Maximum effort: Why Deadpool shone thanks to, not in spite of, a disciplined budget

Last week, the R-rated Marvel Comic movie adaptation Deadpool associated the Valentine’s Day weekend color of red with the bleeding from its box-office competition. The film came out of a weekend gate extended by President’s Day with $150 million domestic, boosted with $132.1 million in foreign grosses. Consequently, Deadpool let loose a gaseous hash-tagged “drive-by” on the faces of naysayers. More importantly, it accomplished this unlikely feat with a budgetary restraint that was artful in its own right.

Box-office prognosticators were deeming the tawdry Deadpool to be dead on arrival, especially with family-friendly fare like Kung Fu Panda 3 also debuting. However, Marvel’s maligned Merc With a Mouth movie proved itself to be a rare, potentially bellwether exception to conventional logic on so many levels. Clocking in at a trim 1 hour and 46 minutes, the film was clearly shot and cut under the looming specter of Fox studio bean counters. This was a perpetual struggle for star/producer Ryan Reynolds and scriptwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and a true trial by fire for first-time feature director Tim Miller.

Besides sporting its modestly allocated $58 million budget (minuscule for a comic-book blockbuster), Deadpool was placed in the seemingly untenable position of having little time to cover key exposition for a character essentially unknown to mainstream audiences. Plus, it had to cover standard plot developments that called for the occasional reminder to moviegoers that these events were indeed taking place in Fox’s post-Days of Future Past, reset X-Men movie continuity (evidenced by the fact that Deadpool still has a mouth). On paper, these appeared to be insurmountable obstacles for a comic-book film without the words “Spider,” “Bat” or “Avenger” on its marquee.

Attempts were initially made by the filmmakers to work off a PG-13-minded Deadpool script, which would have provided a larger budget. However, as those who have seen the movie can attest, such an endeavor would have sucked out the very soul of the film. This inflexibility was also cited as the reason the film was banned in China and later, Uzbekistan. Moreover, the filmmakers even had to trim their budget in mid-production. As co-writer Rhett Reese explained in a recent interview with io9, “We had to carve something like $7-8 million out of the budget in a 48-hour window. And we, as a group, just put our heads together, got creative, and said, ‘How do we cut what is essentially nine pages out of a 110-page script?’”

Yet, as with most happy accidents, the production ended up becoming substantially shaped by the reduced budget conceded to Fox so the studio would ignore their PG-13 inclinations and greenlight the project as an R-rated film. One of those budget-friendly concessions with the film’s relatively short runtime resulted in the production omitting ostentatious sequences such as an elaborate motorcycle chase between Deadpool and Ajax in the freeway scenes and an extensive third-act gun battle.

 

Furthermore, as Deadpool himself muses in the film, the limited selection of X-Men universe characters was budget-minded. Allies like Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the rather obscure Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) were selected under the context of careful spending. Initial plans called for characters like Marvel’s lethal mimic, Tony Masters, aka Taskmaster, along with a potentially expensive cameo from the often-referenced Wolverine star Hugh Jackman. Even the characters that we did see, specifically the role of evil enforcer Angel Dust (Gina Carano), were strategically selected in lieu of originally planned characters more connected to Deadpool like Garrison Kane, Sluggo and Wire. Fortuitously, the film was better served in its trimmed form.

More carefully budgeted, the film wastes little time dwelling on indulgent trifles, evidenced by the film’s nonlinear narrative style. Since it kicks off with a fully realized Deadpool in costume and full wise-cracking form, uninitiated moviegoers bond quickly with his superhumanly sharp combat skills and even sharper, fourth-wall-wrecking wit as he cuts through thugs, attempting to reap revenge out of Ajax (Ed Skrein). The over-the-top, crimson-spewing carnage of that sequence segues perfectly toward the crux of the character through the film’s ensuing, earnestly heartfelt flashback portion, wherein a cancer-stricken Wade Wilson sacrifices true love in a sketchy cure experiment that transforms him into the scarred, sword-swinging, super-powered, hyper-healing antihero.

With the creative team not tempted to take tangential breaks to fixate on the bells and whistles that tend to trip up more glut-heavy pictures, the film flows seamlessly, especially considering the breadth of material that it needed to cover. That fiscal discipline yielded full carte blanche to be rife with so much boundary-crossing ribaldry and off-color language that one could practically hear the proverbial monocles of fancy folk splashing into their cocktail glasses. The uber-violent, prurient content predicted to be its weakness ended up becoming a wild card that complemented its slick pacing and surprisingly smart dialogue, tactfully hidden amongst the toilet humor and masturbation montages.

This idea also dovetails with recent comments made by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn on Deadpool’s success. With the industry inevitably adopting the Deadpool method for clones, Gunn states, “Deadpool was its own thing. THAT'S what people are reacting to. It's original, it's damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn't afraid to take risks.” That modus operandi might have yielded different results if said filmmakers were left to their own devices with a bloated budget.

Promisingly enough, the returning creative team seem to understand that lesson as they round the now-inevitable Deadpool sequel. As Wernick recently told Collider, “We don’t want $150 million to go make the next movie, that’s not Deadpool. Deadpool doesn’t lift cities up into the air or battle aliens coming down to earth, that’s just not Deadpool. So we’re happy in that little small budget range that they have us in; we don’t wanna blow this next one out.”

The definitive takeaway, is that Deadpool came out of the gate as a pure passion project with a vision, one that was necessarily honed with the whetstone of logistical, creativity-inspiring obstacles to overcome. THAT is the formula the industry needs to clone, rather than flashy, expensively superficial concepts.

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