The problem with having a self-aware central character who regularly points out the artifice of his own reality is that it creates a certain set of expectations. Like, for example, if your movie starts with one of the biggest cliches in the superhero playbook we fully expect the fourth-wall-breaking protagonist to own up to that, especially when he regularly cracks jokes about “lazy writing” elsewhere in the script. When he just lets the cliche fly right by, though, that somehow makes it even worse.

Welcome to the central conundrum of Deadpool 2.

Spoilers, obviously, but the Merc with a Mouth won Vanessa back at the end of his first movie only to then lose her at the start of his second one. A stray bullet meant for Deadpool instead finds its way to Vanessa’s heart, cueing up a tongue-in-cheek, Bond-aping opening credits sequence which leans into both the surprise and anger over Vanessa’s death. “Did they really just kill her?” one of the title cards jokes, speaking for the audience.

So, it’s not like the movie doesn’t at least kind of hang a lantern on its own cliche. Deadpool, however, never comments on it, perhaps a side effect of the franchise’s tricky push-and-pull of treating Wade as both a Bugs Bunny/Ferris Bueller/Fleabag-like cinematic rule-breaker and an actual person with real feelings to be explored. Vanessa is too central to his emotional core to ever be caught up in his ongoing superhero jokes. The same was true in the first film as well, which is every bit the love story Deadpool repeatedly claims it to be in the voice over.

Let’s say Deadpool 2 broke from that and actually had Wade crack a meta-joke, even something as simple as using the word “fridging” to describe what happened to Vanessa. Would that have really made it much better? We would have still been left watching a franchise built around fresh ideas – or, more accurately, old ideas revived with a new immaturity – stuck playing out one of the most tired storylines in superhero canon. Yeah, but if Deadpool nodded toward the cliche we would have least known the screenwriters understood just what they had walked into.

The reason the film doesn’t do that, though, is because the screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – the guys whose job it is to know all the superhero tropes and to upend as many of them as possible – genuinely hadn’t heard of “fridging.”

Quick refresher about “fridging”: At one point, over at DC one of the Green Lanterns came home to find his murdered girlfriend shoved into his refrigerator, a haunting psychological attack perpetrated by one of his villains. Well, psychological for the Lantern, who had to deal with the grief. Obviously, though, a straight up physical attack on the girlfriend, who is ever so dead.

Over time, that storyline has become to pernicious superhero cliches what Fonzi literally jumping over sharks became to the sign of TV shows passing the creative point of no return. Thus, (and largely thanks to Gail Simone pointing it out) “fridging” is now the disdainful description of when women are killed off in stories (often in shocking/violent fashion) just to advance the (almost always straight white male) main character’s emotional arc, and it’s not exclusive to the superhero genre either. It pops up everywhere.

A young Jeff Goldblum strangles Charles Bronson’s wife in Death Wish, as you do.

From Death Wish to John Wick, people or pets are often dying around a male hero to push a story forward (remember Last Action Hero’s gag about Arnold losing his “favorite second cousin”?). Far too often, the person doing the dying is a woman. Whereas this was once an acceptable storyline – a recognized cliche, but a tolerated one – it has now become despised due to extreme overuse and rapidly changing gender dynamics.

Vanessa isn’t Deadpool 2’s only fridging victim. Cable’s wife and child are burned alive, which eventually proves to be the thing that bonds Cable and Deadpool as reluctant allies – they recognize their shared grief.

What the screenwriters said about it: Vulture’s resident comics expert Abraham Riesman picked up on the fridging aspect of the storyline immediately and went to the screenwriters for answers. He was surprised to learn of their apparent ignorance. “I would say no, we didn’t even think about it. And that was maybe our mistake, not to think about it. But it didn’t really even occur to us. We didn’t know what fridging was,” Reese told him.

It almost didn’t happen this way. “In the very first drafts of the script, Vanessa didn’t die,” Reese explained. “She ended up breaking up with Deadpool, and he was trying to earn her back. Then I think at some point somebody just said, ‘Y’know, Deadpool kind of works best when he’s had everything taken away from him, when he suffers.’ So the thought was maybe we can really, really engender great suffering for him by having his line of work be the thing that costs Vanessa her life.”

What Ryan Reynolds said about it: That “somebody” was probably Ryan Reynolds, who backed up Reese’s explanation on the Empire Deadpool 2 Spoiler Special podcast. According to Reynolds, there was an even earlier version of the script where Deadpool and Vanessa actually had a child, a narrative device they dreamt up to seed the tragedy that was to come, but they didn’t even finish that draft because introducing an actual baby into the Deadpool universe felt completely wrong. That meant the only thing Deadpool had left to lose was, sadly, Vanessa.

“In order for Deadpool to function as Deadpool you need to put him in a position where he’s not just the underdog, but he’s really lost everything. The character’s so outrageous and so obnoxious and so crazy that if he just had everything and everything was in a good place in his life you can’t really turn up the fun. The more pain Deadpool is in the funnier he can be or the more outlandish he can be. We really only had the one thing to take, and that was Vanessa. Vanessa was, unfortunately, the only kind of catalyst we had to plunge Deadpool into the depths of despair. He process pain through the prism of humor. You need him to be in as much pain as possible to have the kind of adventure we wanted to have. It was something we went back and forth on. We had disagreements off and on.”

Whether you agree or disagree with Reynolds’ logic, it’s at least consistent with how they approached the first film. Remember, Deadpool is separated from Vanessa for almost the entire film. Wade gets to be with her and they are cute and funny together, but once Wade becomes Deadpool and stays away from Vanessa until he can fix his body there is a marked escalation in his humor. As he jokes at one point, “Ah, fake laugh masking real pain.”

How they decided to undo it in the post-credits: Taking it even further and killing Vanessa in the sequel isn’t a decision they came to lightly. Reynolds claims they argued about it repeatedly. They didn’t want to kill Vanessa, but they didn’t know to how to tell a version of the story with her alive. Which is probably why they ultimately undo it in the post-credits scenes, sending Deadpool on a trip through time to first save Vanessa, then Peter from X-Force and then, for shits and giggles, back into X-Men Origins: Wolverine and into Reynolds’ own den the day he first read the Green Lantern script.

Full Circle: A comic book trope traced back to Green Lantern now forms the central storyline of Deadpool 2.

According to Reynolds, that all came about in post-production. They originally had an idea for a post-credits scene revolving exclusively around Peter, just because they love Rob Delaney so much, but the director, David Leitch, figured Deadpool would try to use Cable’s time travel device to save Vanessa. Reynolds agreed but worried it would feel like a narrative cheat. It was only when they thought of the additional time travel craziness that he came around to it.

The internet’s reaction: In the short time since Deadpool 2’s release, the internet has already gone from wondering if the post-credits sequence should be considered canon (is Vanessa now alive, or was that just a quick time travel joke?) to questioning if it was part of some larger effort to comment on “fridging” (by killing Vanessa for angst but reviving her for comedy, are they having their cake and eating it too?) to wondering how in the world the guys who wrote two Deadpool movies seriously didn’t know how upset people would be to see Vanessa killed off so quickly.

The Deadpool franchise is always going to run into issues like this for as long as it insists on telling superhero stories that happen to feature meta-jokes instead of being one long meta-joke about superheroes, storytelling, and blockbuster filmmaking.

It all ties back to the central issue with the Deadpool franchise – it’s ultimately a re-affirmation parody, never as truly committed to upending superhero tropes as it would seem, but it’s been made for an increasingly cine-literate audience who expects a bit more from the franchise built around a guy who seems to have seen just as many movies as us. It really shouldn’t be that surprising that the sequel to what is mostly a standard origin story would lead off with an eye-roll-inducing character death. Deadpool’s marketing is transcendent, but the films themselves are just fun, rather simple narratives that need to work well enough to hang a bunch of jokes on.

That Reese, Wernick, and possibly even Reynolds hadn’t even heard of “fridging” before now is problematic. However, the conversation this has inspired can be a positive one. As Vox argued, “The more we encourage marginalized voices to call out the stories that erase or silence them, the more we create a culture where even creative titans can hopefully be held accountable for the problematic patterns in their work — and give way to new creators who are ready and eager to tell different kinds of stories.”

My take: But, in truth, the savviest Deadpool 2 audience members probably predicted Vanessa would be saved by time travel and might not have taken her death too hard because it clearly wouldn’t stick. That was certainly my own experience with the film. I found Vanessa’s death to be annoying in its laziness, but I assumed it would be undone and just had a good time with the film’s cavalcade of gags.

What about you? What was your Deadpool 2 experience like? Does “fridging” even matter to you? Am I letting Deadpool 2 off too easy? Or are we all insane for taking anything in a Deadpool movie seriously? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

16 Comments

  1. Eh…honestly, every consideration of maybe watching the movie in theatres this time around died the moment I heard that Vanessa would be killed. And no, I don’t care that they brought her back. That is not the issue here. The issue here is the ongoing unwillingness of committing to the notion that a hero can actually have a fulfilling relationship with, well, anyone. Basically those writers treat the female characters as some sort of burden they have to get rid off in order to tell a compelling story instead of seeing them as characters which can contribute something to the story outside of being a source of drama for the hero. That’s why I like the fact that Hawkeye has a family so much, that’s why I adore Fitzsimmons and that’s why I can’t get enough of Peggy.

    So, frankly, I don’t give a f… if the writers knew what fridging is (honestly, I have a hard time to believe this in the first place, considering how overused the term has become), what bothers me is that they went from creating some sort of immature boy fantasy of a girl-friend (totally into sex, not big on romantic gestures, supportive no matter what happens to you) to throwing her in the bin for a movie because they felt it was too much work to have her in the story.

    Reply

    1. Then isn’t she better off dead than continuing to be the equivalent of a sex doll with a mirror taped to its face? I mean, her (or any other character in this) becoming a deep, strong character was never going to happen in a movie series like this, so why even pretend at this point?

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      1. She perhaps, but the movie series not. It is a clear sign that it will continue to be lazy in its writing, and sooner or later the audience will get bored with it for exactly that reason.

      2. How many Transformers movies are there now?

      3. The market has changed. With the rise of Rotten Tomatoes the quality of the movies have become more and more important, and with the rising ticket prices people think twice before spending money on any movie.

      4. Critics, including Rotten Tomatoes, have been trashing the Transformers movies into the ground since day one, but here we are with no sign of them intending to stop. Sure, the sales have finally started to drop after 5 of them, but they seem intent on rebooting and carrying on anyway, and I have yet to see any indication that they’ll fail at this.

        Ok, let’s get slightly more modern though. How about those DC movies? They’ve been getting destroyed by Rotten Tomatoes and the rest from the beginning with little to no effect. It took them badly bungling Justice League to even make a dent in the profits and they still came out ahead on that one.

        Meanwhile most of the movies people regard as the very best films recently have been huge commercial failures, no matter how high their RT score gets. How can that be if people only want high quality writing and a high RT score?

        Original point being, I think you’re overestimating what most people are expecting from a movie series that’s essentially about dick jokes and stabbing people. High quality explosions and a built-in, dedicated fanbase carry mindless action movies pretty far, even when they’re as insultingly awful as Transformers, and I don’t see any evidence to suggest that this is changing at all. People can talk about how upset they are about it on the internet all they want, but the truth is in the ticket sales.

      5. No, it took them badly bungling BvS to ensure that there was zero interest in Justice League by the general audience.

        And I am not saying that it is only about quality, I am just saying that we switched from deciding based on star or director, to paying attention to brand, track record and reviews. And the audience gets bored way faster now, too.

      6. Well, I hope you’re right, for all our sakes.

    2. “what bothers me is that they went from creating some sort of immature boy fantasy of a girl-friend (totally into sex, not big on romantic gestures, supportive no matter what happens to you”

      At one point, Wade even jokes about her being so perfect he thinks he might have created her in his bedroom on a computer, Weird Science-style, and that’s probably the most knowing reference in either of the films to how much Vanessa is ultimately a fantasy version of the male idea of the perfect girlfriend.

      Reply

      1. “how much Vanessa is ultimately a fantasy version of the male idea of the perfect girlfriend”

        She was a sex worker. She’s no MJ. But then I won’t expect an MJ in Deadpool’s movie universe. Context, I guess, is key. I felt she’s a believable character. Within that context. I have a different opinion about the “position of the month” montage in the first movie. Its played sexy, but mostly for comedy. Sex toy? Again, context. This is Deadpool, R-rated. Not Spider-Man. Two damaged souls, some writer put it – I could agree with that. And some MCU movies aren’t really much better in this department, lazily written female characters. Having Strange’s ex just “there” in the movie is a far worse offense I guess. Having Liz in Homecoming just a distraction for Pete to choose between her and becoming an Avenger, is another. Plot device? More or less. That said the writers of TASM movies did better job with Gwen. Except those movies suck.

  2. Yep. It’s a movie with Cable and time travel. It was really obvious that she’d just get brought back in the end as his reward.

    I wasn’t sorry to see her disappear one bit. Their relationship in the first one was like a bad fanfic. She might as well have just been a sock puppet on Deadpool’s hand. It was better off with this stuff minimized here than to carry on with more cringey romance that most likely would only have gone even further downhill.

    Reply

  3. I’ve encountered the term before. No, it didn’t bother me when I watched the movie. Worse, I even ran into spoilers about Vanessa’s death while checking reviews (f*ck you Slant for not putting any warning) before watching the movie. Of course, the way they killed her was just lazy, but it gave the movie some emotional weight. And the result is a straightforward superhero story with a nice mix of drama and comedy, lots of comedy. It’s not well balanced, sometimes it’s jarring, but the movie delivered some of the funniest jokes in all superhero movies and some nice emotional scenes (YMMV) as well that were lacking in the first movie.

    It’s kind of funny that people talk about DP2 and fridging “controversy” and most articles I’ve read do not highlight other big comic book movies and movies, guilty of using the trope. Chris Nolan is also guilty of this (Prestige, Inception, TDK), but since his were serious movies or movies that were supposed to be taken seriously, I guess he’s immune from criticism. And some popular origin stories could also qualify as fridging: Punisher, Batman, Spider-Man. Then, maybe, to some extent, Bucky in Captain America, that scientist in the first Iron Man.

    Also, I’ve seen far worse cases than this. I’ve seen movies where mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives with little to no characterization at all, die, raped or tortured in movies that were really upsetting. And I found these reactions to DP2 kind of exaggerated.

    Btw, even Simone doesn’t consider DP 2 fridged Vanessa as per her original definition of the term.

    Reply

  4. Watched it today and loved the film. Faithful to the first movie and containing all qualities, action, comedy, sadness, warmth. It was acted well too. Best post credits ending ever. Actually a rare sequel that is better than the original. Vanessa’s death wasn’t a pointless Austin Powers type death. It was relevant even though I love the acress who plays her. Loved the James Bond opening credits too.

    Reply

    1. I’ve actually seen Deadpool 2 multiple times now, and I like it more with each viewing because it still makes me laugh every time. I ultimately lean toward liking the first film a little more, largely because while Deadpool 2 tells a more dynamic story with bigger stakes it has little of the surprise factor of the first. Plus, re-watching the first reminded me of just how much of Deadpool 2 is re-hashing the same old formula and specific jokes. Most sequels are guilty of that. For example, T2 is a structurally a carbon copy of the first Terminator, and the really amazing sequels take the familiar formula and…..aww, who cares. Too long of an answer. Deadpool 2 and Deadpool? I’d happily re-watch either one of them right now. Both fun movies, and, to be fair, both subject Vanessa to comic book movie cliche, killing her in 2, turning her into a final act damsel in distress in 1.

      Reply

      1. Come on. As a sequel it needs to follow on from the first film. What it does is build on the first one. In the first movie he just fights and kills the bad guy. In this one he is a better person and as you say in your article he talks reason so has i fact grown. I dont think its fair to expect a difference in a sequel. It has to follow a formula but also freshen it up a bit. That is a dificult task compared to the first movie which just defines itself. I think deadpool 2 did all the things it could to be a superior film and sequel. There is no way the first film would have used aha take on me and a lesson in dealing with loss. Btw t2 also tried to still to formula of first movie but also try to add something new. Another balancing act of following through as a sequel but trying to do better. I cant think of an example where a sequel is better but not building on the first movie template.

  5. […] Mentions: Deadpool 2, Incredibles 2, The Endless, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Game […]

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