It was an inevitability that, after grossing the GDP of a small Eastern European country at the worldwide box-office, the once-underdog Deadpool would be on top and getting a sequel slated for a primo summer release-date. It’s got a bigger budget than the first, which ultimately felt like both a passion project for star Ryan Reynolds and a feature-length apology for his prior two superhero outings (as both DC’s Green Lantern and a miserably truncated version of Wade Wilson in the legendarily terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and the talent to show for it— a larger cast, a better effects budget.
Hell, it was enough to poach John Wick co-director David Leitch from the franchise he created, and his steady hand helps steer Deadpool 2 into calmer waters than you might expect from a superhero comedy sequel. It’s perfectly cromulent summer movie season entertainment, a refreshing and sweet palate cleanser to the rampant darkness at the heart of, say, Infinity War, or Tully.
Wade Wilson has had a couple of busy years since you’ve last seen him. Our cancer-ridden boy has been murking motherfuckers all over the globe, taking contracts for people left and right, until a tragedy forces him to reconsider his life as he knows it. He’s offered the chance to join the X-Men by the burly metal man Colossus as a way of exorcising his demons, and, in the process, he meets a young man (Julian Dennison), who looks like he’s going to head down a bad path. As confirmation of that, a grizzled badass from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up to try and murder this kid to try and prevent him from going down said path, so Deadpool attempts to form his own superteam — X-Force — in order to prevent the kid from being Terminated. Shit happens! Along the way, Deadpool will learn the meaning of family, and about how kids are better than you’re supposed to be, and that chopping bullets up with your samurai swords will still result in you getting hit by a lot of bullets in the process.
Leitch and his cohorts understand a key fact about Deadpool — that he works best in an ensemble rather than as the sole protagonist of movie — and they use that ethos to craft a compelling and interesting “family” around him, and they mostly keep Reynolds in-check, full of empathy and at his least annoying. Returning characters like the schoolmarmish Colossus, the still-brilliantly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead, though now accompanied by her superpowered girlfriend as well, and cab driver Dopinder (Karan Soni), who has acquired a taste for blood since the events of the first film, are given some sort of depth and development that they didn’t have previously, and evolve in some way by the end of this one. It’s always pleasant to see a franchise film so willing to invest in its tertiary characters like Leitch and company do here, and this evolution compares in a favorable way with how Marvel Studios manages their stables.
The sore thumb remains TJ Miller, who was aggressively unfunny in the first film but returns anyways, and is a bit of a blackened stain on a film series that ultimately wants to march towards the progressive. Miller should have been recast as soon as the word about him allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in college had been spread, doubly so once his abusive emails towards a trans film critic were publicized as well. He isn’t as present as he was in the first film, at least— his screen time is comparable to the amount he received in Ready Player One — and he’s nearly written out of this one as the plot progresses.
It’s funny, too — once that garbage motherfucker is finally exiled into whatever variation on ditch-digging that he’ll be doing for the rest of his life in lieu of an entertainment career after his potential prison sentence, the new additions to the cast flourish. Though X-Force is essentially, though very funny, a one-note gag ripped straight from Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force and X-Statix runs back that the turn of the century, it does give us Zazie Beetz’s Domino, who is utterly charming. Her superpower is, essentially, that she’s extremely lucky, and this manifests in some of the movie’s most amusing jokes, ones that her plucky personality compliments in a delightful fashion. She’s certainly a ray of sunshine compared to Josh Brolin’s dour Cable, a time-traveling badass with a metal arm and a goofy-ass gun ripped straight from the pages of ’90s comic books, and Brolin growls through his role in an amusing fashion. He’s given some of the film’s best action, including a jail assault that’s evocative of Leitch’s work on John Wick, though with a few more sci-fi touches. His backstory is about as ludicrous as you might expect — dead wife and child in a burnt-out future world, murdered by future villain, yada yada — but Brolin’s able to get at some of the heart behind it, and his evolution from initial villain to anti-hero makes emotional sense.
But it’s Julian Dennison, the secret sauce that made Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople so wonderful, who shines the brightest here. He’s playing Rusty Collins (better known to comic-heads as OG X-Forcer Firefist) an extremely powerful young mutant that Cable’s trying to murder for, you know, family reasons. Wade is introduced to him in a moment of darkness, and his own troubles prevent him from truly being able to reach out to the young man, who, when we meet him, is lashing out after being abused at the hands of an evil “therapist” (Eddie Marsan, the closest thing to true evil on the Deadpool 2 character alignment chart) by destroying cars and causing chaos. Wade’s actions send them both to a super-mutant prison, and eventually causes a fracture in their relationship and sends Rusty headed towards nihilistic oblivion, and on the path he’ll take to killing Cable’s family and ruining the future world. Dennison is funny as hell, but he’s also able to represent angsty adolescence in a way that doesn’t feel patronizing. And, to top it all off, their plot is evocative of the single best bit of comic writing to ever feature the Merc with the Mouth, Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, and I’ll take even a truncated version of that storyline any day over the the emotional arcs featured in previous X-films.
So, Deadpool 2 is a marked improvement on the first film in a number of ways, but it has one fatal flaw, and a tragic one at that: It’s just not as funny as the first one. Part of that has to do with Reynolds’ fatal misunderstanding of what separates the Deadpool franchise from the rest of the superhero landscape and why audiences liked it. He thinks that the fourth-wall shattering is the premiere feature of the series’ humor, rather than its outright raunchiness and general parody of the action and superhero genres. Sure, the bread-and-butter is still there (a Yentl running joke feels in the spirit of the original film) but whenever the film acknowledged the DCEU or the MCU, I found myself often grimacing.
Yes, Cable has a metal arm, and so does the Winter Soldier, and Leitch and the screenwriters are content with letting that be the joke in and of itself. This particular brand of laziness is a problem the first film didn’t have as much, back when it was merely content to be a good action movie as opposed to a direct competitor to films like Infinity War, and it’s kind of reductive to spend an entire first film setting up a particular brand of humor only to have it undercut in the sequel. That’s not to suggest that the film isn’t funny at all — the post-credit sequences are uproariously so — but rather that the fatted calf sacrificed at the alter for Deadpool 2’s inevitable cross-genre success may have been the wrong one that bodes the worst for the future of the film series.