The Merc With a Mouth is back in a sequel with more slicing, dicing and R-rated quips - but it's only a slight improvement over the sophomoric original.
While Marvel Studios seems to have solved the equation for how to make great (or, at their worst, pretty passable) superhero movies, the other studios have seemed to struggle. With 2016’s Deadpool, it seems like Fox has finally cracked the formula. Instead of trying to replicate the MCU (see: those disastrous DC movies, save Wonder Woman), just do what Marvel isn’t doing – embrace an R rating and go full-tilt meta comedy. That strategy landed them a fat $780 million worldwide box office take, so we’re off to the races with Deadpool 2, a movie that’s more of the same, but slightly more assured.
This time around, extra-crispy mercenary Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), finds himself emotionally unmoored after the untimely death of someone close to him. (You can probably guess who, but I fear spoiling the extra-special fuck-you title sequence gag that follows.) Seeking sanctuary, he holes up in the X-Mansion with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) to become a ‘trainee,’ hoping this will give him some direction in life.
On his first mission, though, he winds up connecting with a young, volatile mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), an angry little tyke with some rage issues and the fire powers to realize them. Unbeknownst to both of them, however, grimdark time-traveling cyber-assassin Cable (Josh Brolin) has jumped to the past to kill Russell for reasons unknown. This leaves the Merc with a Mouth no choice but to begrudgingly grow a set of hero-balls, keep Russell safe, and win the day.
One of the biggest advantages Deadpool 2 has going for it is confidence – they know the free-wheeling, anarchic fuck-your-feelings style of Reynolds and co. worked last time, so the sequel gives them freedom to play a bit more. Director David Leitch is no stranger to big, comic-booky action (he was one of John Wick’s two directors), and he steps into Tim Miller’s shoes quite nicely with well-choreographed action beats that neatly play with Deadpool’s regenerative powers. They really make the most out of Deadpool’s rubbery comic-book physicality, bending his body this way and that like a Stretch Armstrong.
Thankfully, Deadpool 2 doesn’t rest on its laurels the way the first did, using its signature brand of metahumor and R-rated sex and gore to spice up a relatively bland hero’s journey, complete with stock love interest and villain. This time, the world around Deadpool is just as wackadoodle as he is, a cartoon world that operates more or less on its own rules. This is most evident when he finally assembles his X-Force, highlights of which include Zazie Beetz as the superbly lucky Domino and Rob Delaney as Peter, an average Joe with a dad bod who just “saw the ad”. Brolin’s especially fun as Cable, nailing two major comic book roles in almost as many weeks – he’s gritty, intense, and covered in more pockets and fanny packs than you could shake a Rob Liefeld at, making an effective foil for Reynolds’ routine.
And of course, there’s Deadpool himself. Whatever your mileage for the series’ often sophomoric humor and meta callouts may be, Reynolds grows more and more assured in the role with each passing installment. There are more winks and nods than ever before, Deadpool cracking wise at everything from the critical success of fellow R-rated X-movie Logan to the McAvoy era X-Men movies (complete with one single-shot cameo that’s rather fun).
That being said, after a while, the film’s two-hour runtime starts to wear on you, especially when Deadpool 2 refuses to let up on its barrage of meta-jokes and outrageous action. While the central story about Deadpool learning that “family isn’t an f-word” is a decent idea, it almost feels dishonest to give Deadpool such a begrudging moral compass. Also, the squishy, unironic moments of sentiment sometimes feel like lip service to get us to the next quip or dismemberment. Despite what the filmmakers think, it is possible to wink at the audience too much; it can feel a little desperate to be in on the joke. Then again, they know their audience – comic book fans who will clap their hands and scream whenever Deadpool calls Cable “Thanos” – so who am I to judge?
Overall, Deadpool 2 is a decent improvement over the first, a more assured and calculated film that takes what worked about his debut effort (no, X-Men Origins, you don’t exist) and slices off the fat with the sharpness of one of Wade’s cross-sheathed samurai swords. At the same time, with confidence comes hubris, and the film’s inflated budget (and runtime) make the film feel a bit like a victory lap – it’s really fun for the person who won, but for the rest of us it can get tiresome after a while.
Deadpool 2 deconstructs its way into theaters May 18th.