Some of the best and most successful comic-book movies have been the fun ones, but you wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at what unspooled today at Comic-Con. This morning in Hall H, we saw a trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which featured a glowering Ben Affleck and 9/11 imagery aplenty. That was followed up by a trailer for the villain team-up Suicide Squad, which I'd expected to be imbued with a touch of raucous rock and roll, but which seemed, on the whole, to be afflicted with an unfortunate case of grimdark. Finally, there was the panel for Fox's Fantastic Four reboot, where the creative team and cast looked as downcast and serious as the trailer they eventually showed us.
And then came Deadpool. Thank %$#@ for Deadpool.
A self-referential, snarky-as-hell take on the entire superhero medium, the trailer for Deadpool was an over-the-top comic tonic to all that had come before it, all the more remarkable because it's a movie that barely got made. Ryan Reynolds debuted the comic-book character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film so panned that his supporting role never quite generated the heat it would need to green-light a spinoff. The odds were all the more against a Deadpool movie because its tricky protagonist — a red-suited mercenary who breaks the fourth wall with R-rated abandon and cracks so many inside jokes that he practically serves as his own DVD commentary track — doesn't exactly scream "mass appeal" in a world where some superheroes aren't even allowed to wink. (Not that you'd see Deadpool winking — the mask and all.)
The project languished in development hell for years, then, until a concept reel leaked online last summer. Filmed three years prior in the hopes that it would persuade Fox to green-light the film, the brief scene showed Deadpool bopping his head to Gwen Stefani, swan-diving off a freeway overpass, and assassinating a few targets while dropping enough one-liners to make Shane Black blush. The leak earned great reviews and quickly went viral, convincing studio executives to move ahead with the movie, and by keeping its budget low (it's "what the craft-service budget would be on a normal X-Men movie," Reynolds revealed to us earlier this year), they were able to keep the tone just as profane and irreverent as the Rob Liefeld–created comics.
Ironically, this little superhero movie that could ended up blowing the much-bigger-budgeted pictures out of the water, to judge by the reaction at Comic-Con today. It helped that everyone on the panel seemed to genuinely love working on it, not least of all Reynolds, who has found in Deadpool the perfect outlet for his quick comic improvisations. (More of this and fewer pained-looking deadpan dramas, Ryan.) But the footage they showed struck just the right note, and it was all the more entertaining for poking fun at some of its star's other, less popular endeavors. In an intro prepared specially for Comic-Con, Reynolds wore the Deadpool suit and adopted a serious-trailer voice to poke fun at the character's muddled treatment in Wolverine: "From the studio," he purred, "that inexplicably sewed his fucking mouth shut the first time … " Later, in a full trailer that showed off filthy jokes and bloody action in spades (and was replayed after the Comic-Con audience spontaneously shouted "One more time!"), we saw Reynolds wheeled into a lab where he'd be given his supersuit. The hero-to-be had just one request: Don't make the costume "green or animated."
That jab's an inside joke referencing Green Lantern, a would-be franchise starring Reynolds that never took flight. At the panel, Reynolds was quick to poke fun at it himself, saying, "I've only done one other proper — sorry, not proper — superhero movie," and ironically, that character's reboot was announced today, too, when Warner Bros. revealed they'd put Green Lantern Corps (rumored to now star Chris Pine) on its future release slate. That's the sort of story that would surely prompt a welcome, pithy remark from Deadpool himself; in an era where we're reaching superhero-movie saturation, surely there's room for one who'll take the piss out of his too-serious colleagues? And even the other Marvel heroes seem to agree: When Nicholas Hoult came out later in the evening to promote X-Men: Apocalypse, where he co-stars as Beast, the actor found himself a little distracted. "I can't concentrate," he said, "because I'm still psyched about the Deadpool trailer."