Deadpool 2: 2 Dead, 2 Pool
I still find it somewhat difficult to wrap my head around the fact that we’ve gotten three R-rated superhero films in the last three years. In an era where Marvel Studios has proven what works and what sells, 20th Century Fox was willing to take a gamble on three radically different films. And, while the studio has been paid off handsomely for both Deadpool and Logan, audiences have been treated to two, now three, films that both subvert and challenge the well-established genre of the superhero flick. Deadpool 2, released last weekend, is that third film, and the most recent example.
Deadpool 2, a sequel to 2016’s Deadpool, reintroduces us to the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking, undying mercenary Wade Wilson. The film is full of surprise cameos, both by real-life actors and Marvel characters, and is as relentlessly R-rated as its predecessor. It finds Wade, after experiencing a personal tragedy, attempting to amend some of his ways by connecting with a young mutant. Played by Julian Dennison, Russel (or Fire Fist, as he likes to call himself) is struggling to control his emotions and his powers, and Deadpool takes it upon himself to step in and save the young mutant from himself before it is too late.
Ryan Reynolds once again steals the screen as Deadpool. There’s something about Reynolds in the role that just feels right. The material he’s given is significantly worse than that of the original film, but one can’t help but feel as if Reynolds is having an absolute blast behind the mask. Maybe this is just due to the film’s crazy marketing, or maybe Reynold’s is just that good of an actor, but whatever it is, it works, and it’s about the only thing in the movie that consistently works. Reynolds has defined the character, and it’s going to be a while before we hear anyone else’s voice in our heads when we see the Merc with a Mouth.
Sadly, the other characters aren’t as impressive. New additions Cable and Domino are fun to see on screen for comic fans, but they never feel all that necessary. Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz give adequate performances, but there’s nothing of real substance to be found. The characters are simply present, and that’s not enough. Dopinder, Deadpool’s chauffeur, Vanessa, Deadpool’s love interest, and T.J. Miller’s Jack Hammer, Deadpool’s friend and confidant, are all back from the first film. Unfortunately, they’re all a bit more one-note than they were in their first appearance. While the original Deadpool is hardly a character-driven piece, there was some sort of development with each of these characters. At the very least, they had relationships that could be identified with or laughed at. In Deadpool 2, these characters feel as if they’re just toys for the writers to play with or devices for the plot to act upon. This regression cheapens a movie already devoid of much heart.
In fact, that might be Deadpool 2’s biggest failing as a sequel. The first film was rather well balanced, managing to land some surprisingly heartfelt and tender moments without undercutting them with jokes, something Deadpool 2 fails to pull off. The film is devoid of any real emotional depth, and, when it does try its hand at it, we’re left with two hours of nothing but schlock. Even if every joke landed, which doesn’t even come close to happening, the film would still be missing something vital.
Now, to be clear, many of the jokes do land. The film doubles down on some of the comic techniques of the first, many times to great effect. There’s plenty of self-referential jokes about the first film’s box office success or the film’s “lazy writing.” There’s reference after reference to various aspects of pop culture, particularly the superhero movies of the Marvel and DC universes. And there’s more than enough gratuitous and over-the-top violence to be laughed at. Unfortunately, this is about all there is. Those are the three punchlines. They undoubtedly work, but there’s something lazy in it — a kind of laziness that self-referential jokes can’t fix. There’s no intelligence to the comedy, and, while perhaps that’s a big ask for a film like this, even the most ardent Deadpool supporters have to grow tired by some point.
Another aspect of the film that’s noticeably poor is the visual effects and CGI. There are a number of scenes that simply do not look good visually. One of Domino’s big moments and a number of action sequences, including almost any involving Colossus, are undercut by shoddy effects work. Perhaps it could be argued that this was intentional; the original trailer for the film did in fact poke fun at the advent of CGI in superhero films. However, even if this is the case, it’s not a good enough excuse for the final product. The fact that parts of the film look as bad as some of Justice League’s effect sequences is never once mentioned or joked about in a self-referential way. Instead, the less than stellar visual effects both detract and distract from scenes that otherwise might have been some of the high points of the film. When there are movies like the MCU films that show how perfectly and seamlessly CGI can support a superhero film, it’s hard not to notice when other movies come up just a bit short.
The one thing that makes Deadpool 2 worth watching is the same thing that made the original film shine: it’s something different. The film is far from perfect, but if it’s got one thing going for it, it’s that it’s not just another formulaic superhero film. Some of the novelty of the first film is lost, but there’s a part of me that can’t help but feel happy that this film simply exists. Having the movie come out less than a month after Infinity War was no mistake on the studios’ part, and in the face of a half-dozen superhero releases a year, Deadpool 2, much like the first film, provides a wholly different and strangely refreshing take on the genre. It’s encouraging and exciting that the industry has reached a point where films like Logan and Deadpool 2 are not only viable, but also wildly popular.
Deadpool 2 has a number of flaws, but the one thing it does right, much like the first film, is honoring the spirit of the character and the source material. Deadpool 2 isn’t a good film, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Or, more accurately, it shouldn’t try to be. A cinematic, Dark Knight-esque Deadpool film would feel wrong on so many levels. At his core, Deadpool is a messy, incoherent and debauched character, and the fact that his movies are too is quite possibly the perfect expression of the character. The film is more of the same and undoubtedly a fun and enjoyable watch, but calling it great or even good would be a bit of a stretch.