So I just re-watched Deadpool this weekend, which was totally fun. It's such an entertaining movie, and a refreshing change of pace from the conventional superhero format. But of course, you knew this already, didn't you? So here's something you probably didn't:
The final fight between Deadpool and Ajax atop the junked aircraft carrier is actually the ideal finale for a Superman movie. You know, that thing no one seems to be able to pull off since Richard Donner? Whether it's no punching (Superman Returns), too much stupid punching (Man of Steel), or just general "Wait, what the hell is even happening here?" (Batman v Superman), crafting a compelling, emotionally engaging finale featuring The Last Son of Krypton, that has real stakes and tension, is starting to feel like a cinematic unicorn.
It took Deadpool to crack the code. No sh!t. A post-modern, profanity-laden, ultra-violent, anti-hero extravaganza did (albeit inadvertently) what no one else seems capable of nowadays. Having a hard time believing me? I can see that; trust me, it was a surprise to me too. But it's true, and it's right there in front of us all. You just have to swap out the characters, and then alter the scene a wee bit.
1. Deadpool is Superman- First of all, please don't tell him that; I think he'd kill me. Still though, they have one major similarity which makes this true right off the bat: They're both indestructible. Now this plays out much differently between them, of course, since Superman's invincibility comes from his invulnerability (i.e. the bullets bounce off and the four-ton boulder breaks when colliding with him) while Deadpool, on the other hand, must regenerate (i.e. the blade cuts; the bullet penetrates; the fire burns; he just gets over it quickly). Nevertheless, they're each still invincible (outside of those green space rocks, obviously).
And what this means to each of their respective stories is that they're both relatively safe amidst apparent danger. We, the audience, are in a position where we don't exactly need to worry about them so much in what would otherwise be precarious situations; deep down, we know they'll be fine. In turn, this ends up creating a narrative challenge: How do we then build the tension for the viewer, or create the fear of failure for the hero? (We'll get back to this).
2. Ajax is *Insert Whichever Superman Villain You Want Here*- This one doesn't matter so much. Let's say it's one Superman has personal issues with — to bring things a little closer to Deadpool — and then let's make it Brainiac, because we haven't gotten him in a movie yet; it'll make it more fun.
3. Vanessa is Metropolis- This one's a little trickier. Superman covers a broad spectrum of people/places/ideas/entities he fights for; he saves Lois, Metropolis, and the world at large on the regular, almost interchangeably. On the flip side, Vanessa is pretty much exclusively important to Deadpool, in that she's the only person he loves in all the world.
So at first glance, Lois seems to be the right doppelgänger here... but that isn't quite right. You see, one of the major differences between Deadpool and Superman is that the former is COLOSSALLY more selfish than the latter (it's part of his charm), which means his love of Vanessa is what's pushing his sphere of compassion for others further outward. Superman, on the other hand, is often at his most selfish when worried about Lois; she monopolizes his greater concern. So there's no pushing of his sphere with her, because she's already well within it.
This leaves either Metropolis or the entire Earth to stand in for Vanessa. But this is an even easier call because the Earth — as a whole — is just too esoteric; there's nothing really personal about it for the audience to connect with. Metropolis, however, is Clark Kent's city, his home; it means more to him than any other on that personal level.
But just like Deadpool's love for Vanessa, it also forces Superman to think beyond his baseline of immediate concern. It's this balance — between too personal and not personal enough — which makes Metropolis, in essence, the porridge that is juuuust right.
That rounds out the re-cast. Our invincible hero is fixing to take on the villain he has issues with, while who or what he loves is also in jeopardy, thus making the situation much more complicated. Nice. Moving on...
The Re-Play (If You Haven't Seen Deadpool, Stop Reading Already)
So let's play out the scene once more now, having swapped out our characters. Superman shows up to the carrier, ready to take out Brainiac; it's all he can think about; the whole movie has built to this.
But there's a problem: Brainiac is ready for him, and currently has all of Metropolis in a supremely dangerous position, unless Superman does something quickly.
How is he supposed to do it, however? He's here for Brainiac, and an opponent of that magnitude requires his full attention. But then, if he takes his eyes off Metropolis to concentrate on his enemy, she will surely perish. So after mixing it up with his opponent for a tiny bit, Superman makes a huge sacrifice by giving up a primary means he has of defeating Brainiac, in order to remove Metropolis from immediate danger.
And Superman immediately begins paying the price for this.
So now Superman is losing, which doesn't really matter so much — as far as he himself is concerned — but it's really beginning to feel like it does. Because Metropolis, you see, is still in great danger, and he needs to win this fight if he wants to save her. Our heretofore indestructible hero is, in other words, now made vulnerable. He's not gonna die or become permanently injured in any way, but losing — on a deeply painful level — is very much on the table. And it is this vulnerability which makes the otherwise unimportant ass-kicking he's receiving immensely impactful on an emotional level; it's what's giving the scene its stakes.
Even more significant: Superman is now in the entirely unique position of having to make a comeback, of finally appearing like the underdog to the audience. And making your hero seem like the underdog — in an emotionally engaging fight that has real stakes — is tension-building candy, especially when it involves someone who almost never is one. In this position, Superman has to rally, rise up, and fight back in order to save that which he loves by winning... and you are now hanging on every second of it.
And eventually the hero ends up saving the day, kissing the girl, and "taking care of" the bad guy (whether by removing its circuitry or, you know, shooting him in the head)... because of course he does. Because movies get to be better than real life.
But you were worried for a minute there, weren't you? About someone who was freaking indestructible, which makes him ultimately unstoppable. You had doubt planted in your brain, the fear of what might happen — again, to the guy who is personally immune from that kind of thing.
How 'bout that?