Saturday, February 4, 2017

Failed Oscar Campaigns: "Deadpool" (2016)

Scene from Deadpool
As awards seasons pick up, so do the campaigns to make your film have the best chances at the Best Picture race. However, like a drunken stupor, sometimes these efforts come off as trying too hard and leave behind a trailer of ridiculous flamboyance. Join me on every other Saturday for a highlight of the failed campaigns that make this season as much about prestige as it does about train wrecks. Come for the Harvey Weinstein comments and stay for the history. It's going to be a fun time as I explore cinema's rich history of attempting to matter.

The Movie

Deadpool (2016)
Directed By: Tim Miller
Written By:  Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Running Time: 108 minutes
Summary: A fast-talking mercenary with a morbid sense of humor is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and a quest for revenge.

The Movie

There is a method to the madness behind Deadpool - specifically that of main star Ryan Reynolds. The famous story goes that he wanted to make a movie version of the Marvel Comic for over a decade, settling for a notoriously botched version with X-Men: Origins - Wolverine. Speaking as his other superhero movie, The Green Lantern, also was a notorious flop, the chances of him ever making a film about the superhero who broke the fourth wall and cursed worse than a sailor became extinct. This is hard to judge with the actual results, which included an astounding $783 international gross - making it the highest grossing movie in the X-Men franchise period.

There are a lot of reasons that director Tim Miller's Deadpool caught on with audiences. For starters, it was an origin story for a character who hadn't really been known before 2016, and who would need a very specific format to have his story told correctly. Where his brethren sat in PG-13 films with limited gore and language, Deadpool needed to be on full display with a satirical take that was profane and unabashedly shameless. He was the superhero for people who were tired of the tropes and wanted to see the heroes of the past 20 years taken down a peg. This included Reynolds' own career, where he made less than subtle jabs at his hit and miss career decisions. It was an R-Rated superhero movie for "adults." It pretty much set up the potential for everyone with more credibility to have their own edgy story, including 2017's first Marvel movie Logan.

Its influence also escaped to the internet, where it had one of the most memorable, or at worst most present, movie campaigns in recent history. Much like how Deadpool breaks the fourth wall in the film, he did the same for every trailer and marketing gimmick imaginable. From mastering weird Twitter tactics to criticizing famous YouTube critics Honest Trailers in their own video; Deadpool understood how to be viral and almost omnipresent. It's a tactic that worked in the film, but was even better in the pop culture landscape of the internet. As a result, you could love Ryan Reynolds' take on the character without ever seeing the movie. It was almost genius in a way.

Still, the last move that Deadpool has would come almost a year after the film came out. It would attempt to satirize awards season by actually sending out the familiar screeners and consideration pamphlets. It was a move that left many speculating that maybe, just maybe, the Merc with the Mouth was going to show up on Oscar Sunday with a few nominations. It's a move unprecedented to almost all superhero movies, and it only made their strategy all the more audacious and silly. Even if it didn't succeed, it would be a perfectly confusing prank to pull on audiences and critics alike.

The Campaign

In a rare instance, Deadpool is a two-timer in the Failed Oscar Campaigns. The film came out on Valentines Day 2016, which was just in time for that year's Oscars voting. At the time, a few things were obvious. For one, the film wasn't eligible for the ceremony based on the strict standards of films having to be released within the calendar year of January and December of the previous year. It also didn't help that Deadpool was only in the early stages of its grasp on pop culture and wouldn't become the inescapable institution that it would be until its home video marketing campaign. Yet Reynolds had the clever idea to send out his own satirical For Your Consideration poster, cleverly combining "Consideration" and "Masturbation" into a portmanteau called Considerbation. The rest of the poster had some jokes at silly categories as well:

Yes, the film was a winner of "4 Golden Girls" and was up for a "Participant Ribbon." With a golden Deadpool-esque Oscar statue next to it, it had all of the trappings of a decent parody. It managed to make Hollywood's frivolous activities seem silly while doing something unintentional: it set up the longest Oscar campaign con in recent years, managing to sway such awards institutions as the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) to give the film nominations. If nothing else, it's one of the rare films to do well at the serious awards ceremonies as well as the Teen Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards.

But the Oscars were ahead. With actual awards nominations piling up, the film that made fun of superhero movies wasn't just getting fictional awards. It could very well get real ones. In fact, Reynolds once again took time to write a personal letter that went out with the FYC screeners. It was comical, but focused on the more serious plight of Reynolds' road to making the film. He joked about how the 10 years to make it was awful, and that he was grateful for everyone involved. The letter was generally able to mix scathing punchlines with earnestness in a way that transcended the snark that usually came with a new Deadpool promotional stint. It ended with the somewhat corny line of: 
"Thank you for helping me see a decade-long dream explode into living color. Once in a while the long game pays off and reminds me that in this industry, truly, anything can happen.”
If this wasn't enough, Reynolds and Deadpool had one last trick up their sleeves. It would take one last chance at the FYC model by parodying the video versions of Oscar season movies. 

Among the mentions of the film were: 600 lbs. of Chimichangas, 456 ad libs, 7 magical unicorns, and 783 million fans (a reference to its box office total). The video's sincerity was undercut by the occasionally crass categories or lines of dialogue spoken. It still had the courtesy to end with a gracious note of thanks, but never quite let up that these videos are silly. As a capper to its awards marketing, it was a solid send-up that made its chances seem more possible, even if smart people knew it wasn't going to happen. Still, the belief that this could be the superhero film to break the trend was a message commonly held, even with many Photoshopping an Oscar into Deadpool's hand. Would the dream be a reality?

The Payoff

By all stretches, Deadpool's success story was already in high gear by the moment that the Oscars were announced. Still, many took its overwhelming absence of nominations as a sign of the movie being snubbed. Among those coming to bat for the film was actor Jake Gyllenhaal - of whom many would argue had been snubbed for years for films like Nightcrawler and Southpaw. He claimed that: 
"We talk about brilliant performances all the time, you know, the actors who tear themselves apart for their roles, which I’m a believer in. But then I look at Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool and I say, ‘No one can do that but him,'" 
To be fair, Gyllenhaal was right that Reynolds' passion defined Deadpool in a way that exemplified what the original comic stood for. Still, with the film receiving constant stories for director Miller dropping out of the sequel and its various marketing stints, it was the real winner of 2016's pop culture zeitgeist. It may have never stood a shot at being the superhero movie to break the Best Picture barrier, but it proved that awards season could be fun. Maybe this is only a set-up for whatever campaign will come with the sequel. Nobody knows. Since Deadpool was enough of a surprise this time around, nobody will probably count it out either.

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