Feature: All You Need to Know About Intertextuality in Deadpool 2 (2018)

🚨 May contain spoilers! 🚨

In the opening scene of Deadpool 2, Wade Wilson is shown laying across several barrels of kerosene, wearing half his mask so that his eyes are obscured, and the bottom half of his face is exposed. Of all the intentionally naff dialogue and obligatory set pieces, this is a particularly apt use of costume considering the fact that the character of Deadpool is never just a superhero that audiences are passively rooting for. He is part constructed super hero, but, to a larger extent, part Ryan Reynolds displaying a complete disregard for any fourth walls that might have once been up to retain some resemblance of a conventional film-audience relationship.

However, in this film, the critique of popular culture and running jokes (to name a few, Kirsten Dunst, fanny packs and dubstep are all subjected to ridicule) are so constant and conspicuous that whether we see Deadpool as a character “dressed up as a sex toy” or as Ryan Reynolds having an absolute ball poking fun at every other franchise going, it doesn’t really matter. While the distance between actor and character is so miniscule that audiences would be forgiven for confusing one as the other, the hyperconscious humour is hilarious because of the high volume of intertextual references, which will undoubtedly please a range of audiences.

These references are an eclectic blend of nods to both the Deadpool/X Men corner of the Marvel universe and our actual reality. For instance, a reoccurring source of humour is Wolverine. In the first few minutes, a music box with a miniature model of Logan appears with a spear through the middle of his toy heart, followed by a curt, ‘Fuck Wolverine’ (along with an unapologetic Logan spoiler). The meta-commentary is taken up an extra notch in one of the post-credit scenes featuring Wolverine, though, with Deadpool seemingly travelling back in time to 2009’s X Men origin story to take storyline matters into his own hands. This is further illustrated when Deadpool unashamedly autographs a packet of Wolverine cereal with ‘Ryan Reynolds’. It seems there is no end to Reynolds’ audacity, daring even to provoke one of the nicest men in the business, Hugh Jackman.

There are almost too many comic mentions or nods to other films and TV to explore, so to convey the extent of this film’s intertextuality (never mind its marketing!), here are a few highlights: visuals parodying the iconic James Bond opening sequence; when commenting on other films that start with a murder, Saw 7, Bambi and Lion King are listed; Harry Potter: ‘Is there a sorting hat?’; a mini version of John Cusack’s boombox in Say Anything; Deadpool refers to Cable as John Connor, and dialogue calling out Cool Runnings, The Human Centipede, George Michael, Bowie and Frozen. Evidently, a reliance on audiences having a knowledge of contemporary culture is vital to the enjoyment of the film, but the littering of references is so relentless that you’d have to be living under a mighty big rock to miss them.

Some of these references appear to be throw-away lines of dialogue – perhaps as a constant reminder to the audience of Deadpool’s awareness of his place in pop-culture history. However, other lines in this film are less self-serving and more critical of flawed film plots, the predictability of the action-hero genre, and the movie industry itself. Clearly, there is an element of hypocrisy here as Deadpool/Reynolds proudly boasts in one scene about the commercial success of the first film (“We beat them overseas”), but beyond this unavoidable paradox, the characters also bring to light other issues that are worthy of discussion, or in some cases, things that you wonder why you hadn’t considered before.

  • First case in point: when are super heroes ready? What is the training regime? Who declares a hero as ‘super’? At the very least, Deadpool’s cropped varsity shirt declaring him as an ‘X Men Trainee’ will provide the studio with another merchandising opportunity and cosplayers with a new costume idea.

  • Second, Russell (magnificently played by Julian Dennison, who previously starred in ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’) brings to the fore the matter of body image: “When was the last time you saw a plus-size superhero?” He has a good point.

  • Third, the unsurprising and often banal structure of films are acknowledged and criticised through hyperconscious signposting: “In every film, there’s a point when the hero hits rock bottom.” and “Big CGI fight coming up!” Reynolds calls these moments out before audiences have a chance to.

  • Fourth and finally, in a bid to blast worn out films with diminished audiences, as well as the studios executives who just don’t know when to stop pumping money into movies devoid of any heart or soul, Reynolds brazenly declares, “We need people to carry the franchise for 10-12 years.” Several obvious culprits come to mind…

Why, then, is such a narcissistic, dry, and self-involved superhero so likeable and enjoyable to watch? To begin, the comedy elements of this film aren’t just incited by snarkiness and the critique of others. As one of the named writers of the film, Ryan Reynolds’ also pokes fun at himself with the line, “That’s just lazy writing.” The Deadpool team have struck a balance between self-deprecating humour and a witty and relevant commentary on contemporary society and the output of the mass-media.

As well as this, the abundance of intertextual references coupled with the transparency of the film’s production brings a new element of consumption to audiences – we are immersed simultaneously in our world and Deadpool’s, and this version of hyperreality is a refreshing and clever compromise considering the amount of knowledge that audiences already have of films with comics and books as source material. Why patronise them by covering up what they already know?

Evidently, the way that we watch films is changing, as is the nature of escapism. With other films – largely within the same genre – following suit in similar ways with plenty of self-reflexivity, fourth wall breaking, hyperconscious characters and hybridity, perhaps audience expectations will shift in more permanent ways. But it remains that Deadpool 2 takes these elements to the extreme to create a post-post-modern film that walks the fine line between offensive and comical, as well as tampering with the conventions of the genre just enough so that Reynolds and the rest of the cast stay atop of the R-rated superhero empire they have crafted.


Director: David Leitch

UK release date: 15th May 2018