Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Deadpool 2.
From dubstep to pegging, there are no comic targets that are too sacred (or profane) for the gleefully R-rated Deadpool film franchise. Deadpool 2 danced into theaters last week with a record-setting opening-night bow, and continued the Merc with a Mouth’s merry tradition of firing giant bullet holes in the usual superhero movie tropes and summer blockbuster excesses. The David Leitch-directed sequel also takes some major steps forward for the series, most notably by introducing Marvel’s first-ever same-sex couple, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), and making a scene-stealing star out of Domino (Zazie Beetz) — the first breakout African-American mutant character in the X-Men cinematic universe since Halle Berry’s Storm.
Sadly, there is some notable territory that the series has had cold feet about exploring. We’re speaking, of course, about “women in refrigerators,” or fridging, a comic book cliché whereby female heroes and/or love interests meet with brutal ends as a convenient way to add some drama to the lives of their male counterparts. It’s a hoary plot device that dates back to Gwen Stacy’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #121, a genuinely moving moment that’s been robbed of some of its power in the ensuing decades via a spree of copycat comic book murders. The opening minutes of Deadpool 2 provide a textbook example of fridging, when Wade’s girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), is killed by a bullet meant for him, sending the antihero into a grief spiral that serves as the backbone of his story arc for the rest of the movie. (For the record, two less prominent female characters are sacrificed in the interest of story fodder as well: the wife and daughter of time-traveling mutant Cable, played by Josh Brolin.)
To be fair, it’s not the most egregiously unpleasant example of fridging to be found in a comic book or a comic book movie. The incident that gives the trope its name — Green Lantern coming home to discover his girlfriend murdered and stuffed inside their icebox — remains a far more upsetting act of violence. That’s the death that motivated celebrated comic book scribe Gail Simone, one of the industry’s leading female voices, to compile and publish a depressingly long list of all the female characters who had been similarly shoved into early graves by largely male writers.
What compounds the problem in Deadpool 2 is the movie’s reluctance to call itself out for using a cliché that’s widely derided among creators and fans, particularly when such self-aware commentary is built into the title character’s DNA. Really, if anyone should be dinging Deadpool 2 for falling back on fridging as a plot device, it’s Deadpool himself. But apart from a goofy James Bond-style opening-credits sequence — which cheekily asks the audience, “Did they really just kill her?” — the film plays it straight when it comes to Vanessa’s arguably unnecessary death. In fact, it even strains to mine pathos from the death, with a grieving Wade repeatedly visiting her in a hallucinatory afterlife. And yes, Vanessa is seemingly resurrected after Deadpool’s trip through the time stream in a lengthy post-credits sequence, but that only seems to confirm that the filmmakers realized they made a mistake by fridging her in the first act.
Deadpool might have stayed silent, but viewers didn’t let Vanessa’s fridging go unremarked upon; even as the movie easily climbed to the top of the box office charts, fans took to Twitter to express their disappointment.
Deadpool 2 had great gags, but the plot was ehhhhhhhhhhhh. For a sequel to a move that broke a lot of rules, starting off by fridging the love interest seems weak.
— Jeremy O’Kelley (@JeremyOkelley) May 19, 2018
As funny as Deadpool 2 was, the fridging was strong and disappointing.
— Lisa Schaeffer (@SilverSober) May 19, 2018
Guys relax, the fridging of that character in DEADPOOL 2 is actually a tribute to former DP writer Gail Simone, who coined the term many years ago. It’s another meta joke!
— Joe “Sim-Bye-Oat” Grunenwald (@joegrunenwald) May 20, 2018
I’m less annoyed by the ol ~fridging trope in Deadpool 2, and downright peeved at the missed opportunity to give Wade a quippy, meta line about it
— iris (@deerlingiris) May 20, 2018
Perhaps anticipating such blowback, the Deadpool 2 writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick preemptively spoke with Vulture about Vanessa’s death and claimed not to be aware of the history of this particular comic book trope — a confession that went over about as well as you might expect.
Male writers say they didn’t know what fridging was when writing Deadpool 2.
Um, gents: This is the literal definition.
— Beth Elderkin (@BethElderkin) May 20, 2018
They apparently didn’t know what fridging was, despite writing a screenplay for a film that’s supposed to undercut/mock comic book tropes… https://t.co/yvQvT8MyKg
— Nimrod Bodfish (@SMFRecords) May 20, 2018
“We didn’t know what fridging was. It didn’t even occur to us.”
right no Deadpool 2 then https://t.co/ghXXUe2ZDU
— Wei Ming Kam (@weimingkam) May 20, 2018
Baccarin, the woman at the center of the controversy, gave a far more thoughtful response to Bustle when asked about Vanessa’s fate. “That’s exactly what it is,” she said about her character ending up in the proverbial fridge, going on to add that she was “bummed” by that story choice when she read the script. At the same time, she takes some comfort in knowing that Vanessa remains central to Deadpool 2’s narrative even after her death, saying, “To strip away the love interest immediately upon them being together is so devastating, and it’s kind of the only way to give [Wade] such a genuine arc in the movie. So I’m glad that they were so bold, and also equally as glad that there’s a way out.”
One way to repay Baccarin for her time in the fridge would be to use the inevitable Deadpool 3 — or even the upcoming X-Force spinoff, which will reunite both Deadpool and Cable — as a way to finally evolve Vanessa’s character to be more in line with her comic book counterpart. On the page, she’s both Deadpool’s lover and a mutant mercenary in her own right who operates under the name Copycat. While making the rounds for the first Deadpool, Reese and Wernick told Yahoo Entertainment that they had held off on introducing Copycat at that point in order to “focus entirely on Wade Wilson becoming Deadpool,” but there was the possibility to “see her evolve and her powers come to life” in future installments. Too bad that in the first of those future installments, they continued to focus entirely on Wade Wilson being Deadpool, leaving Vanessa in the cold once again.
Deadpool 2 is in theaters now.
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