Spoiler warning: There are spoilers about Uncanny X-Force here. It's a comic book that is now four years old. You should read it.
There was nothing subtle about Deadpool's opening-weekend box office win. With two middle fingers to the universe, the patron superhero saint of chimichangas and crotch shots sailed to a $135 million domestic gross — the biggest opening weekend for an R-rated movie in history — and a $260 million worldwide haul.
From a numbers perspective, what Deadpool achieved shouldn't have been possible. Twentieth Century Fox spent a meager $58 million on a risky — and, to some fans, maybe even foreign — comic book movie, warned parents not to let their kids see it, and somehow came away with a gigantic hit. And that's in spite of the fact that the film bucked two decades' worth of genre history; as BuzzFeed News points out, comic book movies with R ratings just don't bring in that kind of money. The most successful R-rated comic book movie prior to Deadpool, 2007's 300, opened to only $70 million.
Deadpool has essentially kicked Hollywood's superhero industrial complex in the teeth, proving that heroes (and antiheroes) can be gory, irreverent, and sexy and still find an audience. The movie's success should give confidence to Warner Bros.'s upcoming Suicide Squad, an edgier, rival superhero flick in the same vein. It's also good news for Ryan Reynolds and Fox, as Deadpool has restored people's faith in both.
But most importantly, it means that one of the best Deadpool (and X-Men) comic book stories ever written could one day become a movie, because Deadpool's record-breaking success makes a solid case for bringing Uncanny X-Force to the big screen.
It's true that an Uncanny X-Force movie is a bit of a long shot — some of the characters might be foreign to fans, a good director is needed, budget might be an issue — but for a long time, so was Deadpool. Here's why an Uncanny X-Force movie needs to happen.
Uncanny X-Force is an X-Men story that should be told
Back in the '90s, the X-Men were comic book gods. They dominated the best-seller charts week in and week out. And to capitalize, Marvel began pumping out spinoff teams featuring different mutants with different powers. X-Force was one of these spinoff groups.
But as the X-Men's popularity died down, those splinter groups felt it first, and titles began to dwindle. X-Force bit the dust in 2002. And Marvel gave it one last breath in 2004-'05.
Three years later, X-Force found a new life with a new premise as a black-ops group of X-Men and allies. And Uncanny X-Force, from writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opeña, ran from 2010 to 2012 and furthered that idea, tapping into a combination of brutality and humanity that pushed the title into comic book greatness.
To understand Uncanny X-Force, you just have to know one thing: They kill stuff. And not killing stuff is, of course, one of the most important tenets of the X-Men.
Uncanny X-Force is actually a continuation of a 2008 X-Force story from writers Chris Yost and Craig Kyle and artist Clayton Crain. The premise is simple: Cyclops has secretly assembled the X-Force to use lethal force with threats too dangerous for X-Men. It's a bleak, beautiful book; many of its pages are drenched in shadows and tinged with blood — the story is as hopeless as it is sublime.
The formation of the X-Force marks a huge turning point in the X-Men franchise, because the X-Men have their backs against a wall and Cyclops, their leader, has lost faith in Xavier's teachings. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's an exploration of the idea of trying to survive in a world where some people will do everything in their power to see that you don't.
Uncanny X-Force picks up in 2010, after the X-Force is exposed and shut down.
"The philosophy isn't immediately easy or pleasant to wrap your head around; superheroes who murder. But when you realize where the mutants are, and what they're up against, it begins to make sense," Remender told Comic Book Resources when Uncanny X-Force debuted. "This is a group of characters that have had their souls stained by evil forces in the past, a common thread connecting them."
Wolverine and Archangel recruit Psylocke, a psychic ninja; Fantomex, a genetically enhanced mutant marksman and mind-bending illusionist; and Deadpool to join the team. They're not model heroes, and it's hard for them to trust each other. In fact, their dishonesty is the only thing they can bond over. The only reason Deadpool agreed to join the team in the first place is that the pay is good:
"They've [Uncanny X-Force] already made the hard compromises in the past; they've all taken life," Remender added.
Opeña's art is clinically cold, industrial. There's a rattling, evil feeling to it that complements Remender's tangled story. The characters snipe at one another, they never let their guard down, and they forge their own alliances within the group — but there's also a blazing vulnerability in each one. And throughout the book, there are pockets of wicked, acidic humor that cut through the heaviness.
In the hands of the right director — think Guillermo del Toro (a reach, sure) — and the right action coordinator (say, Brad Allan, the man behind scenes from Kingsman: Secret Service and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) Uncanny X-Force could be a beautiful, dark, sinister, and incredibly funny superhero film. Like Deadpool, it'd be something we'd never seen before.
Despite the title, Uncanny X-Force is just as much about Deadpool as it is about the X-Force
The entire Remender-Opeña run of the comic is stellar, but there's something particularly special about their first arc, which carves out new territory for Deadpool and the rest of his teammates with a story that'll make you laugh but also crush your heart.
The arc begins and ends with Deadpool. When we're dropped into the story, it's already in progress; Deadpool is investigating some odd stuff that's been going on, and we come to find out that he's an operative, paid by Angel (a.k.a. Warren Worthington III) to look into the reincarnation of Apocalypse, one of the X-Men's greatest foes. Apocalypse is now a little boy:
Look at that creepy, slightly adorable bastard. He's just a kid in a suit that's too big for him, reading books that are probably too advanced. But he's also one of the X-Men's most fearsome villains, and he's capable of extreme violence.
Ultimately, X-Force is presented with the choice to protect Kid Apocalypse or kill him. (I'm going to take a second here to point out that Uncanny X-Force basically predicted the baby Hitler ethics question years before the New York Times Magazine did.)
Each member of the team comes down on one side or the other; each tainted hero makes his or her plea regarding whether the child should live. Some change their minds. Some are still mulling things over. We don't know how it's going to end until it does, when Fantomex makes the decision for everyone and shoots Kid Apocalypse in the head:
The action at the end of this arc is bloody, heaving mess. That final panel sucks all the air out the room. It's splendidly dark.
In the aftermath of Kid Apocalypse's death, in Uncanny X-Force no. 5, Deadpool is in shock — even with a superhuman healing factor, he's still distraught. He's absolutely appalled by his team's behavior, which leads to a heartbreaking confrontation between him and Wolverine:
Everything is laid bare. Wolverine thinks Deadpool is a mercenary who's only on the team for the money. Heck, the audience is led to believe this, too. Deadpool is a character who fends for himself and isn't supposed to function in a group setting.
So Deadpool walks away, insulted and torn up (he eventually returns, but he becomes more alienated from the group). It's later revealed that he wasn't even cashing his X-Force checks, implying that the team is more to Deadpool than just a job.
Remender uses this clash to establish both his run on the book and Deadpool's philosophical question of nature versus nurture. If allowed to live, could Kid Apocalypse buck what's expected of him? Could any of these characters change, or is it too late for them?
It's a bit unnerving to see Deadpool, whom we're used to seeing toss around cynical, raunchy jokes, believing in goodness and being able to change your ways. Remender frames him as a tragic character, suggesting that beneath all the humor and sarcasm is a man who's struggling with his own morality.
Uncanny X-Force returns to this theme at the end of Remender's run (with artist Phil Noto), in issue 35. Deadpool talks to Evan, a clone of Apocalypse (comics are weird), and plainly tells him that no one grows up evil:
It's touching but also soul-crushing when you realize that Deadpool has spent his entire life grappling with and ultimately failing at being the good guy he wants to be.
Portraying Deadpool as a tragic figure would be a stark departure from the cynical, self-aware, too-cool character at the center of the Deadpool film. And another couple of movies of the same kind of Deadpool cracking the same kind of jokes might make him feel like a one-note character without any weight. The one Remender and Opeña created is one I still can't get enough of.
An Uncanny X-Force movie could be the Avengers-like team-up that Deadpool deserves
The beautiful, bonkers element about my X-Force dream is that it wouldn't take much to make it happen. Olivia Munn is already playing Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, which comes out in May. Archangel and Cyclops both appear in that movie, too. If it does well, audiences would already be familiar with X-Force characters.
Meanwhile, I don't think it would be too difficult (for better or worse) to talk Hugh Jackman into playing Wolverine one last time. A sequel to Deadpool has already been greenlit, and X-Force could come after that. And Ryan Reynolds himself has said that he is pushing Fox to make an X-Force movie.
This has to happen.
To be clear, the only reason something as amazing as an X-Force movie would work is that Fox, Reynolds, and the team behind Deadpool have put together one fantastic movie that fully understands its title character. Seeing Deadpool revitalize Reynolds is not unlike watching Robert Downey Jr. find his groove with Iron Man. Why couldn't, or perhaps why shouldn't, there be an Avengers-like team-up in Deadpool's future?
While Deadpool's raunchy humor is garnering most of the film's the attention, it boasts a real fidelity to the character that fans know from the comic books. That's what powers the movie, and that's all you can really ask for. When it comes to Deadpool and the X-Men, it's all you really need.