Zazie Beetz and Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2
Here’s how fast this superhero thing is moving: I thought that the first Deadpool’s flippant sense of humour and constant deconstruction of itself was a welcome antidote to the glum sameness of superhero films at the time, and that’s also what I find the most irritating about the newest film in the franchise. In the span of a little over two years, Deadpool’s success has essentially rendered its own sequel practically unnecessary. Other superhero films have integrated its violence, its po-mo humour and its sense of its own absurdity, which places Deadpool 2 as an even more concentrated shot of an antidote that has long since cured what it came to cure.
There isn’t much of a difference tone-wise between the two films, and yet I couldn’t help but feel a little pummelled by Deadpool 2’s hyper-specific snark and constant breaking of the fourth wall. Deadpool 2 essentially takes a one-joke premise — that you’re watching a dumb superhero movie that knows it’s a dumb superhero movie and whose central figure is Not Your Daddy’s Superhero — and squeezes it bone-dry. A lot of it works, admittedly; there’s no denying that this is about as good a depiction of the character as we could ever hope to translate to the silver screen, but that’s also probably the majority of the problem.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) has been living his life as a masked crusader ever since the events of the first film have made him more or less indestructible — he’s capable of regenerating limbs, as you might recall, not to mention all the jumping and sword-chopping. Tragedy strikes in his personal life, leaving him despondent and aimless, until he comes into contact with a young, fire-throwing mutant (Julian Dennison) who has a profound hate for the academy system he’s found himself in, tortured by a sadistic principal (Eddie Marsan). Deadpool takes it upon himself to save the young man, a task that is severely complicated when a time-travelling badass from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) pops up with the express goal of killing the teenager to prevent his future crime spree. With budding fatherly feelings brewing up, Deadpool assembles the X-Force (Zazie Beetz, Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Lewis Tan and Rob Delaney) and sets out to combat Cable.
Scope has a lot to do with why both of the Deadpool films work. Even though this one features a whole lot of time-hopping and bending of the space-time continuum, it still feels smaller and more manageable than Marvel films tends to be. The film is also given a pretty hefty boost simply by virtue of giving Deadpool some comic foils and spreading the wealth around a little bit. There are times when watching Reynolds cycle-through rapid-fire references and ain’t-I-a-stinker bon mots becomes frankly exhausting, and spreading out the laughs to a larger and more talented cast than the first film’s does help soften some of the blow. There’s no denying that Reynolds is perfect casting but the film’s unbroken rat-a-tat routines are ultimately pretty thankless.
The fact is that there are plenty of laughs in Deadpool 2, even if they come in a somewhat tiresome format. It gets some good jabs in at the genre, culminating with one relatively clever sequence that would work a lot better if it hadn’t actually been taken from MacGruber. It also does seem to cater to nerds in a more natural way — but not necessarily a more intelligent way. When Juggernaut finally shows up, he doesn’t yell, “I’m Juggernaut, bitch” like he did in Brett Ratner’s misbegotten third X-Men movie, but you do see his naked ass a few minutes later. I think that weighs just about the same.
There’s this thing that happens in subversive or satirical horror films that pride themselves on playing with clichés and turning them on their head. Once you establish that this is the kind of movie where clichés DON’T happen and the only thing you should expect is the unexpected, the tables are just reversed. The unexpected becomes the cliché, and you can pretty safely see every so-called subversive twist coming from a mile away. The same thing sort of happens with Deadpool. The film establishes him as a total wildcard who’s equally likely to hump or behead a victim as he is to simply walk away, give a treatise on RuPaul’s Drag Race or throw them into the sun. The sheer unpredictability of Deadpool has made him duller; let’s say for the sake of argument that the first Deadpool film represents sriracha’s cultural capital in 2016. If that’s the case, Deadpool 2 is definitely mirroring the state of sriracha in 2018: oversaturated and omnipresent, found in even the limpest and most toxic of Subway sandwiches.
Handing the reins of the franchise over to John Wick helmer and noted neon fetishist David Leitch doesn’t really turn the franchise into Atomic Blonde with more dick jokes. It remains relatively grounded and pretty visually cohesive for a superhero movie, though the film doesn’t really contain an action-movie showstopper like Leitch’s previous films. Though I have many problems with Deadpool 2 in the abstract, the fact remains that it’s extremely easy to see how much more wrong it could’ve gone. Somewhere in the early 2000s there exists the unmade Deadpool movie where Jake Busey is the villain and some shitass nu-metal chugs around in the background. I’m no comic-book expert, but the Deadpool we got seems to be the best Deadpool we could hope for. ■
Deadpool 2 opens in theatres on Friday, May 18. Watch the trailer here: