Deadpool 2's opening weekend has come and gone, leaving a massive box-office haul in its wake, and that means it's time for the film's creators to give their exit interviews, laying out the thought processes and factors that went into all of the various creative decisions behind the blockbuster. If you saw the film over the weekend, you may have noticed that it doesn't really follow the traditional superhero movie structure, not just because of its constant meta narrative trickery, but because it doesn't rely on the same supervillain formula that its peers so often do.
SPOILERS for Deadpool 2 ahead!
You know the formula we mean: Set up the hero or heroes (or, if it's a sequel, acknowledge that they're still around fighting), then give us a scene setting up the villain, show how bad the villain is, and then place the hero(es) and villain(s) on a collision course that culminates in a massive battle at the end. It's worked for The Dark Knight, it's worked for The Avengers, and it's been a part of comic book storytelling for decades.
Deadpool 2 certainly has its villains. For much of the film's runtime it feels like Josh Brolin's Cable is the Big Bad, as he pushes forward to kill Russell with all the unceasing drive of a machine. For a little while there, you might even think that the whole movie will be hung on a vengeance quest again, as Wade Wilson goes after the gangster who just killed his fiancee Vanessa. Then there's Black Tom Cassidy, a classic X-Men villain who pops up at the prison, only to be quickly dispatched amid a flurry of "racist" jokes (he's not actually black, you see). It would have been very easy for the film to lean on any one of these characters as an adversary until the very end, and indeed early drafts did feature Black Tom in a much bigger role, but according to screenwriter Rhett Reese, the more interesting story became about a group of people at varying levels of good and bad, all after various versions of the same thing.
"We decided we had enough people with differing motives butting heads that we didn't really need a traditional mustache-twirling villain," Reese told the Los Angeles Times. "We had the evil headmaster, we had Juggernaut, we had Firefist himself as an adult in the future, we had Cable — and sometimes Deadpool is his own worst enemy in some ways. So we thought, 'Why feel trapped into the trope of a villain who wants to conquer the world? Why not just have the particular goals of these characters come into conflict?'"
So instead of making the film all about a Deadpool vs. Cable showdown, or keeping Black Tom Cassidy at the forefront as a kind of master manipulator for Russell, Deadpool 2 makes Russell the centerpiece of the movie rather than a traditional villain. Sure, the final showdown at the orphanage is orchestrated by him, and he can be pretty diabolical in those moments (plus there's, you know, the Juggernaut), but he's not yet a supervillain. He's an angry kid who needs to be shown that he's still worthy of redemption. Wade's quest to prove that to him, and to subconsciously build himself a new family, then forms the spine of the film, and makes for a more intimate climactic conflict.
"As a filmmaker, I loved the challenge of not having a conventional villain," director David Leitch said. "As you start to peel the onion back, you realize the real villain is all of us because we're not showing [Russell] the compassion that he needs. That's the big idea in a movie full of crazy action and fart jokes, but it felt right and earnest. The first film was a love story, and this movie needed a real genuine emotional hook."
The traditional hero setup/villain setup/showdown formula isn't going anywhere in superhero cinema, because when done right it still works very, very well (see last year's Spider-Man: Homecoming or Thor: Ragnarok), but Deadpool 2 is a reminder that if you craft your characters in the right way, the conflicting paths they take can be just as compelling as a clear-cut hero vs. villain megabattle.