There was only one thing I disliked about Deadpool 2. I loved it overall, but the one thing wrong with it stuck in my craw because it points to a really tricky problem in storytelling. See, it’s one thing to point out a problematic trope and say, “get rid of it,” and it’s a completely different thing to actually get in there and do it.
I’m all for removing problematic tropes to create more inclusive, prosocial fiction, but I think we do ourselves a disservice as creators if we handwave the added difficulty that comes with this approach. Deadpool 2 is a perfect example of what I’m talking about here, so without further ado…
SPOILER WARNING: DEADPOOL 2
The worst part about Deadpool 2 is that they fridge Vanessa. This is especially disappointing because Wade and Vanessa were my favorite on-screen couple in a long while and haven’t been upstaged since. To be fair, we do get to see a lot of her in the afterlife and, as far as dead girlfriends go, she has a fair amount of agency acting as Wade’s Jiminy Cricket.
Yet, even her agency leads back into the core problem behind the Stuffed into the Fridge trope: Vanessa dies purely as a plot mechanic to drive Deadpool’s story. Her death makes him hit rock bottom, which forces him into the arms of the X-Men, which kicks off the whole plot with Firefist.
For the first half, I sat there thinking, “Damn, this is lazy writing. They just needed a way to heighten the stakes for the sequel, so they killed off a great character and fell face-first into the same awful trope that, ironically, Green Lantern made famous.”
In the second half, though, things get a little more complicated. Once Cable decides to stop and actually talk to Deadpool, he reveals that he comes from the future where his wife and daughter have been killed by Firefist, the mutant teenager who has not yet become a supervillain but could very soon.
Thus, the parallel tragedies of Deadpool’s loss and Cable’s loss allow them to connect emotionally, which gives Deadpool the chance to convince him that Firefist can be saved.
Even knowing that the Cable backstory was created for the film, I still find his fridge family less egregious than Deadpool’s. After all, Cable is the epitome of the gruff, masculine martyr figure seeking revenge thinly veiled as “justice.” He’s the film’s main target of satire, so it almost feels like it would be wrong not to give him a fridge wife and daughter.
However, that doesn’t change the disappointment and misogyny baked into Vanessa’s early death, especially since Deadpool is played straight as a jerk with a heart of gold. However however, the more I thought about it, the more I struggled to come up with a plot point I could substitute for Vanessa’s death without rewriting the whole movie.
Because here’s the thing: everything outside of the fridging works wonders. It’s funny, it’s sharp, and it provides a much-needed satire of toxic masculinity. Best of all, it demonstrates that the solution to dangerous young men is to show them more empathy, not less.
That’s why, right here, I want to try to write Deadpool 2 without the fridging, but with as few other major changes as I can muster. Hopefully, this process will help us all acknowledge two things: 1) It’s entirely possible, and worthwhile, to cut problematic tropes out of our storytelling and 2) Doing so is hard, so be patient and show the creators some love.
To get started, here are all the things our new plot point needs to accomplish, so that removing the Vanessa fridging doesn’t throw off the rest of the story:
- It must force Deadpool to hit rock bottom and join the X-men, so he can be there to botch the rescue of Firefist.
- It must rob Deadpool of any sense of belonging he has left, so he’s ready to form a new “family” with the people he meets on the adventure.
- It must give Deadpool and Cable something in common so they can bond in the third act, and Deadpool can convince Cable to let him save Firefist.
My first thought was to have the bad guys kill off Deadpool’s mercenary friends, but that doesn’t work because Deadpool doesn’t have that deep a connection with them. They even play this for laughs: Dopinder mistakenly thinks that mercenary life is a way to belong to something greater than himself, and when one of the other mercenaries tries to be Deadpool’s armchair therapist he brushes him off.
So who else could we kill off? None of the X-Men, because Deadpool at the start of the story either doesn’t care about them or won’t admit to himself that he does.
We could try introducing the X-Force earlier, only to kill them off earlier, only that would drastically change the rest of the story. If Deadpool at the start of the story is already willing to form his own team, that puts him too close to the endpoint of his character arc.
It’s tricky, right? This is part of why old tropes die hard: from the perspective of story structure, they’re extremely useful tools. That’s part of what I mean when I say we need to show our creators some love, and not just because I am one. Though my own beliefs lean heavily toward the progressive, this is why I have no patience for people who beat up creators for stumbling into problematic tropes.
In fact, I think we sometimes need the problematic tropes, properly contextualized, so say what we need to say. If the whole point of Cable’s story arc is to satirize brooding, masculine angst, doesn’t that require that Deadpool’s story provide a near enough parallel to prove that there’s another way?
Part of what of the magic of Deadpool 2 is that it allows Deadpool himself to be heroic in a way that never would be possible in any other story. How else do you get the audience to buy that Deadpool, the crude, lewd, irreverent, bloodthirsty, metatextual clown, is the moral voice of reason speaking out for empathy and redemption?
The more I learn about storytelling, the more I discover that every character needs a counterweight. They need to come into the story with serious flaws, flaws that are deep enough to make us doubt their ultimate success. And to make the story believable, they need a moral counterweight that is even stronger than their flaws to pull them through to the side of heroism.
That’s why, in the face of his own deep selfishness, we believe it when Deadpool turns to self-sacrificing heroism. His selfishness can’t outweigh his love for Vanessa, his grief over her death, and the now-unfulfilled need for belonging she used to satisfy.
None of this is to say that the change is impossible. In fact, I think I may have finally found the answer:
What if, instead of Vanessa getting killed, leaves him and only agrees to come back when he proves he can look after a child?
Here’s how that would work:
Deadpool goes on a mission where the bad guys are holding some teenagers (around FireFist’s age) hostage. Things get complicated, and Deadpool ends up killing the main bad guy but letting one of the hostages die. When Vanessa finds out, he tries to argue that he was trying to just “finish the job” and stop this group from performing more kidnappings, but she only sees that his priorities are out of whack.
Then, she tells him she was thinking of starting a family with him, but now she doesn’t want to. She tells him he’s not the man she thought he was and leaves him, sending him on a downward spiral. Instead of blowing himself up and getting dragged to the X-Men in a duffle bag, he goes to the X-Men willingly hoping he can score some good PR with Vanessa using their heroic reputation.
The FireFist plot proceeds mostly as-is, with only a few tweaks needed for the near-death experiences. Maybe instead of Deadpool going to the afterlife, he receives a concerned phone call from Vanessa while he’s recovering. This could show that she still cares about him, but she’s not yet ready to take him back. In fact, this could be the moment where she puts the screws to him and says she may never take him back, driving Deadpool to greater desperation and giving him a more personal reason to give up his life in the climax.
The only part of this that might get tricky is drawing a connection between Deadpool’s story and Cable’s when it’s time for them to unite. Tricky, but not impossible. The writing here would need to lean more on the thematic connections than the literal.
From there, it’s just minor tweaks to plug in the new story beat. Sure, we’d lose some great gags, like Deadpool getting stuffed into a duffle bag, but certainly the screenwriters could discover other gags in this new plotline.
Now here’s the funny thing about all of this: in the first few drafts of the script, Vanessa did leave Deadpool instead of dying. The screenwriting team, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds, said they made the switch to killing off Vanessa when they realized, “Deadpool kind of works best when he’s had everything taken away from him, when he suffers.”
Again, not to sound like a broken record, but I understand the temptation there. Death is guttural. Grief is one of the most intense forms of suffering. However, I think the “Vanessa leaves” plot leaves way more room for Deadpool to put the blame on himself. In the final Deadpool 2 script, there is an element of survivor’s guilt to Deadpool’s story, but it never feels fully formed. It’s implied that his “mistake” was to not use the cream cheese spreader to kill the attacker who killed Vanessa, but the action on screen looks more like Deadpool trying his best to save her and failing anyway.
Like I said, I loved Deadpool 2. I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, and I don’t think my proposed solution to the fridging problem is perfect either. Perfect isn’t the point. The point, like with so many other things, is progress.
If you enjoyed this, or have your own ideas about how to rewrite this story, please comment below! I’ve had a lot of fun doing this, and I’d love to hear from other writers tackling this challenge of the craft.