Deadpool 2 shouldn’t work, but it does. There are so many things working against this movie that it’s not even funny. And yet, it is. You know… funny.
The title character — a sort of oddball outsider from the Marvel comics universe whose defining characteristic is that he’s aware that he’s in a comic book and breaks the fourth wall so often he puts Zack Morris, Ferris Bueller, and Bugs Bunny to shame — graduated to the big screen in 2016’s Deadpool, a wildly entertaining action-comedy that saw a live wire Ryan Reynolds don the iconic(ish), red and black spandex. While the film technically took place in the same universe as the long-running X-Men movies, it was less of an expansion of the franchise than a perverse subversion of the superhero genre as a whole. It was irreverent, unpredictable, and hilariously obscene.
But now, the novelty of the character has all but worn off. Watching Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson) rattle off one-liners as he dismembered ten baddies at once was a thrill in the first movie and a much-needed, R-rated change of pace for those of us who were suffering from a serious case of superhero fatigue at the time. But when Reynolds addresses the camera to open Deadpool 2, it doesn’t catch you off guard or feel provocative in the slightest. It just feels… normal.
You’ll see nothing in Deadpool 2 that’s as groundbreaking (in superhero-genre terms) as what you saw in its predecessor. But all that means is that the movie has to find success beyond its gimmicks. And somehow, it does. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) and writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds don’t reinvent the wheel here — they stick to the same formula as the first movie, and the results are… similar. Deadpool 2 is about as funny and action-packed and entertaining as Deadpool was, which is good news for fans, and bad news for entitled fanboys who demand every sequel be some kind of cinematic revelation, or risk being forever branded as “Worst. Movie. Ever.”
The story opens with Wade yet again hitting rock bottom, blowing himself to bits by flicking a cigarette into one of four barrels of gasoline he’s sprawled himself out on as if vacationing in Cancun, reintroducing us to his primary superpower, which is that he can’t be killed, even at his own hands. We’re also reacquainted with the franchise’s sardonic sense of humor, with Deadpool posing and prancing his way through his version of a James Bond intro sequence (soundtracked, inexplicably, by Celine Dion) and dropping “F” and “S” bombs throughout his derisive references to other superhero movies and larger pop culture, like some sort of shit-talking Johnny Appleseed.
No film franchise is safe from Deadpool’s irreverent wrath — from The Avengers, to Basic Instinct, to Frozen, to Yentl (for goodness sake), the writers hold nothing back and leave no curve in the pop culture bubble untainted. This movie aims to clown on everyone and everything, and it doesn’t let up from beginning to end.
The less-than-compelling narrative starts in earnest when Deadpool’s frenemy/man crush and official X-Man Colossus (a CG hunk of metal voiced by Stefan Kapicic) recruits the murderous motormouth as an “X-Man in training” to knock him out of his stupor and get his life back on track, but when Wade turns a de-escalation mission into a bloodbath, he’s disowned by the X-Men and sent away to a mutant prison with the target of his bungled mission, Russell (Julian Dennison), an angsty teenager who can shoot fireballs out of his hands. (Perfect combination, right?)
When a killing machine from the future with a “Winter Soldier arm” named Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up to kill young Russell for reasons unknown to anybody who hasn’t read lots of comic books or seen the movie Looper, Wade, nudged on by a voice beyond the grave, makes protecting the kid from the the time-hopping bad guy his new life’s mission. He puts together his own team of anti-heroes, called “X-Force”, and sets off on a mission to get to the rotund, rebellious Russell before Cable does.
As was the case with Deadpool, the issue with Deadpool 2 is that it’s constantly mocking and highlighting the fraudulence of the genre to which it belongs. What this means is that, during moments when the movie takes a dramatic tone and isn’t making fun of itself (of which there are surprisingly plenty), it’s hard to tell whether we should be laughing at or simply be receptive to whatever emotion the scene is trying to project. This is tonally confusing and completely distracting at times, and dampens both the comedic and dramatic elements of the movie simultaneously.
That being said, the film is never not engaging, and most of the time, it’s an absolute blast. There are moments of side-splitting debauchery (one, involving Wade’s partially re-grown lower body, is as hysterical as it is deranged) at every turn, and while the action sequences are as chatty and quippy as you would expect, they’re very exciting and legitimately cool-looking by any measure.
But the real jewel of Deadpool 2 is, once again, Reynolds, whose sly, frantic delivery is the coal that keeps this crazy train zooming down the tracks. You can tell that he’s been having the time of his life playing this character, and the enthusiasm is infectious. His energy is reminiscent of a ’90s Jim Carrey, though he’s never as grating and is actually often quite smooth and charming despite the filth flying from his masked mouth. Without Reynolds, I’m not sure this franchise would have ever seen the light of day, let alone put out a sequel that lives up to the original’s reputation.