It’s worth saying right up front that if a Hollywood movie can threaten your salvation, you’ve probably built your faith on shifting sand, not the bedrock of the Church.
That noted, there are films that help our faith lives, those that hurt them, and those that probably won’t have any measurable impact one way or the other, at least for those who have a reasonably good grounding in the Faith.
“Deadpool” is probably in the last category.
Released last weekend to big numbers, the 20th Century Fox production, based on the Marvel Comics antihero, has earned over $260 million so far at the box office. In the origin story, Deadpool, a k a former Special Forces soldier turned muscle-for-hire Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), falls in love with a hooker (Morena Baccarin) then learns he’s dying of cancer.
Taking advantage of a revolutionary treatment, Wade gets super-strength and healing powers but loses his hair and has red, mottled skin all over his face and body. Dubbing himself Deadpool, he sets out to find the man responsible, who said he can restore Wade’s looks, so he can return to his tough-talking, tattooed — but hot — lover. Mayhem ensues.
At the other end of the spectrum, today (Friday, Feb. 19) Sony/Affirm Films’ “Risen,” a story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection from the point of view of a pagan Roman soldier (Joseph Fiennes), opens in theaters — and there’s zero chance it will rack up dollars like “Deadpool.” But there’s every chance it could do very well.
More on this movie in a moment, but first, should you go see “Deadpool”?
If you enjoy nonstop banter, incessant action and buckets of gory violence, accompanied by juvenile humor, nudity, raw sexual content and gross-out moments — with a hero that wavers between amoral and reluctantly just slightly moral — “Deadpool” is probably the movie for you.
I saw it with a bunch of comics-loving Catholics last Friday, and none of us came away impressed. Frankly, despite all the movie’s rapid patter, histrionics and attempts to be subversive, I was bored. In looking at reaction to the film, I was surprised to see that The New Yorker thought it had a “nearly pious dream of higher purpose.” Yeah, that’s a stretch.
But, I was reminded that people bring their unique perspectives to a movie, when I saw a piece in the U.K. Guardian in which a writer who has disfigurement caused by neurofibromatosis was happy to see someone who is disfigured as the hero of a movie (even though Deadpool’s whole mission is to get his disfigurement fixed so his girlfriend will want him again).
I’m not going to say there’s nothing redeeming about what Deadpool does, either before or after his “cure” — he seems to be a bad boy with some good impulses (and I understand that, as rough as he is, he’s sanitized from the comic). But what he does at the end of the movie confirms his basest motivations and casts a shadow over any flickerings of virtue that may be briefly present.
And, he’s irritating, not in a fun, quippy, Spider-Man way, but in a “oh, fer Pete’s sake, shut the frak up for a second, wouldja?” way.
As for the sexual content, frankly, I’ve seen more depraved things in some TV shows — I covered TV for many years, and doing that job requires wading through some pretty bleak stuff — but it’s fairly nasty. And, there are rumors that a sequel will explore the pansexuality of the comic character.
Obviously, “Deadpool” is not for minors (it IS R-rated, so that should be a clue). There’s no religious content, pro or con. I found it to have a couple of laughs, some good visual effects, but generally it was a giant waste of time.
As for “Risen,” I’ve seen it twice and wasn’t bored either time. As recent Biblical or sword-and-sandal epics go, it’s pretty darn good — brisk, muscular and entertaining, with a solid performance by Fiennes as the war-weary Clavius.
“The journey is really a man who’s deeply conditioned in one way of thinking, in terms of the business he’s in – it’s death. He’s a very pragmatic and brilliant military tribune, and he’s made his way up through the ranks, but he’s been surrounded day in and day out by death.
“His journey is really a great revelation, which brings him to the point of challenging his conditioning and also getting out of that industry and really seeing a life of redemption beyond the Roman Empire, and beyond the military.”
Asked what moved him about the story, Fiennes said, “I loved the relationships that we see with Pontius Pilate and Clavius, and that relationship with Clavius and his aide, Lucius. They’re almost like father-son relationships.
“What we have in a theological and spiritual way is the divorce of the earthbound parental relationships and then the adoption of a more spiritual father/son relationship.”
And click here to see an interview I did with producers Mickey Liddell (“Everwood”) and Chaldean Catholic Pete Shilaimon, for The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Here’s a bit of that:
“Everything happened to me on set. I became a better person, I became a better version of who I was,” said Shilaimon during a press event last fall about his experience working on the film. “It changed the way I thought about making movies, changed the way I treat people.
“Definitely, definitely just started to do this a lot” — he paused to make the Sign of the Cross — “I started to do this a lot on set. It did change me. It just did. You can see it in my eyes.”
Regarding his faith, Shilaimon said, “I wear my cross; I love it. I’m Catholic; I’ll never change. This is who I am. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”
“Risen” likens itself to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” but it doesn’t approach the depth or richness of that amazing film (which knew better than to portray Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, as “Risen” does).
But, while I don’t think that every faith-friendly project has to be a Jesus story, “Risen” is head and shoulders above most of the faith-centric movies I’ve seen. Sony seems to know this, and has put a great deal of promotional time and money behind it.
While Catholics are going to have some issues — such as with the portrayal of a hysterical Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross — it’s worth your time and money.
Also, as I said in this column about whether Hollywood is our national conscience (spoiler: it’s not; the reverse is true), money matters. If “Risen” doesn’t make a good showing this weekend at the box office, the likelihood of having any alternatives like this to stuff like “Deadpool” gets more and more distant.
We vote with our dollars. Choose carefully.
Image: Courtesy Sony Pictures/20th Century Fox/Marvel Studios