Deadpool 2 review
Deadpool is not a character we look to for depth. The Merc With A Mouth is a fourth-wall breaking puckish rogue who gleefully mixes meta jokes with murder and the occasional musing about the nature of entertainment itself. He’s both entirely unpredictable but also one-note, at least in his expected application within a story. Deadpool is a wild card meant to provide a break from the onslaught of by-the-numbers superhero arcs that surround us, and in that way, Deadpool as a franchise has broken through.
This new Deadpool franchise was not only a jolt to the superhero tentpole industry, it was a jolt to the expectations I set for the potential in comic book adaptations.
In 2016, Ryan Reynolds’ dream project proved that an R-rated foul-mouthed pansexual purveyor of infinite bloodshed could beat The Passion of the Christ’s box office record -- which paved the way for other huge comic IPs to engage in risky creative choices. It is somewhat ironic that, after Reynolds’ terrible first outing as Deadpool in Wolverine: Origins, it would actually be the success of the rebooted Deadpool that would open the doors for a film as dark and brilliant as Logan. (This fact is, of course, not lost on Reynolds, who opens the new film by acknowledging it.)
This new Deadpool franchise was not only a jolt to the superhero tentpole industry, it was a jolt to the expectations I set for the potential in comic book adaptations. When I stepped into the theater for the first film, I was expecting some dumb action comedy and a lot of intentionally transgressional jokes spliced into pop culture references. At best I thought I’d be getting 90 minutes of South Park meets The Mask but with guns.
Instead, there was a much clearer, personal vision. The jokes were all there, but the world and character building felt both more spectacular and more grounded than what one could expect from an X-Men offshoot. There were chimichangas and strap-ons and gigantic guns that made bad guys go boom, but there was also a story of redemption, loss, and battling the ravages of cancer. There was also a series of deliberate and well-formed relationships between characters that gave the whole endeavour a foundation of friendship, which wasn’t what you expect from a comic book character that is so fiercely independent he refuses to be bound by the frames of the page itself.
Deadpool set a high bar that Deadpool 2 has to meet or overcome, and even the fact we’re here having to discuss a Deadpool film creating an unreasonable expectation is reason enough to celebrate. But the sequel goes in a completely new direction that requires us to examine whether it is a lateral move into a new type of film or if it builds on the concept of sequels in a way that sets a new standard for how comic book films should proceed.
Wade Wilson doesn’t just shift back to being carefree Deadpool... Wade stays Wade and that Wade stays messed-up.
Deadpool 2 begins with the titular character committing suicide. This sequence is not played for laughs. Whereas the first movie began with an onslaught of jokes and voice-over and slamming you over the head with the intensity of how Edgy the entire endeavour was, this new story just goes dark and mostly stays dark. It makes it difficult to find your footing. How is this even a Deadpool film? In flashback, Wade Wilson explains how he’s been traveling the world doing cool hitman stuff for a few years, and we do get right back into the type of Deadpool over-the-top blood spray decapitations that we’ve come to know and love. Then, Wade and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) meet for their anniversary, where they decide they want to have a child and start a family. Wade realizes he never thought family was possible in his life, and becomes enamored with the idea of having a child that will make him something better than he is. Tragedy strikes, everything Wade loves is taken away, and he no longer wants to live in this world.
It’s bleak. It’s difficult. It’s a reminder of how many times the first film could strike for your heartstrings and somehow find them, despite couching its advances in fart jokes. Here, the sequel doesn’t pull punches. Wade Wilson doesn’t just shift back to being carefree Deadpool and putting a casual Fridging into his revenge spank-bank. Wade stays Wade and that Wade stays messed-up.
In an attempt to find meaning, Wade reluctantly joins up with the X-Men, via Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Deadpool’s problem-solving via cutting things off process doesn’t have a home here, but he makes a genuine attempt to refine his ways. On an outing, the team tries to talk down a teenage mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison of Hunt for the Wilderpeople) who is striking out against police and handlers as he attempts to flee a mutant hospital for children where, as you might have guessed, there are nefarious to-dos a-happenin’. Weirdly, Wade can’t talk down this kid’s teen angst, and the two wind up being sent to The Icebox: a lockdown prison for mutants.
Everything I have to say about Deadpool 2 can be summed up during this sequence. The mutants are forced into collars that strip them of their powers, causing Wade’s cancer to start quickly overtaking him. Teenage lost boy Russell is hoping to find protection and a friend in Wade, but Wade is both too sad and too aware of prison politics to allow the kid to associate with him. Russell is a heavy-set Maori boy who just wants one person in this world to care about him, and the potential for Deadpool to find redemption and friendship is within his grasp, but he pushes it away. All of this plays out in an incredibly straightforward manner, and most of it is pretty difficult to watch, especially as Wade’s body eats away from the inside. Sprinkled over the top of this are jokes that range from Deadpool hoping that there’s some type of Hogwarts-style Sorting Hat to assign them to their prison gangs (hilarious) or telling Russell that he needs to protect himself before he wins the award for “softest mouth” in jail (not hilarious).
The way these jokes landed either hard or on their face throughout a dark series of events was an Act One demonstration that maybe Deadpool 2’s best choice was to do exactly the wrong thing. By that, I mean that the first film’s strength was to be The Least X-Men Film Imaginable, by moving into this funny, visceral, meta place. Here, the meta jokes are almost completely gone, and the film starts moving towards falling in line with the rest of the universe. It is still, undeniably, not a Disney style reckoning; nor does it return to the fold in any way that makes the movie less interesting. It does allow Deadpool to grow, and to become More Than in a way that would be reductive if it was done on the same terms as the first movie.
In short, Deadpool 2 is sophomoric in every conceivable way. It is both high and low brow, and it is growth, and it is what you expect (or would hope for) in the development of a character and an arc.
And with that development, narratively, comes a bolstering visual leap. Director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, the forthcoming adaptation of The Division) brings so many clever ideas, shots, and movements to this ballet of violence, that there’s hardly time or space to insert as many jokes as the original film contained. It’s been a while since I knew I needed to re-see a film within the week, because I know I just couldn’t process everything I saw on screen. Also, Josh Brolin’s Cable and Zazie Beetz’s Domino are both flawless page-to-screen adaptations of characters. At one point, Deadpool complains that Domino’s superpower of being lucky probably isn’t a very visual skill, while she decimates a few city blocks using said power. It’s the kind of shot we’ll be referencing for years in reviews of other films.
Seeing the ease with which Deadpool can continually handle humanity’s spectrum is refreshing.
Finally, there’s the matter of some issues that the film takes on that are done so well I don’t want to pull them apart here in too great of detail. Suffice to say, Deadpool 2 shows how you can have LGBTQ romance on screen without having to point to it directly while shouting “Do you see?” In a week where the internet is clamouring to ask about the sexuality of a Star Wars character despite nothing about that sexuality being represented in that film, seeing the ease with which Deadpool can continually handle humanity’s spectrum is refreshing. Then there’s the matter of Russell, who is a teenage boy beset by bullying and abuse from all sides. Much of the story is built on the premise that these conditions lead Russell to becoming a supervillain in the future, and the only choices for avoiding this are to kill him or save him. I was simply floored by how much this kicked me in the stomach, to see (again of all characters) Deadpool teaching a masterclass in anti-bullying. We all contain multitudes, but my god, how did this come together so well?
Deadpool 2 announces from the beginning that it is a family film. And it is, in a sense, and it fulfills that promise, and it does so while being The Most Comic Book Murderfest Joke-Off that you could possibly concoct for a summer tentpole action film. It’s also not what you were expecting, even if you were expecting just the same level of unpredictability as the first film. It’s not what a good sequel could be; it’s what a great sequel should be, even if that’s still a film with a few mis-steps.
That said, absolutely do not bring children to see this. Please. Don’t be like the guy next to me. His kid started crying. And that child was right.