Spoilers for specific scenes in both movies.
I saw two movies this weekend: Zoolander 2, and Deadpool. Actually, I saw Deadpool twice because I liked it that much. I don’t know jack shit about Deadpool as a comic book character, but the movie is hella funny and I think Ryan Reynolds finally got the movie he’s been craving for years. It’s crass and profane and earns the R-rating without ever going the full Tarantino, which I appreciate immensely.
Zoolander 2 isn’t terrible; it’s got its funny moments, but it kind of feels like a collection of cameos held together with a thin veneer of plot. (The Neil Degrasse Tyson and Kiefer Sutherland cameos make it, by the way.) It’s not really as coherent or weird or funny as the original Zoolander, which I’m not ashamed to admit I loved in all its stupid glory and regularly rewatch. I’m not sad in a general sense that I watched the sequel, but I’m not feeling a burning need to own a copy, like I do for Deadpool.
Two things strike me after viewing the movies so close together. There’s a scene near the end of Zoolander 2 where Fashion Police agent Valentina and henchman Katinka have a fist fight, and it’s called out by Mugatu as “Look, they’re sexy fighting!” And they sure are rolling around and making porn faces in a way that’s not really that much exaggerated from the way such fights are in “serious” action films. I appreciated it as a moment of calling out how bullshit and ridiculous woman versus woman fights can be in action movies and making fun of it.
But in that vein, I liked what Deadpool did even more. There’s a scene about midway through when Deadpool is hunting down a bunch of bad people and he’s taking on two women. He hits one of them (just like he has with the male bad guys he’s taken on) and then when she screams he says in what sounds like sincere distress, “I’m so confused! Is it sexist if I hit you? Is it more sexist if I don’t?”
I think the reason that scene just stuck with me is it’s been a staple of so many superhero movies that when there’s a female hero on the team, there’s got to be a female villain, and those two fight. I think there’s a deep discomfort with seeing cross-gender violence in these kind of action movies just because female heroes and villains are universally sexualized. (Extra points here for the number of spandex-clad and au naturale ass shots we get of Deadpool, the most sexualized character in his own movie.)
And as weird as it sounds, I appreciate very much that Deadpool is an equal opportunity puncher/stabber/shooter in that sense. The female villain in Deadpool, Angel Dust, does eventually fight Negasonic Teenage Warhead, but her longest and most protracted action sequences is with Colossus, and there is nothing sexy about it.
Of course, the bothersome thing about Angel Dust is that when she first shows up and we learn her mutant power is super strength, pre-Deadpool Wade of course has to make one of those fucking “jokes.” You know, the you are strong therefore you must not actually be a woman hey I bet you have a dick jokes.
And before you crawl into my comments and tell me all about how Wade is crass and nothing is sacred and he’s supposed to be an obnoxious dickbag, please stop. Every line in this film was a choice, by the writer, by the actor (if adlibbed particularly), by the director, by the editor. Wade was a lot of things (obnoxious being number one) in the movie, but he was far less sexist compared to what he could have been and what I expected. He wasn’t disgustingly racist, just think about his interactions with the cringe-y stereotype of a cab driver (Dopinder) and with Al. The transmisogyny there, so reminiscent of the whinging bullshit you hear every time a female athlete excels, was unnecessary. (eg: going with the athlete vibe, how about sensing some steroids instead of wang?) Wade manages to be a dickbag to Angel Dust plenty of other times without playing to a harmful stereotype that resides entirely within the audience and makes even less sense in a world where the X-Men exist.
Of course, this pales in comparison to the “All” scene in Zoolander 2. If I have to pick my transmisogyny poison, I’ll take the throw away line versus whatever the fuck this scene was supposed to be. After seeing the entire thing in context (because it does go on way longer than in the trailer, unfortunately), I’m still not sure what the actual point was, though I am sure I didn’t like it.
The scene starts out with Derek and Hansel being nosy about what All’s got stashed in their trousers, which is bullshit way too many trans people have to deal with already in real life. Then on one hand, you have someone defending All and calling out the notion of the strict binary. On the other hand, it sure feels like mockery considering it’s coming from the hipster fashion designer who continues on about All being in a “monomarriage” with “hermself.” All in the movie is the hottest model in fashion because I guess nonbinary gender is supposedly “trendy” and thus deserves mockery. Somehow, I don’t think any fashion gender ambiguity trend outweighs the “trend” of trans people being murdered or committing suicide or being targeted by shitbag lawmakers who are more obsessed with genitalia than Derek and Hansel.
The only other time we see All, they’re dressed in a weird fashion angel outfit and diving down to lash Hansel and Derek with a whip on the runway. I got nothin’, other than the fact that I really wish this scene hadn’t even existed. And yeah, Derek and Hansel are dumb, that’s part of the joke. But I’d ask: is the real joke in this shit show of a scene supposed to be that Derek and Hansel are dumb for thinking they have any damn business asking about All’s genitals, or that All is a caricature played by a cis male actor and All brought it on themselves by being ambiguous and weird and is making Derek and Hansel uncomfortable?
To end on a positive note, yay Deadpool. It was a good Valentine’s day choice, believe it or not. The movie has an emotional core to go with all the quips and fourth wall breaking and Ryan Reynolds snarking about the Green Lantern movie. Vanessa and Wade are disturbingly cute and have a strong, emotionally healthy relationship. One of the big questions of the movie is if that relationship can survive how Wade has changed, and the answer is pretty satisfying. Not what I expected out of an R-rated superhero movie. The opening credits alone are worth the price of admission.
Hashtag fuck cancer.
BTW I’m raising money for Act For Change, an organization that helps and promotes diverse artists. You should check it out.
(PS: I am not perfect at writing about gender issues. If I have been an asshole unintentionally, I appreciate very much being told so I can stop being an asshole.)