Updated: Feb 6
2016’s Deadpool, the first attempt at a hard R-rated superhero franchise since that genre started its boom, was a largely enjoyable introduction to its violent, vulgar, wisecracking anti-hero. It spent a lot of time on its protagonist’s backstory while trying to hammer home how he is unlike other superheroes. Despite that, it felt very much like every other superhero movie. I got a little tired of his act before the end, but it certainly seemed as though there was the potential for something really fun. Deadpool 2 lives up to that potential. Now that the character’s world has been thoroughly established, the filmmakers use the sequel as an opportunity to play around in it.
Whereas the first one talked a big game, this one actually does occasionally subvert common superhero movie tropes as it messes with audience expectations. The plot is pretty simple: Deadpool tries to protect teenage mutant Russell from being killed by the time-travelling Cable. Deadpool was a Marvel movie with bloodier violence, more jokes, lots of swearing and self-referencing. Deadpool 2 emphasizes the humor and generally takes itself less seriously than its already irreverent predecessor. Think of it less as an R-rated superhero movie and more as an over-the-top action/comedy that just happens to be about a superhero.
My biggest complaint when it comes to comedy sequels is they either repeat themselves or do variations of the same jokes, but push them even farther. It is the bigger is better theory of filmmaking. Deadpool 2 falls into this trap a few times. Luckily, it turns out to be the rare case where bigger actually is better. Pushing things as far as they can go, sometimes to the point of being irritating, is not just the strategy here; it is Deadpool’s most prominent character trait. So this style fits his personality perfectly.
The success of these films relies on the actor playing Deadpool to be more charming than he is annoying. Ryan Reynolds is consistently able to find that balance. There is no way these movies could work without him. He is surprisingly passionate about the character. Most importantly, Reynolds understands exactly what it is that makes him who he is.
Some stories fit their protagonist into a plot. Things happen to them. In this film, the protagonist happens to things. It is not the type of performance that wins awards (although Reynolds was nominated for a Golden Globe for the original Deadpool), however Deadpool 2 rests completely on Reynolds’ shoulders and he carries it as well as possible. He receives a little support from fellow returnees Morena Baccarin as his love interest, Vanessa, Karan Soni as loyal cab driver Dopinder, CGI-rendered X-Man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), still seeking the best in Deadpool and, lastly, T.J. Miller as Deadpool’s confidant, Weasel.
There are also new characters joining in the fun. Josh Brolin (who voiced the villainous Thanos in Marvel’s megahit Avengers: Infinity War) plays Cable like someone slowly realizing they are not in a serious action movie. Julian Dennison, as young Russell, does not have much time to establish his character amid all the wackiness, but he does alright. Finally, Zazie Beetz is dryly amusing as the lucky Domino. As good as they are, if the lead character did not entertain, this would be a disaster. Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds is a charismatic and committed enough actor to pull it off.
The director of Deadpool 2 is former stunt double David Leitch (replacing Tim Miller, who left after a dispute with the star). Leitch directed Atomic Blonde and worked on John Wick so there is an assumption that the action sequences will be good. Disappointingly, there is nothing particularly special about them. Perhaps the idea was that they should take a back seat to the nearly non-stop jokes. If so, that might explain why they come off as so routine. That said, there is one scene where the action adds to the humor. I do not want to give anything away, but it comes around the halfway point and it is one of the funniest action scenes I have seen in a long while. The rest of the action does not quite reach that level. But it does not detract from the jokes, either.
Though Deadpool 2 (109 minutes, plus a pair of mid-credits scenes) is a departure from the superhero norm (due to its emphasis on humor and a refusal to take its mythology seriously), it follows the formula structurally and story-wise. Remove the fourth-wall breaking and swearing and it is not that different from the X-Men, Spider-Man or Avengers series’. The big difference in terms of its story is that it mixes a lot of cynicism in with its payoffs. That leads to some of the surprises and makes the overall film feel more subversive than it really is.
This was made by 20th Century Fox, but that studio, as well as its properties, will soon be owned by Disney. That has led to concern among fans that the Deadpool franchise will be killed or dramatically watered down because Disney makes products for family audiences. Stylistically it could fit in, but would limiting the gore and vulgarity destroy the character by making him too similar to Tony Stark, Peter Parker or Peter Quill? Between the Marvel and Star Wars universes, Disney will have 3-4 massive, all-ages, blockbusters a year. There is no reason they cannot make room on their schedule for Deadpool every couple of years. The question is will they bring him into the larger Marvel universe and let him interact with the Avengers? It would present a tricky tonal challenge, but they seem to be competent enough at handling their properties to make it work.
Deadpool 2 is far from a perfect film. The story is rushed, the characters are mostly shallow and the fight choreography is relatively weak. However, its goal was to be a fun, violent, goofy action/comedy. It fills that category pretty darn well. Its style is that of, if you do not find a joke funny, wait a second because here come three more. It does not just coast on the novelty of being a Marvel superhero movie that does not take itself seriously. The first one introduced Deadpool’s world and the sequel takes advantage of it any which way it can. I am not sure what a third movie can do that this series has not already done. This movie definitely made me want to see them try.
3¾ out of 5
Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool
Josh Brolin as Cable
Julian Dennison as Russell/Firefist
Morena Baccarin as Vanessa
Zazie Beetz as Domino
T.J. Miller as Weasel
Karan Soni as Dopinder
Stefan Kapicic as voice of Colossus
Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead
Directed by David Leitch
Screenplay by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds