There’s a moment about halfway through Deadpool 2 where the film appears to be turning into exactly the kind of tired, perfunctory, by-the-numbers superhero sequel you’d expect from a major studio. There’s a huge build-up to a major action sequence involving a ton of characters doing a lot of CGI-assisted things. Then, in one moment, everything gets completely and hilariously torn apart, as if the script had been doused in Vodka Red Bull and set on fire. That pretty much summarizes the film in general, which finds its strength by straddling (if not teabagging) the line between earnestness and satire.
In the two years since the original film, Wade Wilson/Mr. Pool If You’re Nasty (Ryan Reynolds) has been working as a global vigilante, tracking down and brutally taking out crime lords and thugs all over the world. However, he’s got a bit of a death wish, something that he can’t indulge because of his insane mutant healing factor. He finds purpose in protecting a pyrotechnic teenage mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison) from Cable (Josh Brolin), a cybernetic soldier from the future who’s intent on killing Russell before the young man becomes a supervillain. Deadpool gets some help in his mission from some reluctant, lower-profile X-Men, as well as from the absurdly lucky mercenary Domino (Zazie Beetz).
WARNING! THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS!
If you loved the first Deadpool and are coming in with expectations of more of the same but just…well, a lot more of the same, you might be slightly disappointed. To be sure, DP2 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the fourth-wall-breaking, irreverence, and brutal, hard-R action sequences that defined the original and helped it stand out from a sea of superhero films. But there is a level of seriousness and depth here that wasn’t in the first one. In some ways, it comes off a lot more like a traditional superhero narrative, but that only makes it more subversive and effective.
The original film was a send-up of superhero origin stories while also being, in many ways, a traditional superhero origin story. Likewise, DP2 has a lot of the hallmarks of a traditional superhero sequel, which it mocks even while it indulges itself with those same tropes. A prime example is the introduction of the X-Force mutant team, much hyped in the trailers and promotional materials. The film spends a fair amount of time building up to X-Force’s first mission, which proceeds to go completely and horrifically off the rails in every way possible. After that, just saying “X-Force” becomes a Miss Vanjie-level running joke about the best of intentions amounting to very little.
To be sure, DP2 has a very different kind of energy than its predecessor. DP1 hit hard right out the gate and never let up. DP2 prefers to open slower and build on itself. This means that the first act is kind of rough and even boring at times, but it also means that it doesn’t crash in the middle for 10 minutes like during DP1’s extended flashback to Deadpool’s creation. It also means that by the time the film has reached its third act, there’s enough momentum built to make everything feel more organic than it really is. The film starts with a sleek, stylized James Bond-style credit sequence set to a wrenching Celine Dion ballad, but it ends with explosions, superpowers, destruction, and a full fortissimo choir singing “HOLY SHITBALLS!” with utter conviction. (Yes, even composer Tyler Bates isn’t above making fun of hiself.)
It’s thanks to to director David Leitch (credited as “One Of The Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog”) and the writing team of Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Reynolds himself (credited as “The Real Villains”) that the transition between those two moods is relatively seamless. They go into the film recognizing that Deadpool’s voice is pretty well-established, and they’re far more focused on telling a story set in his universe than highlighting DP himself. There’s much more here of DP interacting with others and putting his life in context, and the film often finds its humor in the way DP does or doesn’t connect with those around him.
In fact, it’s the nature of that connection that ends up being at the film’s heart. And surprise, surprise, DP2 actually does have a real, beating heart. The primary theme of the film is the nature of family. DP intends to start one with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Russell doesn’t have one since he’s living in an orphanage staffed with mutant-haters who are mostly likely also pedophiles, Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) spends a lot of time trying to convince DP to join the X-Men family, and Cable’s family is dead. Discovering what makes a family, and what has to happen to keep it together, ends up being the most important lesson in a film about a foul-mouthed assassin fighting off a super-soldier from days of future past.
Like the first film, DP2 is all about Ryan Reynolds’ performance, and once again, he doesn’t disappoint. Reynolds IS Deadpool the same way Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine (a fact that is constantly referenced starting with the very first shot of the film). In the wrong hands, DP can be a highly annoying collection of one-liners and mental tics, but Reynolds knows what makes the Merc With A Mouth tick better than nearly anybody. He’s a little looser here and not quite so smug, but he’s still the same arrogant, overconfident, maximum-effort antihero that we’ve come to know and love
Reynolds’ supporting cast is more than on their game, however, especially Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz. The film went through reshoots after test screening to include more scenes with both Cable and Domino, and with very good reason. Brolin is magnetic as Cable, a gritty ball of muscle and power that clearly hides a passionate heart and mind. His body is jacked beyond belief, and Brolin’s physical presence is simply awesome. Beetz is the new star of the franchise, however, as the not-bothered Domino, who’s mutant power is being the luckiest person in the known universe. Beetz herself, however, has a grounded snark and fierce attitude that makes her a force to be reckoned with, and when it comes to sharp-tongued dialogue, she’s more than a match for anyone.
The focus on the new characters means that we don’t get as much of some of the returning characters, like Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who’s mostly passed off her deadpan sarcasm to Domino, or Vanessa, the love of DP’s life. However, both Hildebrand and Baccarin are great in their brief amounts of screen time, and the relationship between Vanessa and DP remains one of the most believable and affecting romances in any film in recent memory. We also get less time with TJ Miller’s Weasel, but that actually works in the film’s favor given Miller’s recent unsavory off-screen behavior and the fact that Weasel simply seems completely irrelevant in the scope of this narrative.
The film does have its own set of flaws, however, one of which being that like the first DP film, the story is relatively light. There’s an immediacy to the plot that hides its weightlessness well but doesn’t remove it. About halfway through the film, a new antagonist appears that causes Cable and Deadpool to team up (which isn’t much of a spoiler given that the two constantly work together in the comics), but their presence isn’t entirely defined. It’s great that they show up, and they’re portrayed amazingly well, but WHY they’re the antagonist doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. And as has been discussed, the film’s first act is kind of choppy and stingy on its actual level of Deadpool-esque crazy, something make all the more apparent by the incalculable level of sheer, WTF awesomeness we get during the final set pieces.
Bottom line, if you liked the first Deadpool film, you’ll love the second one, even if it takes you a few minutes to warm up to it. Just relax, and you’ll get used to it. If you didn’t like the first Deadpool film, then just lie back and think of Justice League. Once the film gets going, it’s almost impossible to resist its anarchic energy, which is matched only by its underlying, shockingly sincere emotional core. If Disney’s smart, they’ll keep the world’s favorite R-rated hero in blood, F-bombs, and obscene jokes for the foreseeable future. Maximum effort, people. It’s not just a highly marketable catchphase anymore.
FBOTU Score: 8 out of 10 / B+