The Merc with a Mouth is back in a sequel that bests the first in nearly every way.
Sequels always have the insurmountable task of either matching or improving on the success of what came before. Raising the bar for the follow-up to the 2016 lovechild of Ryan Reynolds is that no one saw the first Deadpool coming. He was coming off a string of box-office flops before the self-aware comedic revelation burst onto the screen that Valentine’s Day, but like a Hollywood fairy tale, it only took that wise-cracking, devil-may-care, red-suit-wearing vigilante all of one opening sequence to change the collective minds of fanboys everywhere. So let me assuage your little geeky hearts: Deadpool 2 is not only an improvement on its predecessor, but an innovation on the genre.
The bipolar mercenary, née Wade Wilson, has that whole work-life balance thing worked out following the events of the first film. With the beautiful Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) by his side, driver and wannabe protégé Dopinder (Karan Soni) waxing philosophical, and cancer a distant memory thanks to his mutant abilities, he looks to be getting his Disney ending. But brutal reality, in the form of an assassin, soon comes crashing into his perfect family life and leaves Wilson once again a broken shell. Searching for a way to end his suffering, Deadpool is afforded the opportunity to become a real hero by saving a troubled young mutant. Saving this particular teen, however, pits Deadpool and an assembled team of
Avengers X-Men mutants against the enigmatic Cable (Josh Brolin) which could quite possibly bring about the end of the world.
On paper, Deadpool 2 is a by-the-numbers comic book film: the hero is wronged, the hero does wrong in an attempt to end his suffering, a villain emerges, and someone needs saving. Imagine those numbers scrambled, flipped upside-down, and written in braille, and you will have something close to this film. Deadpool had the luxury of surprise, including by introducing us to a rule-breaking, deeply meta style. Deadpool 2, on the other hand, has to try not to fix what isn’t broken while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a full franchise. On this, it delivers with gusto.
The screenplay from Reynolds, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick is a revolving door of comedic sequences spliced with plot-essential action and surprisingly deep, emotional themes. This is a film about loss and redemption as much as it is a slapstick gorefest. The majority of the ensemble have been dealt crippling suffering and their plans for escaping their respective perditions are frequently in conflict. Even though the climax plays out much as you think it will, it’s the slide into the finish that really serves up the surprises. Characters display emotional range and make decisions both surprising and grounded. And as expected with Deadpool, nothing is ever boring or easy.
Director David Leitch relies heavily on his stunt background to keep up the lightning-fast pace and framing of the original, but don’t confuse his ability to operate in the same style as Tim Miller’s original for simply retreading the latter’s work. Leitch heightens the production by letting the more dramatic scenes breathe, choosing moments to live in instead of just sprinting to the next gag. This is still a comic book movie, though, and components of Cable’s story spiral into melodrama at times, often halting the pace and jolting the audience out of the well-crafted flow. I’d like to blame the studio or writers for this…they probably couldn’t help themselves.
Reynolds is once again in his element: mixing snarky wit and complicated pop culture references with true heart. It’s impossible not to root for the guy as he demands attention every time he’s on screen, so it is not only surprising but impressive that no one in the talented cast is content to play second fiddle. Josh Brolin, on the heels of his villainous turns in Avengers: Infinity War, is having a moment; his performance here as Cable, the Budweiser-swigging, mysterious soldier from the future, proves Brolin is a welcome addition to any blockbuster. The Brolin/Reynolds chemistry is so palpable onscreen, I can hear the hurried keys of a thousand fanfiction authors serving up sultry side quests for the pair. The fifteen-minute, cameo-stacked X-Force sequence is quite possibly the best among a film of bests, and a showcase for perhaps the film’s MVP, Zazie Beetz’s (Atlanta) Domino — a well-rounded, comic book badass who just happens to be female. Who’d a thunk it? Even better, and the film is refreshingly TJ Miller-lite, which I kind of wish the world was right now.
The most successful comic books and comic book films are grounded in the idea of hope — that no wrong or threat is beyond the capabilities of a hero. And these heroes come in all forms. How refreshing to find a complicated hero in teenaged Russell, played by 16-year-old Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), giving the Avengers A-listers a run for their money. Russell has been hardened by his childhood, and it makes total sense for him to be a potential perpetrator of mass destruction. How apropos for the fate of the world to be in the literal hands of a Millennial. (Save the Millennial, save the world?) It’s a cheeky nod to the current state of world affairs, and just like the Civil Rights era-allegorical X-Men, so too goes Deadpool in the Trump-era hate.
The one sour note is the wasted talents of Morena Baccarin, back as Vanessa but still just a plot device. But I’m actually going to give the writers and Leitch the benefit of the doubt here. We’ve already bought into her relationship with Wade, and that relationship becomes the driving force behind everything Deadpool does in 2. Without her, the story does not happen. I get that, and I understand why Baccarin is given so little to do in service of that goal, but I still feel the character deserves more than the few scenes and unremarkable dialogue she eloquently delivers.
Deadpool 2 continues the fan service of the original while also enhancing the character development and subverting audience expectations. In the tradition of T2 and Spider-Man 2, it’s a sequel that ignites a franchise and surpasses its precursor. You’ll want to see it more than once, especially if you missed Dickie Greenleaf the first time (and no, I didn’t. Because I’m awesome).