The release of Deadpool 2 so soon after Avengers: Infinity War means that the box office is likely to be dominated by Marvel for some time to come. With superhero fatigue a realistic threat, why the rush to have the films come out in such quick succession?
First of all, it’s important to remember that these films come from different studios: Deadpool 2 is distributed by Fox, while the Avengers come to us from Disney. Despite the visual tricks and references suggesting that Deadpool is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he cannot directly be, although the proposed deal between Disney and Fox could change all that. The same goes for the X-Men, who exist on Fox and are therefore usable in the Deadpool films in a way they are not for the MCU proper. This leaves Marvel with a dilemma: both Fox and Disney will want their flagship Marvel movie to be the defining superhero flick of 2018 (although Avengers is likely to have a major box office advantage), yet they also have to work in tandem with each other, particularly if the distinction between the brands will cease to exist in future. How can they square those two demands?
Luckily for the studios, this is less complicated than it might seem. The separation between the casts and stories means that there is no need to see the films in any particular order, or to know all about one to be able to enjoy the other. Instead, you have two very separate Marvel films gaining attention at the same time, allowing for the promotion of one to also boost the attention given to the other. Even the MCU-mocking promotional campaign for Deadpool brings as much attention to its “rival” as it does itself, in a loving mockery that sets the two films up in dialogue with each other, not just opposition.
From an artistic perspective, the films work for different audiences, too. While there is plenty of crossover appeal, Deadpool also has the ability to excite those who find the MCU too clean, too traditional. It uses the traits of superhero films whilst sending them up, creating something that feels more adult and subversive (albeit in a commercially comfortable way). Fox did the same thing with Logan, creating a neo-Western that uses the Marvel characters but with a very different tone to the X-Men films and which stands alone from its predecessors. It’s no surprise then that the opening joke of Deadpool 2 is about Logan, linking these two films as anomalies that exist within the world of Marvel but are also deliberately separate from it.
The distinction between the two brands has perhaps become less obvious of late, as the MCU has become more diverse and experimental. The tonal shift of Thor: Ragnarok and the introduction of Wakanda with Black Panther provides a very different landscape than even just 18 months ago. However, Disney has nothing like Deadpool or Logan as yet, with their higher age rating and demand to be taken on their own terms. At the moment, these films can comfortably coexist because they support and build on each other without having to directly compete. If and when the Fox-Disney deal goes through, will there still be this space for these outlier films? Would Deadpool be allowed to stay separate from the MCU, or would the character have to soften his edges to become part of it? Would the different audiences still be catered for, or would we end up with one image of what it is to be a Marvel film? The fear is that such a backward step would undermine the progress made by Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi, and would shortchange fans on all sides.
There’s much more to the Fox-Disney deal than just its impact on Marvel, but it does serve as a microcosm of the potential long-term effects that come from merging brands. As audiences, we have to hope that the studios recognise the value of producing films for a wide variety of people, and we must play our part by supporting a diverse set of films at the box office. For now, the Disney and Fox strands of Marvel can coexist and support each other artistically and commercially without much risk to either brand and perhaps their superhero monopoly is best protected by keeping these strands separate even if they are within the same studio. If not, they risk losing their market dominance, with DC ready to pounce on any gap that opens up with the deal. Whatever happens, this is probably the last time we’ll see two such big-hitters from the Marvel universe vying against each other for the top spot at the box office.