While you may not be familiar with the term “fridging,” you have definitely seen it in action. In our story, the hero finds himself at a moment of crisis. Either he’s become complacent or he’s turned away from his purpose. And then it happens: the love of his life is brutally murdered. In the fallout, our hero finds the motivation that he needs to complete his mission. How many women have been killed off so that men can find the inner strength to save the world?
The term “fridging” was coined by comic book writer Gail Simone in 1999 with her website Women In Refrigerators, where she broke down the long list of women in comics who have been killed off to service the journey of a male character. Simone used Green Lantern’s girlfriend, Alexandra deWitt, who was literally murdered and then stuffed into a refrigerator for Kyle Rayner’s character development, as her motivation for the name. This certainly isn’t just in comic books either. How many Bond girls have met grisly fates? How many dead wives populate Christopher Nolan movies?
The trope popped up again in 2018’s blockbuster season on two occasions: Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) in Pacific Rim: Uprising and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) in Deadpool 2. Despite her agency and desire to save the world from the kaiju in Pacific Rim, Mori is sidelined into a bureaucratic role in the sequel before being unceremoniously killed off in a helicopter accident to give her brother Jake (John Boyega) a reason to stay and fight. Similarly, Vanessa, an interesting and multi-faceted character from the first Deadpool film, is murdered by one of Deadpool’s (Ryan Reynolds) marks, sending the merc with a mouth on a dark spiral. Instead of being a part of the action, she’s sent to an Instagram filtered version of the afterlife to serve as a light at the end of the tunnel and erstwhile spirit guide. While her murder is reversed in the end credits sequence (an admittedly incredible scene), the question of why she was sidelined for the entire film leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Vulture spoke to Deadpool 2‘s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, asking them about the fridging of both Vanessa and Cable’s (Josh Brolin) family and whether they worried about the criticism that could have followed, and they admitted that they hadn’t even considered it as an issue and that they were unfamiliar with fridging as a trope. Wernick explained:
I would say, in our defense, the only thing that really is important, the only thing that Deadpool cares about, is Vanessa. So if you’re doing a movie where you are trying to get Deadpool at his lowest, to take away everything from Deadpool at the very beginning, the only thing to really take away from him is Vanessa.
I know it wasn’t consciously sexist. It may appear that way as the film progresses and Cable loses his family as well, but again, the desire was to give a motivation to both Cable and to Deadpool, and have it be a parallel motivation that they both lost their family, and they’re both trying to kind of find their way in the world without them.
To be fair to them, there is a good chance that they’ve never had to reckon with this kind of creative choice before. That being said, even if they didn’t know the technical term, there is no way they haven’t seen it in action. Reese and Wernick are two writers with significant knowledge about both comics and film, so they wouldn’t be unfamiliar with the regular sacrifice of women. It just didn’t register as a big deal.
But it is a big deal. However, it is also boring. This is a storyline trotted out time and time again, so shouldn’t we want more from our stories? Deadpool 2 is a good time at the movies, but it could have been great. The crux of Wade and Vanessa’s relationship was the desire to have children, so wouldn’t the fact that a child (Julian Dennison’s Firefist) was in peril and needed help have been enough to motivate Deadpool into action? Dealing with this complex situation as a couple could have added some interesting layers to their relationship.
With big budget films like Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and The Last Jedi, it’s increasingly clear that blockbusters can be creative and well-written while still being a spectacle. Fridging was lazy to begin with, and it’s proven to be an increasingly unnecessary narrative crutch. Deadpool 2 has such great female characters (despite the unfortunate sidelining of Brianna Hildebrande’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead for much of the film), so it’s clear that these writers aren’t limited to employing such a hack trope. We know that they can be better, so shouldn’t we hold them to that?