The worst thing that the Deadpool movie could have done was to hold back. As Marvel characters go, Deadpool isn't one who should be watered down or modulated. Like, at all. And if the fan response to the movie is indication enough, no opportunities were wasted in sending up and subverting the comic book movie genre. One of the many ways in which Deadpool challenges the narrow alley of tropes that most big-budget superhero movies pull from is the way it presents nudity and sexuality. There's Deadpool material enough to start all sorts of conversations about depictions of sex work in fiction, sexual fluidity, and sex positivity in general, but I want to talk about how this movie blows up a raging double standard. Ryan Reynolds goes full-frontal in his Deadpoolnude scene, and it's a little bit revolutionary.
With the rise of more irreverent, geeky comic book movies over the past decade or so, maybe audiences have fooled themselves into thinking that we've moved past the era of casting women in these films as damsels, arm candy, or both. Explain to me why, then, there still isn't a Black Widow solo film on the docket? Why does Wonder Woman have to play third wheel to Batman and Superman before being trusted with her own title card? Even when they're heroes with rich character arcs, female heroes are seen just as love interests or members of the team. (I promise this is relevant to Ryan Reynolds showing his junk onscreen.) Reynolds talked about the nude scene on Ellen, where he reaffirmed that he's "not above taking his clothes off for money." Not a joke as easily pulled off by a female actor, I'd say.
The Deadpool nude fight scene is a visual gag, intended in no small part to provoke the "oh my god, I can't believe this is happening" reaction. But it's also a playing field leveler, showing that the world doesn't end if a male hero takes a turn in the objectification rotation. And Ryan Reynolds is famous. He's a husband, a dad, a star of family-friendly car commercials. If he can drop trou in a popcorn blockbuster, why can't any of his colleagues?
Of course, there's almost no risk involved for Reynolds compared to actresses in the same situation; he won't be typecast as sex kitten or see his asking price drop or have gossip columnists insinuate that he slept his way to the top. And there's nothing inherently dirty or low about nudity of any gender on film, as long as everyone involved feels equally free to decide on it themselves. But there's no arguing that there scales heavily tilt in favor of female nudity, so that it can seem like it's something any actress should be prepared to do. And that, in the case of the comic book movie, her ability to kick ass comes second to her desirability.
Maybe it's unfair to compare the R-rated Deadpool to its PG-13 brethren, but I'm doing it anyway. The Avengers and X-Men movies, for example, aren't lacking in glistening pecs or Steve Rogers in tight-fitting pants. But while Charles Xavier is a swingin' bachelor with a list of conquests in X-Men: First Class, we don't see any of it. It's Raven who ends up naked under a sheet. The implication is that the male heroes are just too busy with other things to do double duty as objects of sexual interest. Their romps are kept largely under wraps (with the exception of Wolverine — and Hugh Jackman can join Reynolds in the standard-busting club thanks to his lack of clothing), while the women have to seduce, bare, and tease onscreen. Even if it's not especially relevant to the plot.
In Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds gives a middle finger to the double standard that just won't die. Maybe losing your pants in a movie won't get you a Nobel Peace Prize, but it does help to move the needle in terms of gender equality in the industry.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Giphy