Destroy All Monsters: A Negasonic Teenage Warhead Is About To Go Off
All right, I don't know what "negasonic" means. Or if it's even a word. It's been a long time since I've read my Grant Morrison (or listened to Monster Magnet), and Google is no help to us in situations like this, for obvious reasons.
In part, Google is no help to us precisely because of the effect I've been thinking about since seeing Deadpool. Call it the meme-ification of culture, if you like; but not in a bad way, because on the balance I'd say that the meme-ification of culture is largely a good thing.
I didn't love Deadpool (I didn't hate it either), but I could see fairly quickly why the film immediately became the current It Girl. (Pansexual Deadpool wouldn't mind my calling him that.) Like the blatantly politically incorrect joke you knew in grade school and dutifully passed to anyone you were trying to impress (which, incidentally, was also a meme), Deadpool seems precision-designed to be broken apart and swapped around in gifsets, emojis, and fan art. Improbably for a film that was in development hell for the better part of a decade before finally being greenlit on the back of a three-time-loser superhero movie star, Deadpool feels very "now."
My particular takeaway meme from Deadpool will probably be the aforementioned Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), the disaffected teen X-woman who delays a portion of Wade Wilson's final stand against the villain Ajax because she's too busy finishing a tweet.
This is in part because the character, such as she was, has always stuck in my head from the comics ("I'm not going to be Purple Manned by some goth punk!" is one of my all-time favourite Joss Whedon lines), and in part because the refreshed take on Negasonic in Deadpool is one of the film's better gags. A quick Tumblr search shows that she is, indeed, taking hold, as such characters in such films tend to take hold on Tumblr.
Now here's the rub: Negasonic Teenage Warhead is barely in Deadpool. At all.
Structured the way it is, of course, this makes total sense for Deadpool. In fact, none of the secondary mutant characters -- Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Colossus, Ajax and Angel Dust -- are developed beyond the barest of bare minimums in the film, which leaves a lot of money on the table across the board. (Why on earth would you cast Gina Carano in an X-Men movie and not let her, you know, do something, besides punch a CGI strongman?)
Negasonic's utility in the story is minor. She's basically there to emerge substantially more powerful than she appears at first, after tagging along sullenly behind Colossus for the first two acts of the picture. Add a twitter joke and you're done. She's not there to serve as an emotional touchstone for Deadpool a la Rogue/Wolverine in X-Men 1; she's not there to connect Wade's past to his present by being the pre-punk teenage girl whose boyfriend he beat up back in the day; she's not there to do anything other than what most side-characters in the X-Men franchise are there to do: show up, be cool, go home. (See also: Quicksilver in Days of Future Past.)
But: what a missed opportunity.
Not necessarily within the movie we have, which works well enough under the circumstances -- although arguably, the wide, wide swing in responses to the film, everything from half a star to five, across the four quadrants, at least half of whom felt troubled to tell me in person what problems they had with the film today, as though I were Marvel's Toronto representative (I wish!) -- suggests that Deadpool didn't give a good portion of its audience something to hang on to.
But in a post-Rey world -- when studios everywhere might finally be catching up to the news that they should have been on top of since 2012, if not sooner, thanks to the overwhelming cultural bow-shock of The Force Awakens -- having a badass teenage girl character in your teen-skewing superhero movie and not giving her a huge piece of the story? Sort of seems like the only element of Deadpool that is behind the times.
Deadpool will get away with it, because by dint of when it is being released, it is only just behind the times. Other movies forthcoming (Ghostbusters, Alice Through The Looking Glass, Rogue One) did their homework ahead of time and will be arriving prepared.
Along those lines, Suicide Squad, this summer, is now primed to be a two-run homer: not only is it going to have the opportunity to ape the R-rated vulgarity of Deadpool, even if it's only PG-13; it will also headline, in Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, the exact sort of character (okay, a substantially crazier version of the sort of character) that Negasonic Teenage Warhead could have been, if anyone at Deadpool Central Command had had the foresight to go there.
Look how the Batman v. Superman marketing has skewed tighter and tighter towards Wonder Woman in the wake of the perceived weakness of the story proper; the chauvinist decision two years ago to name the flick after the boys is probably seeming like less and less of a good idea over at Warner Brothers nowadays.
It's unlikely the actual quantity of Wonder Woman content in Dawn of Justice will bear this marketing angle out, of course, but that's ok; the actual Wonder Woman movie - which has been in development hell just as long as Deadpool, if not longer - is coming next year. Just in time, given what's finally catching on in the marketplace.
A lot of movies, though, are under threat of looking like dinosaurs by the time they finally emerge. What genius greenlit next month's Snow White and the Huntsman follow-up -- the one that nixes the first of the original film's two title characters, focusing instead on Chris Couldn't-Open-the-Whale-Movie-to-Any-Business-At-All Hemsworth's backstory?
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 -- inexplicably cold-stored till next summer after having been finished last year -- brings back the two male leads of the preceding incarnation of the franchise, Johnny Depp and Orlando freakin' Bloom, a move which (in the same year as Episode VIII) will end up looking about as prescient as if The Force Awakens had been an '80s throwback comedy about Han and Luke. (OK, that probably would have made money.)
Captain America: Civil War will pit Iron Man against Cap, sidelining the uber-popular Black Widow again, which could only potentially be redeemed if Cap and Bucky do, indeed, end up doing what the internet so desperately wants them to do. Newt Scamander will scamander about in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them this Christmas, but the lack of a Hermione-or-equivalent-level awesome witch in the storyline could leave the lion's share of the Harry Potter fan base out in the cold. Jennifer Lawrence's presence in the X-Men movies has been amped up following her Hunger Games success, but she's still nowhere near the main character, and she's bailing out after this installment anyway.
In desperate times, even transplanted memes will do. Vin Diesel is trying to parachute Charlize Theron into the Fast franchise following her success in Mad Max, and will probably stop just shy of calling the next flick 8 Fast 8 Furiosa. It's a guileless move, but there is something charming, at least, in Diesel's naked hucksterism. He knows where the money is, and has somehow maintained the flexibility in his franchise management to pivot on a dime if the zeitgeist requires him to.
Hollywood could learn a thing or two from his example. The meme-ification of culture means faster and faster cycle times, and the days of developing a property for years and expecting it to arrive fresh are behind us. It didn't take more than a couple of seconds for Negasonic Teenage Warhead to finish that tweet - and then she just went right back to kicking ass.
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.