Deadpool: Tonal Balance Through Non-Linear Storytelling

March 1, 2016

After referring to the Deadpool movie in two of my last three posts, and after a request from a reader at RandomC, I thought I’d rattle off a few thoughts on it. But instead of doing a full-blown review, I’m going to focus on the one element that I found most interesting.

Actually, I’ll do the whole review thing real quick: It’s a funny movie, y’all. I was worried the Deadpool character would wear thin, and fast, but I had forgotten just how good of a comedic actor Ryan Reynolds is, and the filmmakers smartly kept the focus on other characters (including pre-Deadpool Wade Wilson) enough to prevent the Merc with a Mouth from wearing out his welcome. I don’t often laugh out loud during movies, so the fact that I was doing so in the opening credits and kept on laughing throughout should say enough. Comedy is highly subjective though, and moderate expectations going in help, so don’t get too hyped if you haven’t seen it.

But what most impressed me is how they managed to take a goofy, irreverent, not-meant-to-be-taken-seriously character like Deadpool and give him (and the movie) an emotional arc. Which is part of what I want to talk about. The other is tone.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Deadpool is an origin story, and it starts in the middle of the second act. Here are the three acts: 1) Wade Wilson is turned into Deadpool, 2) Deadpool hunts down the villain who did it to him, 3) Big climactic battle. And we start in the middle of the second act, during a big, bloody, funny battle on a freeway. Which normally would be annoying, but in Deadpool, it’s vital to making the movie work.

The reason is tone. Deadpool wouldn’t have worked as a linear narrative because the tone would have whiplashed wildly from the first (and longest) act—where Wade Wilson falls in love, is diagnosed with cancer, and is brutally tortured into having mutant powers—to the second two, where goofy Deadpool quips his way through an orgy of blood, dick jokes, and exploding dick jokes. It would have been like sitting down expecting Van Wilder, only to get Definitely, Maybe by way of Amityville Horror, only for it to turn back into Van Wilder with an unlimited budget for squib packs and the moral ambiguity dialed up to over 9000.

That would have been a weird experience, because the first half of the movie wouldn’t have felt like a Deadpool movie. It also would have made the pre-Deadpool parts emotionally draining, because as much as Wade and his girlfriend Vanessa—played by Morena Baccarin, yes please I need more of her in my life—try to lighten the mood, cancer and torture ain’t exactly laughing matters. Reynolds still quips his way through the whole thing, but it’s definitely gallows humor.

So instead, they wove the first act into the second, taking us back to the origin story for as long as they could before pulling us back to the kooky highway fight to blow off emotional steam and remind us of what all this is leading to (goofy bloody Deadpool fun). That made the entire movie feel like a Deadpool movie, even while the Wade Wilson parts formed the emotional center that eventually culminated in an actual catharsis at the end of the third act. Which isn’t something that should happen with a character like Deadpool, and that’s why it didn’t—it happened to Wade Wilson.

Basically, they had to give us some Deadpool to keep us happy while they built up Wade Wilson, so they could hit us with the Wade Wilson feels at the end. It was like giving us candy so we wouldn’t notice the stick flying at our heads. Or, knowing both Wade Wilson and Deadpool, a dildo.

Well done, Marvel. You hit us with a dildo.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s probably to pay more attention to pacing and tone. A lopsided story ends up being recommended—if it’s recommended at all—with caveats like “It starts slow, but…” “It’s a little weird during the middle, but…” “The ending is weak, but…”. And while some of my favorite stories are like that, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been improved by ironing out the kinks. Or, if they followed Deadpool’s example, adding more kinks in.

I’m talking about all the sexy times, people. The boobs and the danglies and such. Get with the times, jeez.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    Well, since I’ve already said most of my thoughts on Deadpool over at RC, the only thing left to say is:

    Thanks for taking the time to make this write-up. And glad to see you enjoyed the movie both as a movie goer and as a writer.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      No problemo. Thanks for giving me the spark for a fun post.

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