"Can you speak up? It's hard to hear you with that pity dick in your mouth" - Blind Al, Deadpool 2
If the above quote offended you in any way, you'd best stay far away from Deadpool 2, the David Leitch helmed follow-up to 2016's far more successful than we ever expected Deadpool. The film established Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool, a sort of supervillain turned antihero who is disfigured emotionally and physically and known for being the "merc with a mouth," a relentlessly foul and charismatic asshole with a proclivity for breaking the fourth wall and for breaking the bones of nearly everyone he meets.
Deadpool surpassed nearly everyone's box-office expectations with a $783 million cumulative worldwide while also garnering generally favorable reviews along the way. For the most part, even the film's haters agreed that Ryan Reynolds, who'd fought for this film for several years, was practically born to play Deadpool.
The same is still true. Ryan Reynolds is born to play Deadpool, a strangely sympathetic character who does almost nothing to warrant such sympathy. As should be expected, Deadpool 2 suffers, especially early on, from our knowledge now of exactly what to expect from the Deadpool universe. It doesn't help that the film's early scenes deliver almost exactly what we expect.
If there's a beef that I have with Deadpool 2, and there is, it's that in Deadpool it felt like we were watching a character portrayed very well by Ryan Reynolds while far too often Deadpool 2 feels like we're watching Ryan Reynolds himself. Even the film's dialogue, which Reynolds co-wrote with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, seems to depend upon the audience's familiarity with Reynolds, his Canadian background, his filmography, and other aspects of the actor's background. While I don't begrudge any film a little inside humor, Deadpool 2 far too often operates from the assumption that Ryan Reynolds is the reason we're watching the film rather than the actual character of Deadpool.
Sorry, Ryan, but that's just not true.
This is not to say that Deadpool 2 is a bad film.
Deadpool 2 is simply a vastly more derivative film that does to a far greater degree everything that the haters complained about with the original film. The simple truth is that these things were masked over in the first film by our complete shock and awe that Deadpool not only promised subversive but it delivered...unlike a certain other superhero film, I'm looking at you Suicide Squad, released only months after Deadpool.
The plot for Deadpool 2 is far more simplistic than even the simplistic plot for Deadpool. It's not really a spoiler to say that the entire film wraps around the idea that there's a trio of baddies with the potential to wreak havoc, though we're never really sure of their actual intent. To make sure that doesn't happen, Deadpool decides he needs even more superpower than he possesses and decides to form the gender inclusive X-Force that eventually includes the likes of Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), Bedlam (Terry Crews), Peter (Rob Delaney), and Domino (Zazie Beetz, giving one of the film's highlight performances). There's a special "blink and you'll miss it" cameo as Vanisher, as well.
Like Deadpool, Deadpool 2 is driven largely by fits of intense grief and complicated rage, though Deadpool 2 tosses in a difficult to balance sentimentality and an absolute dedication to making sure audiences understand that this is a family film.
Deadpool's girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is largely in the background here, though her presence remains essential for reasons that quickly unfold. Deadpool 2 really kicks off when the action switches over to Essex House and enters the X-Men universe. Eddie Marsan is gleefully evil as a twisted headmaster of a school for wayward mutants,a school that becomes more than a little bit of a target for a teenage mutant with a heated rage who goes by the godawful moniker of FireFist (Julian Dennison, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople). The film's true supervillain, Cable (Josh Brolin), shows up prepared to whupass and stop FireFist which, if we're actually thinking, doesn't really seem all that villainy. Returning in support are Stefan Kapicic as Colossus and Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, the latter quietly gifted with a girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna, Oh Lucy!). Leslie Uggams returns as Blind Al while T.J. Miller is back as Weasel, though Miller's performance here is so one-note and lacking in energy that he saps the energy in almost every scene he's in.
There are a handful of truly gut-busting, laugh out loud moments in Deadpool 2, though far too often the film goes strangely retro in its pop culture with such offbeat references as the film Say Anything, the even older film Flashdance and a host of others that will only be funny if you have been alive long enough to remember them.
Even then, maybe not.
Most of Deadpool 2 feels a step behind, as if some of the humor is being played in slow motion in an effort to give the audience time to laugh. While this occasionally works, especially in the film's funniest moments, more often than not it leads to awkward silences and that awkward feeling one gets when sharing a joke and nobody laughs. At one minute shy of a two hour running time, Deadpool 2 lacks the spontaneity and briskness of the original film, though in its defense it also lacks that film's wild unevenness.
While it may seem like I absolutely hated Deadpool 2, the truth is that despite everything I at times immensely enjoyed it and the majority of the time actually appreciated where it seemed like the film was going. Ryan Reynolds could do this part in his sleep, yet much like Robert Downey Jr.'s ongoing appearances as Tony Stark/Iron Man, he continues to give it everything he's got. Reynolds is a blast to watch here. Heck, he's worth the price of admission alone and it says an awful lot about his talent that he sells jokes that just plain shouldn't be funny.
Zazie Beetz is an absolute blast as Domino, while Josh Brolin hits a home run and, rather unexpectedly, gives the film a surprising emotional depth. Julian Dennison is stronger than the script wants him to be as Russell/FireFist, though the film's unnecessary body shaming and hints at sexual violence when he and Deadpool end up in a frigid prison known as "the ice box" are more than a little uncomfortable given recent allegations made toward co-star T.J. Miller. Karan Soni and Leslie Uggams shine in reduced roles.
Deadpool 2 has settled a little more positively in my psyche' after having had time to digest it. As I left the film's promo screening, I found myself feeling surprisingly disappointed. It wasn't long before I began to see certain things through a more positive lens, mostly getting a sense that Deadpool 2 is a more transitional cinematic effort as we move toward a more complex, cohesive universe to reveal itself in films to come.
As seems to always be true for Marvel films, be sure to stay through the closing credits as even more will be revealed and certain pieces will be put back together.
While not quite the film I'd hoped it would be, Deadpool 2 is likely to be good enough to satisfy fans of the original and may very well win over many of the original film's naysayers. Leitch, who helmed Atomic Blonde, has amped up the action sequences considerably here and the film's action choreography is far more fluid and satisfying than in the original film. While those familiar with the film's production will likely be able to identify the sequences that claimed the life of stunt driver Joi Harris, Leitch has wisely edited around any strong reminders of that tragedy that marred the film's production.Even with its flaws, Deadpool 2 is the perfect antidote to the self-idolatry and faux poignancy and unearned reverence increasingly populated those other Marvel films.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic