It’s been a little over two years since we were first introduced to Ryan Reynolds’ crude-talking Deadpool, and thanks to sly and satirical marketing efforts by Fox, it feels like he’s never left us. This weekend, they’re certain to all pay off, as Deadpool 2 is projected to rake in up to $150 million, smoking the all-time opening record for an R-rated film, previously held by the first Deadpool, in the process. With every new Marvel adaptation that comes to theaters, it becomes increasingly routine to stand and gape at the hysteria, but again, it begs the question: is the hype worth it?
In the case of Deadpool, yes, the commotion is fairly excessive. At the same time, however, the movies are rather daring as far as comic franchises go, looking for ways to duck convention at every turn. Tim Miller’s series opener was a breath of fresh air for big-budget superhero fare, offering a refreshing self-awareness, using profane comedy and fourth-wall breaks to parody widely-known tropes of the comic subgenre. At the same time, the execution was rather clumsy, struggling to obscure a modest budget, and heavier on reckless immaturity than genuine laughs.
After the unforeseeable success of the first Deadpool, the sequel has nothing to worry about concerning a budget, but it still suffers from several issues of the first; namely, an even bumpier central plot. But before we get into that, there is one misconception I’d like to confront right away: that Deadpool is innovative for a superhero film. Considering its presence in the public awareness, unique yes it is, but the series has much to owe to James Gunn’s Super, as well as to Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, even if those properties draw from the Deadpool comic themselves.
Though the film adaptations clearly borrow from those two predecessors cinematically, Deadpool still boasts the fact that its source material is one of the pioneers of superhero satire. Despite its many drawbacks, the first Deadpool was certainly a savvy, infectious viewing experience, and if you loved that one, you’re sure to love 2 as well. In a similar fashion to how Fox hired a visual effects supervisor to helm the first film, the studio went with a veteran stuntman to direct Deadpool 2. With much more riding on the sequel, the execs made a more calculated choice.
David Leitch has been a Hollywood mainstay for nearly two decades, but he didn’t step up to the director’s chair until an uncredited collaborating role in John Wick, then making his solo debut in last summer’s Atomic Blonde. With these films on his resume, as well as past work such as The Bourne Ultimatum, one would have high expectations for the action sequences in Deadpool 2. Unfortunately, much of the stunts here involve high-concept visual effects work. Leitch is less capable of drawing on his expertise in practical combat, and the end result is underwhelming.
And that’s not necessarily to say that the action is bad, it’s just on par with the lower standard that CGI-heavy films tend to afford, and we know Leitch can offer better with just actors. The humor, on the other hand, hits more than it misses here in comparison to the previous film, with much more of the one-liners offering comic wit than just conspicuous delivery, and better contrasted here against the film’s darker elements. The first Deadpool had some unsettling tonal conflict when it came to its humor, and the writing team shows definite improvement here.
That is partly thanks to the fact that Ryan Reynolds shares writing credits with original Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, implying he likely molded much of the humor for himself, knowing what he could effectively deliver. The result is a brisk, laugh-peppered ride, and Reynolds continues to excel as the character he was born to play (and also the first starring vehicle he can have some pride in). Josh Brolin, hot off the success of another Marvel film and his lauded role as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, gets to shine as a villain with a sense of humor.
And that brings us to the plot I mentioned above, and it should make your jaw drop in how utterly low in concept it is. Due to some twists in this film, the storyline is fairly impossible to analyze without avoiding spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film, I’d encourage you to skip ahead. When things start off, the hideously scarred and mutated Wade Wilson is living the good life, violently offing criminals while getting hot-and-heavy with his true love Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). But suddenly tragedy strikes, and Vanessa is murdered by some of Wade’s enemies.
For a while, Wade is devastated and depressed, so he decides to become a trainee in the X-Men. When trying to disarm a pyrotechnic teenage boy gone wild (Julian Dennison), he takes the violent approach, and gets landed in a power-neutralizing prison for mutants. Here he begins to bond with the boy, named Russel, but out of the blue, a time-traveling mercenary called Cable (Josh Brolin) comes in and tries to capture Russel. Later, Cable informs Wade that the boy is responsible for horrific crimes in the future, and enlists Deadpool in altering their fates.
If that storyline sounds haphazard and aimless to you, that’s because it is. What begins to take form as a straightforward revenge flick doesn’t quite take, because all responsible are killed straight off. This leaves a lot of emotional impact with no real place for it to go, and the film lacks direction until a random mutant child becomes the center of conflict. What is teased as a major villain then gets flipped into an ally, with the dramatic tension then resting on the shoulders of a child who isn’t developed very properly, and whom Wade should not really care about.
So in a nutshell, Deadpool 2 more or less matches the first in terms of merit. Despite constant references to the X-Men, the only ones who appear are mostly the same two as the first movie, though the studio tries to skate by on an extremely brief cameo that may have been computer generated. The writers try to excuse this with a punch line pointing out their absence, but this does more to underscore Fox’s stinginess rather than to justify it. As with the rest of the film, sharp humor and self-awareness might curb your shortcomings, but they don’t erase them.