can’t sell a Hulk movie.
THE PROOF? DEADPOOL. For years, Ryan Reynolds and others fought to get a Deadpool standlone that stayed true to the brash, foul, quippy character that Deadpool is. To do that, an R rating was required. To which Hollywood, in all its wisdom, said, “No, no, no. Won’t ever work. Has to be PG or PG-13 for the kiddies.”
And what happened? Reynolds and his backers stuck to their guns, managed to find financing and kicked Hollywood critical and box office ass.
Deadpool didn’t make money because it appealed to key demographics. Deadpool didn’t make money because it had a big star in it. Deadpool didn’t get good ratings because it had something for everyone. Why did it work?
Deadpool made money because the filmmakers didn’t water down Deadpool, which Hollywood wanted, but no comic fan or moviegoer did. Period.
What was Hollywood’s response to this? To talk about adding 20-plus minutes to Batman Vs. Superman, minutes that would change the rating from PG-13 to R.
Hollywood, adding 20 minutes to give a movie a harder rating doesn’t make the movie better. It generally just makes a movie longer. And in the case of Batman Vs. Superman, it makes a pretty mediocre already-too-long movie longer, which really doesn’t help.
Unfortunately, we can now expect a bunch of R-rated superhero films in the future. Because this is how Hollywood thinks. Excuse me, “thinks.” It worked once, now let’s do the same thing over and over again. Which is why we already have five Spider-Man movies, three unfortunate attempts at The Punisher and three Fantastic Four flicks that we’d rather forget about.
LESSON NUMBER TWO HOLLYWOOD should have learned was one about advertising. The public service announcement above is perfect for the character. Deadpool is preoccupied by sex and bodily functions in general, and while you get the tongue-in-cheek character yacking goofily about boobies, you also get a serious message about breast cancer. There’s another one for testicular cancer, as well, done in a similar vein.
Let me be clear: I don’t want to see Jason Bourne giving me advice on diabetes care, or Kylo Ren discussing the finer points of detecting radon in our homes. This works for the character, much like the unique emojis created for Deadpool leading up to the film or Ryan Reynolds “interview” with Mario Lopez where Deadpool attacks Lopez mid-interview. The marketers took the character and ran with it, in interesting, inventive, hilarious ways. They understood the character Deadpool and played to his strengths, rather than just slap trailers up all over TV and the Internet with maybe the requisite “win a trip to the premiere” contest or endorsements.
For those who were already fans of Deadpool, it kept them salivating in anticipation for the film. For those who couldn’t tell Deadpool from a swimming pool, those folks had any number of opportunities to familiarize themselves with the merc with a mouth and decide for themselves whether the film was worthy of they’re hard-earned dollars.
Bravo, Deadpool folks. Now it’s Hollywood’s turn to learn from this film. Unfortunately, the odds are not ever in our favor that this will happen.