For those who have been around these parts for a bit, you’ll probably recall that I wasn’t terribly impressed with the initial big screen outing for Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth”. The first Deadpool film was very much a case of an effort to lampoon and try to set itself aside from the superhero genre, but falling victim to many of the exact same conventions it ceaselessly attempted to mock. It undercut its own attempts at subversion at almost every turn, and its overly ribald sense of humor – its biggest draw – never landed with me. I’m not sure I even cracked a smile, so much as a chuckle. And its plot? Well, I won’t go so far as to call it “threadbare”, but that I can’t remember anything about it probably says it all.
But what do I know? It made a ton of money and audiences ate it up like it was manna from heaven – as this sequel actually goes out of its way to remind you, even with a The Passion of the Christ reference.
My hopes were not high going into this sequel, though a director switcharoo that found Tim Miller getting swapped out for John Wick’s David Leitch had me at least a bit more intrigued. As it turns out, that, along with a much heavier-creative hand from its star (usually a recipe for disaster), ends up being just the catalyst I was looking for.
That’s not to say Deadpool 2 didn’t give me a reason to worry from the outset. It’s first 15-20 minutes really revels in the same kind of bottom-barrel and broad raunchiness that I assume made the first such a smash. When Deadpool is dressed up as a go-go dancer in a gentleman’s club, and shooting up a crowd of mooks while in high heels, I had the sinking feeling in my stomach that I was in for a very long afternoon. It worsened when tragedy suddenly strikes, and the setting off of a suicidal-type streak looked like it was going to set a course for a mixture of pure cinematic torture; meta-snark + manpain = a brutal combo.
Yet, almost miraculously, when Wade Wilson wakes up in the X-mansion and is greeted by his old pals Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Deadpool 2 suddenly snaps into place. It was as if Ryan Reynolds, along with co-writers of the first film, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, decided that they should actually have a story this time around, and one that actually gets more engrossing as it goes. The crux here that really gets everything started is the arrival of Josh Brolin’s Cable. The filmmakers toss aside all the complications in his backstory and instead zero in on these key facts: he’s from the future, and he’s trying to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter before their murderer begins his evil ways. It’s a solid hook, and creates a fearsome threat that requires Deadpool to come to terms with an internal struggle surrounding his notions of paternity and his status quo as a lone wolf.
This is, of course, where his formation of X-Force comes in, and includes a selection of mutants from different ages of that title’s history including Bedlam, Shatterstar, Zeitgeist, Vanisher (a hero in this iteration, played by someone that it would be too good to spoil here), and the big stand-out in Domino brought to life by Zazie Beetz. While each hero makes a big impression, including Peter – the powerless dad who just showed up because the ad looked fun and strikes quite a chord with the journey Deadpool is on – Domino is the hero whose ability gives way to some terrifically good sequences. Her whole schtick is that she’s lucky, so literally nothing can harm her, and watching Leitch use that to his advantage is a blast, especially in a stretch when a number of nameless goons meet ends that are worthy of the Final Destination franchise. Beetz’s on-screen charisma is utterly undeniable as well, making for a hero that’s sure to prove a fan favorite. But the entire X-Force crew come into their own as heroes, with an especially triumphant moment reserved for the duo of Zeitgeist and Peter, with the latter proving he really has the mettle to be a hero.
But if anyone is having a great year in this genre, it’s got to be Brolin, who comes off as the MVP of Avengers: Infinity War and here is one of the fulcrums by which the Deadpool franchise is instantly elevated. His Cable is both fearsome and altogether sympathetic, playing to some of the same notes as that previous portrayal on the other side of the Marvel spectrum but Cable is, no surprise, a much more redeemable and relateable antagonist. The more time we spend with him, and his constant bristling with Deadpool both physically and socially, I was quickly put into mind of that old Fabian Nicieza series from more than a decade ago. Clearly a big inspiration for the relationship that’s built between the film’s two stars. Kudos as well to the sound design team who have grafted a constant whirring sound onto any movement of Cable’s mechanical arm, a touch I appreciated.
The villain is better, the narrative is more engaging, the action is far better conceived, and so it just leaves the question, how does the humor and meta-elements hold up? And while I’ve firmly accepted that Reynolds’ ongoing Van Wilder delivery simply isn’t going to ever be my bag, I have to admit that I got a couple of good belly laughs out of this. Some of its references to other films within the wider genre land better simply as a matter of timing, as it has a firmer foundation of films from its competitors to work off of, and it can now really embrace the fourth-wall breaking that just seemed like a useless gimmick in the first film. In addition, there are points where they actually break character, with actors prompting each other’s dialogue. It doesn’t quite go as far as I’d like, scenes getting re-set and crew appearances and such, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
It’s also hard not to appreciate how tender and heartfelt the material really is. One of the few things I enjoyed about its predecessor was how it reveled in small scale conflict, even if it still had to rely on a big set piece for its last battle. This sequel doubles down on that as a literal war for someone’s soul (in this case, that of a young mutant played by the delightful Julian Dennison); there is no world-ending catastrophe to present, and instead its all about personal, understandable stakes with nary a deus ex machina in sight. A real rarity for these kinds of movies. Even Dopinder the taxi driver gets a little (and pretty wonderful) arc!
And for the X-Men fans in the crowd, it’s a film that makes tremendous use of the mythos and its rich library of characters. To say the least, there are a number of surprises here that you should experience as fresh as possible.
Deadpool 2 is the comic book film I had the most trepidation going into within these 12 months. That I came out so thoroughly entertained is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you. The idea of a full-blown X-Force sequel has now firmly rocketed up on my anticipated movies list. But in the meantime, go see this. If you loved the first one, this is the even more comic booky follow-up you’re probably craving; if you didn’t, this will likely be the effort to turn you around on the whole enterprise. It’s a perfect mix of, and tribute to, Rob Liefeld, Nicieza and Joe Kelly.
I really liked a Deadpool movie. Wow. Wonders will never cease.