Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds (based on the comic book Deadpool created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin
Withstanding the hypocrisy of a film touting its reflexive send-ups of the ubiquitous comic-book blockbuster’s clichés, whilst itself indulging those same clichés, the first Deadpool signalled a blindsiding overachievement. Armed with an overdue performer in Ryan Reynolds— who had finally found his cinematic soulmate and through him broke not only the fourth-wall, but also the shackles—Deadpool parlayed the abandon and irresistible smarm of its titular anti-hero from the humble origins of a comic-book outlier, into the deformed face of an 800-million-dollar sleeper hit of proportions so atmospheric in height, that a sequel was rendered obligatory before the box office receipts could even be tallied.
The first time Ryan Reynolds donned that red and black latex in a film of his own, enough acerbic wit, intoxicating juvenility and belligerent reckless abandon was supplied to discern an illusion of genuine subversiveness. Deadpool beared the same mechanical inner-workings as every Marvel movie it purported to flip off, but it was also savvy enough to figure it might as well satirise those mechanics whilst they were in operation. Does being conscious of one’s crimes make said crimes any less criminal? I don’t believe it does, but Deadpool validated that if you can offer enough laughs along the way, one might just forget to punish those trespasses.
And now we get that obligatory sequel, which, to surmise, is a proper sequel, through and through. That is to say Deadpool 2 does the thing that corporately mandated successors so often do— eschewing the novelty of the original for an extra helping of whatever worked the first time around (replete with recycled jokes), except with a greater degree of bombast and a slightly inflated cast list.
There are more explosions in Deadpool 2, more set-pieces, more characters (Zazie Beetz’s Domino—who boasts luck as a superpower—being the worthiest addition,) more meta, more C words…and overall less fun to be had.
To the film’s credit there’s more of an attempt at heart too. The organising notion of Deadpool 2 is the instillation of humanity in our protagonist. It’s a plot born out of tragedy: Wade Wilson, for the first time since his power bestowing surgeries, has been lastingly wounded, catalysing the emergence of his long-veiled inner altruist. It’s an emergence which leads him to 15-year-old Russell (Julian Dennison, star of Hunt for the Wilderpeople), an orphaned, pyrotechnic mutant monikered “Firefist” who is in dire need of affection. It’s a quest which also leads Deadpool into combat with the militant, time travelling Cable, played with joke-begging inter-Marvel-movie villainy by Josh Brolin, whose sibling performance as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War does not, it seems redundant to say, go unmentioned.
The most subversive element of Deadpool 2 is the desire from director David Leitch, renowned for his craft of action (John Wick, Atomic Blonde,) and the trio of screenwriters (Mr Reynolds himself, and the returning duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) to bring Deadpool to ground level; subversive at least, per the prior Deadpool’s standards. There’s sentimentality in this film, an allegedly family-friendly morality at its core, where wars are more effectively waged with love than with splattering violence (not that the splattering violence has been skimmed.) “Your heart is not in the right place” Wade is cryptically warned by wife Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a notion which Leitch and company set about unpacking and rectifying— coupling sanguine and sentiment, profanity and profundity.
It’s an admirable pursuit, but the scabrous, blood-bathed irreverence which made the first Deadpool such an uncompromising hit proves infertile soil for such sincere growth of character. Deadpool is hardwired for comedy, and it’s when the comedy is on centre stage that the film comes closest to recapturing its initial magic.
The first Deadpool, in spite of budgetary constraints and a tirade of higher-up scepticism, somehow felt liberated, as though it was free to march to whatever beat it wished. Wade Wilson and co obliterated fourth walls, undermined their own cinematic compatriots, dowsed the screen in crudity and gore, and had an evidently great time doing it. To the sequel’s detriment, that rough-edged liberality now feels more calibrated than organic. Those winking meta jabs are delivered less out of serrated satire than they are adherence to a winning formula. There are laughs in Deadpool 2 to be sure, but the presiding tone isn’t so much one of gloriously unchecked freedom, and more of bottom-line issued imitation. The wit is less acerbic, that juvenility less relished, that abandon less authentic, and soon those in-gags signposting CGI fight scenes and those references to the property’s franchise prospects start to play less like attempts at brazen humour, and more like bashful confessions.
The film does grow into its stride during its second half (beginning with Deadpool’s recruitment of the ragtag “X Force” to aid him on his journey to redemption,) the film opening up its comedic outlook to move beyond the overabundant imitative in-gags of the first act, and incorporate the physical comedy and giddy immaturity which contributed so substantially to the original movie’s novel scent.
It’s not until the final credits however that Deadpool 2 truly hits its comedic peak, taking aim at the eponymous character and the star that plays him by means savage and clever. It’s the sort of no-holds-barred humour that birthed Deadpool in the first place, and a reminder of what has been lost now that the series has caught the corporate eye. Sure, an amplitude of good intentions are employed to cater for any cynicism—attempts at pathos, an extra helping of spectacle (the extra 60 million dollars in budget is enshrined in the film’s bolstered action,) the efforts to bring us into Deadpool’s headspace. But that cynical waft proves inescapable, and good intentions never really were Deadpool’s style.