Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, Stefan Kapicic, Karan Soni, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Eddie Marsan, Josh Brolin
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Directed by: David Leitch
Studio: 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios
Deadpool 2 suffers from a very strange identity crisis, brought on by our brave new world of superhero franchises. Ostensibly, it’s part of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men series and belongs in the same universe as Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and the like. But it’s also about a single character who exists largely to up-end and mock that same franchise. The original Deadpool walked the line marvelously, mostly by focusing on the satire and leaving the X-Men connections as garnishes. The sequel tries the same trick while enmeshing the story more deeply into the cinematic X-Verse. This time, it proves an exceedingly poor fit.
Sure, Ryan Reynolds’ merc-with-a-mouth is as irascible as he’s always been: taking the piss out of every comic book sacred cow he can find and inviting us to share in the glee. And if all you want is DP winking at the camera and making snide remarks to the supporting cast, this movie has what you need. But the second outing makes a fatal mistake of wanting to have its cake and eat it too. It tries to embrace the same trends it mocks, and in the process turns the whole thing into a bit of a mess.
As far as the in-jokes go, it can’t muster much that its predecessor didn’t handle with more bite. There are a lot of re-hashed themes in the gags (busting Reynolds’ balls for Green Lantern, for instance), and when new wrinkles do appear, they feel half-hearted and by the book. The first film genuinely pushed boundaries as Deadpool resolutely depantsed the whole superhero genre. The sequel, on the other hand, is content merely to point and giggle. “Huh-huh…. butts.”
It gets worse when the film attempts to graft a more substantial story onto the character’s antics. This time, he’s fighting to save a young mutant who may or may not hold the key to the future. That’s what brings perennial X-Sourpuss Cable (Josh Brolin) from the future to the present, sending him on a collision course with DP and evoking all manner of zany mayhem in the process.
In and of itself it’s fine. Fine. But it also involves a lot of unnecessary hand-waving, and doesn’t carry enough compelling details to justify the amount of screen time it holds. X-Fans may dig it, but it largely serves to further muddle an already incomprehensible continuity.
Frankly, that isn’t the real problem, however. The real problem is that such material is exactly, precisely the thing that Deadpool should be taking the piss out of. Sometimes he does, and the film hits its stride in those moments. But you can feel the filmmakers pulling their punches when they should be lunging for the jugular: more interested in protecting the franchise than letting the character do what we paid good money to watch him do. Deadpool 2 loves the raunch and the violence, but too often lacks the daring to push the boundaries the way the first film did.
The same holds true for a lot of the series’ holdovers. Morena Baccarin’s girlfriend Vanessa gets awkwardly shoved into a subplot that lacks both emotional honesty and any guts to upend it, while Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic (Brianna Hildebrand) mostly just wander around like bored bystanders. The script throws in a couple of “lazy screenwriting” winks as a way of excusing the lapses, but that doesn’t hold much weight when so much of it seems so intent on becoming the very thing it wants to mock.
Some parts succeed almost in spite of themselves. Reynolds still fits the role like a glove, and even when the material slides into overt re-hashing, he milks it for everything he can. Brolin makes a fine Cable, which is tougher than it looks considering that he’s basically the straight man here. But the real win belongs to Zazie Beets, who plays luckiest-woman-in-the-world Domino with the perfect blend of breezy charm and authentic cool.
The rest of the movie, sadly, just can’t maintain the pace she sets. Having become a genuine box office force, Deadpool now finds himself boxed into a corner, and what once felt like a burst of pure iconoclasm now looks like a studio hedging its bets. Though it has moments – and fans of the character won’t be terribly disappointed – it lacks some vital bit of gonzo energy needed to hold it all together. Without it, what should be iconoclasm feels more like petulance. I don’t doubt the character will return, and this one doesn’t go so far astray that a solid Part 3 can’t right the ship. But as it stands, Deadpool 2 simply writes checks that it can’t cash.