Back in July 2014, some helpful individual leaked the first Deadpool test footage online. Everybody was highly offended and indignant about this flagrant violation of the film world’s integrity – which of course meant that everyone watched it immediately, and Deadpool’s path to superstardom began.
At Comic-Con this year, Ryan Reynolds (who plays the wise-cracking, psychotic mercenary) was able to take advantage of the footage-leak situation in order to give an, er, “appropriately worded shout-out” to whoever the culprit was, before taking pity on the fans and playing the first full-length trailer, twice. There was absolutely no doubt that, what all these events combined, the star of Comic-Con this year was Deadpool.
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Marvel’s relatively new but stormingly popular ‘merc with a mouth’ has been waiting around in the wings for a while now, following an unspeakably disastrous appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) in which someone who we can only presume must have been hired for the specific purpose of screwing things up, made the decision to sew his mouth shut.
Deadpool’s entire character – his fame and his fanbase – depend almost entirely on him being able to speak. More specifically, it depends on him speaking directly to the reader/audience. Deadpool is a smart-ass, he is brutal, violent and has a wicked sense of humour, but perhaps his most crucial characteristic is that he is the only Marvel character who is aware of his fictional status. That is, he breaks the fourth wall.
The term ‘the fourth wall’ is, mainly thanks to Deadpool, on a steady rise to fad-dom. Although it might sound unfathomably abstract, it actually makes perfect sense once we know the origins. The ‘fourth wall’ was originally a theatre term, used to refer to the audience in the theatre, who made up the final ‘wall’ of the box created by the other three walls of the theatre set. The modern fourth wall of course refers to an audience who is more likely to be in the cinema/living room/train/bed/bath/toilet, or wherever else it is that they happen to be sitting.
“Breaking” the fourth wall simply refers to when the invisible, normally assumed barrier between movie and audience is ignored in some way. This can take the form of straightforward interaction between the character and the reader/audience, as in when the character speaks directly into the camera, or addresses the reader from the pages of a book (Deadpool does both of these things continually, casually asking on the front cover of issue #43 of the comic for example – “Hey, you there, buying this book! Can ya call me a taxi?” and chatting freely into the camera onscreen.)
Or, it can be a subtler acknowledgement by a character that they are somehow a part of something that has been created. The official term for this type of fourth-wall breakage is ‘meta-fiction.’ Ant-Man approaches the realm of meta-fiction when Scott Lang jokes to Hank Pym that the first thing Pym should do before turning him into this ridiculous Ant-Man thing is to “call The Avengers.”
Although to be fair, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so vast now, and so deeply embedded into modern culture, that it’s starting to take on a sort of reality of its own. There are most likely a few government officials out there who, having uncovered some nefarious scheme on the part of another international body, have started thinking to themselves, “well just where the hell are Stark and co.??”