I hate that I’m starting to repeat myself when it comes to comic book movies. The critique is a fair one, though, so you’ll have to forgive me as I copy and paste my biggest complaint about Avengers: Infinity War and apply it to Deadpool 2. Writing about Infinity War, I parroted the increasingly familiar refrain from many critics that any sense of dramatic stakes in these movies is undercut when, in the interest of protecting the franchise cash cow, the filmmakers hit the reset button to ensure a next installment. That’s what (predictably) happens at the end of Deadpool 2, and in a mid-credits sequence, no less. This franchise relies on its use of snark and sardonic meta style to laugh at these conventions – and itself – so hard that we can’t help but forgive it. The problem is that after just one sequel, the nihilistic and self-referential humor has started to wear a little thin.
Much of the charm of the first Deadpool and its sequel is in Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of our wayward hero, the Merc with a Mouth. In press appearances to promote the movies, Reynolds has stressed his dedication to the character Deadpool. In addition to his starring and producing duties from the first film, Reynolds has also contributed to the screenplay of Deadpool 2 with writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. What they came up with is the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories. It is, in fact, one of the picture’s biggest failings.
The movie begins with a shocking event that forces Deadpool to do some serious soul-searching. Eventually our hero ends up at the doorstep of the X-Mansion. He’s decided to accept X-Men member Colossus’ invitation to join the team. After some self-referential laughs about how these movies can’t afford to get any of the major X-Men characters to appear – which includes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it set of cameos – Deadpool, Colossus, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead embark on their first assignment.
A troubled teen mutant named Russell, who calls himself Firefist, is destroying the “Mutant Reeducation Center” orphanage where he says the staff is abusing him. Because Deadpool ends up causing as much destruction as Russell, they are both taken to the “Icebox,” a special prison for mutants. While there, the prison comes under assault from the mysterious Cable, a cybernetic soldier from the future. Cable is intent on killing Russell, and Deadpool makes it his mission to protect the boy.
All of that happens within the first act of the movie. If the way I described it feels cobbled together, I’ve done it justice. But the movie doesn’t stop there. By the end, Deadpool has formed an ill-fated version of the X-Force (which includes the Marvel character Domino), we get Cable’s backstory, and we’re introduced to a major Marvel antagonist, whom Russell befriends in the Icebox. It’s a bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful strategy to so overstuff the plot which really only exists to allow Deadpool to deliver raunchy jokes and meta gags.
The saving grace of Deadpool 2 is that most of those jokes and gags still work. These movies are the holy grail if you want to knowingly laugh at a plethora of pop culture in-jokes. Josh Brolin portrays the dour Cable, and Deadpool refers to him as “One-Eyed Willy” (a reference to Brolin’s first acting gig, The Goonies). He also tells the character to “shut it, Thanos,” which is a wink at the fact that Brolin performed the motion capture for that character in Infinity War, making him the first actor to play major characters in both the MCU and the X-Men Cinematic Universe. And if you weren’t sure, the writers have no compunction about taking the piss out of their DC rivals. There is a reference to a certain movie with a plot that turns on the coincidence of two women being named Martha. There are also plenty of visual gags. Among the best is Deadpool sailing from the second floor of the prison and landing on a lunchroom table. His broken and twisted body lying half on the table and half on the ground is gruesome gallows humor at its best.
The raunch is the weakest of the comedic offerings. Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I can only hear words like “fucksicle,” or a character say they can’t understand what someone is saying because of “the pity dick in your mouth” for so long before I start to get bored. Also, because of the way the character is written, this sense of humor short changes Cable, as well as the kind of performance Brolin is able to give. In the world of Deadpool, Cable’s self-serious determination reduces him to something below even a Straight Man role. He seems completely incongruous with his surroundings.
That dynamic serves to highlight the problem with which I started. Despite all of their inspired fooling around, it’s clear that Reese, Wernick, and Reynolds want us to have a genuine emotional reaction to the climax of Deadpool 2. Because of the franchise concern, though, what they do in one of the (5!) mid-credits sequences completely undercuts the emotional reaction they want us to have. Amid the hard-R jokes and brutal violence, the tender resolution ends up feeling as adrift as Cable does.
It’s those other mid-credits bits – the ones that go for more meta laughs – that were most satisfying for me. Two of them in particular are hilarious if you know the fan and industry reaction to past comic book movie endeavors. Deadpool 2’s strength is the comedy, at least some of it, but the film also comes with the same weaknesses that plague most comic book movies in the current extended cinematic universe landscape.
Why it got 2.5 stars:
- There are a lot of laughs in Deadpool 2, but the ridiculous plot and that pesky reset button kept me from really enjoying the movie. Ryan Reynolds is delightful, but that's like saying that the sun is bright.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- This installment has a different director from the first Deadpool. David Leitch has already proven his action sequence bona fides with John Wick and last summer's underrated Atomic Blonde. Rach and I just happened to re-watch Atomic Blonde the day after seeing Deadpool 2, without realizing it was the same director. If you haven't seen it, give it a watch. Leitch stages the action scenes in Deadpool 2 with every bit of the grandiose flair of those other two movies.
- The cameos in this movie are out of control. I won't spoil any of them here. There's no better way to do cameos than seeing a face for a split-second and saying to yourself, "Was that...?" then checking IMDb later and finding out you were right.
- There is an extended interview scene where Deadpool is putting together his X-Force team. It's only mildly amusing, and it was done much better in the movie Mystery Men.
- I will never get tired of movies using AC/DC's rousing Thunderstruck to pump up the adrenaline. It's used to good effect here as the X-Force team skydives into a mission. What happens to most of the team at the end of the sequence undercuts what comes before it, but to hilarious ends.
- One reason the comedy didn't work as well for me this time around is because it's used as a get-out-of-jail-free card wherein they use it to poke fun at tired comic movie conventions, but still expect you to be entertained by those same tired conventions. Just preceding a big fight between two CGI characters, Deadpool direct-addresses the audience to say, "here comes a big CGI fight."
- Rach wanted me to remind you all of something. She wrote this at the top of the page I was using to keep notes during the movie: "Ryan Reynolds is dreamy & super witty/funny. Your girlfriend knows best." So, there you have it.
Close encounters with people who don't know how to act in a movie theater:
- Nothing disruptive in this audience, besides guffaws of laughter, which were completely appropriate.
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- It's time for our annual dose of Star Wars from The Walt Disney Company. This time around it's one of the anthology movies; these are the ones that aren't part of the official trilogies, but that tell side stories in the Star Wars universe. The Anthology movies always include A Star Wars Story in the title. Solo: A Star Wars Story tells the tale of the young(er than he was in A New Hope) Han Solo, that lovable scoundrel. I love Alden Ehrenreich, especially as a young Harrison Ford, but for me, this one is all about Donald Glover as a young Billy Dee Williams.