Morena Baccarin and Ryan Reyonlds (Twentieth Century Fox)
Warning: Deadpool spoilers to follow
With its fourth-wall breaking costumed crimefighter and snarky sense of humor, Deadpool, which hits theaters Thursday night is selling itself as the Marvel superhero movie that sets out to defy the genre’s conventions. But there’s one unfortunate ossified tradition that the movie declines to turn on its ear: including a major female hero. In the film’s version of Deadpool’s origin story, before Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) becomes the titular “merc with a mouth” — famous for his self-aware quips and regenerative abilities — he’s your average roughneck-for-hire, who meets cute with an equally damaged lady of the night, Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin). A torrid romance ensues and endures even after Wade is diagnosed with cancer and makes the decision to subject himself to risky experimental treatment that scars his face and body and grants him mutant powers.
So far, this is relatively close to Deadpool’s comic book history…although the exact details of his past have proven mutable. But there’s one Colossus-sized difference between the comic and the film: On the page, Vanessa is a mutant as well, operating under the codename Copycat and possessing shapeshifting and power mimicking abilities in the vein of X-Men’s Mystique. On the big screen, though, her powers are more or less limited to a sharp wit, a ferocious sex drive, and a need to be rescued by her big, strong man.
Copycat in the comics (Marvel)
“The movie is called Deadpool, and because we were recreating this character, we wanted to focus entirely on Wade Wilson becoming Deadpool,” co-writer Paul Wernick explained to Yahoo Movies in a recent interview. Rhett Reese, who wrote the film with Wernick, expounded on the decision, adding that a Vanessa with any sort of superpowers wouldn’t work in a movie with a run-time of less than two hours.
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“We have to make it make sense,” Reese said. “I think comic logic and movie logic aren’t the same. There was a certain coincidental nature to this idea that she’s also a mutant after he was getting powers. So we thought we could find ways to add a logic to that down the road that we just didn’t feel like we could reasonably do easily and efficiently in this movie.“
It’s true that the comic-book version of Vanessa would be more likely to accept Wade, thus robbing him of a reason to run away from her after he acquires his powers (and messed-up face). But Copycat also never just moped around waiting for her boyfriend to return. As her biography outlines, the comic-book Vanessa enjoys a very busy career as a mercenary within the Marvel universe, working for various employers, and at one point infiltrating the X-Force supergroup by morphing into the identity of team member and expert markswoman Domino.
In the comics, Deadpool is a regular presence in her life: They’ve fought alongside each other and, occasionally, against each other. And while their love story hasn’t proven to be the “happily every after” variety, they also can’t quit each other. Copycat has repeatedly used her shapeshifting talents to mess with Deadpool’s love life, and he’s served as her savior when she’s been at death’s door, not just once, but twice. In the ‘90s, she was mortally wounded in a battle with cyber-baddie Slayback, but “borrowed” Deadpool’s healing factor to survive. And in 2001, she appeared to meet her end permanently following a battle with Sabretooth, with Deadpool embracing her as she breaths her last. But a 2014 issue revealed that Vanessa survived that encounter thanks to a battlefield blood transfusion from her on- and off-again lover.
Copycat’s (temporary) death in the comics (Marvel)
Contrast that rich material with the movie’s de-powered version of Vanessa, who primarily occupies the token girlfriend role. To her credit, Baccarin plays the part with plenty of attitude, proving that Vanessa can go toe-to-toe with Wade in verbal sparring matches and outlast him in their naughty bedroom antics. That makes it all the more frustrating that she doesn’t have access to Copycat’s abilities and is instead relegated to pining for Wade during his two-year absence, and then being kidnapped by his nemesis, Ajax (Ed Skrein). It’s not as if Deadpool is entirely devoid of superpowered female characters: Brianna Hildebrand plays X-Man-in-training, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who joins Deadpool and her metal mentor Colossus, while Gina Carano throws superstrong punches as Ajax’s mutant enforcer, Angel Dust. But neither of those characters has a deeply personal connection to Deadpool.
The screenwriters suggest that Vanessa’s lack of powers isn’t necessarily permanent. "There may be a moment in time, if we’re so lucky to make more of these movies,” Wernick said, “that Vanessa becomes Copycat, and we see her evolve and her powers come to life.” (Baccarin does get one heroic moment during the climactic battle.) For now, fairly or not, Deadpool joins the ongoing conversation about the underrepresentation of female heroes in comic-book movies.
It’s certainly been an ongoing issue for Marvel — which owns Deadpool in comic book form, although the movie version is part of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise, rather than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel has been criticized for giving Scarlett Johansson’s fan favorite Black Widow short shrift on Age of Ultron DVD covers, waiting until the end of Ant-Man to let Evangeline Lily suit up as the Wasp, and repeatedly delaying its first female-led adventure, Captain Marvel. Of course, it’s not as if other comic book moviemakers are blameless in that regard. DC’s various franchises have traditionally been male-centric up through 2013’s Man of Steel, although that will change with the introduction of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, followed by her solo spin-off in 2017. Should Vanessa return in future Deadpool movies, here’s hoping the filmmakers, um, copycat that particular idea. (Additional reporting by Jordan Zakarin)
Watch our interview with Deadpool himself: