Deadpool and the complex 'crisis' of masculinity

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This chapter explores how the three live action cinema incarnations of Marvel’s Deadpool; Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016), and David Leitch’s Deadpool 2 (2018), respond to, and articulate, the shifting societal constructions of masculinity that that have developed across the early years of the twenty-first century. The extent to which those shifting societal constructions represent a ‘crisis’ of masculinity has been the subject of much debate within the academy (Lieberman; Starck and Luyt), with discussions ranging from optimism about the future of masculinity and social change (Anderson), to concern that discussions of masculinity as a production of gendered difference serve to reinforce existing notions of gendered hegemony (Butler; Haywood et al.), to conceptualizations of masculinity as a destructive force (Honeywill) and, ultimately, the denial of masculinity as a singular phenomenon (MacInnes). What is less disputed, however, is the notion that Western masculinity is experiencing a period of rapid transformation and recodification in the popular sphere (Click et al.), and that this recodification has led to terms such as hegemonic masculinity (Messerschmidt), toxic masculinity (Veissière), white and male privilege (McIntosh), heteronormativity (Utamsingh et al.), and intersectionality (Collins and Bilge) entering into the lexicon of Western popular discourse, to destabilize the traditional conceptualizations of what it means to be a man.
Drawing on the notion that popular fiction shapes and reflects upon changing conceptualizations of masculinity (Ochsner), and that comic book derived popular culture properties can, and do, via complex processes of embodiment (Salter), play an important role in challenging and reaffirming notions of gender in the consumer (Lizardi), this chapter employs two thematic narrative analyses in order to unpack how the cinematic incarnations of Wade Wilson as Deadpool speak to and manifest this destabilization of masculinity. The first of these analyses discusses the construction of Wade Wilson as a valorization of the hyper masculine ideal in Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), establishing a representational baseline for Wade Wilson as a cinematic character, which, despite being released during the first decade of the twenty-first century, still draws heavily upon the lingering modes of action hero representation developed in the twentieth century (Gordon). The second analysis discusses how Miller’s Deadpool (2016) and David Leitch’s Deadpool 2 (2018) re-codify that cinematic representation of Wade Wilson to respond to, and articulate, the collective cultural critiques, fears and insecurities related to the wider ‘problematization’ of heteronormative hyper-masculinity, as emergent in Western society in the second decade of twenty-first century (Sculos).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOur Fears Made Manifest
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on Terror, Trauma and Loss in Film, 1998–2019
EditorsAshley Jae Carranza
PublisherMcFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781476642246
ISBN (Print)9781476679310
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • masculinity
  • adaptation
  • cinema
  • deadpool


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