You know when you first see a meme that’s fresh, still funny? Now, think about when you see that same meme after 4 months worth of riffing….that’s Deadpool 2. In some ways, this sequel to the foul-mouth-blood-thirsty hero’s first film is superior. However, this second part rarely rises above a chuckle and a shrug. In fact, much like its predecessor, it shows incredible promise in its first 10 minutes that’s never fully achieved.
The film opens as Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) lies on barrel of gasoline. We spend the first 5 minutes of the film tracing back to discover why. These initial moments are filled with our hero rampaging through villains and gangsters in multiple countries. Later, there’s a James Bond spoofed opening credit scene, replete with fake producer titles, which dances between pop culture appropriation and a cheesy windup. For much of this review, I won’t complain about the reliance on dick and ass jokes because that’s the Deadpool style. Either you’re a fan of it or you’re not, and it’s not incumbent upon the film to morph its style to me.
However, I can complain about the insensate need to run jokes into the ground. The Deadpool films have always thought they were more subversive than they are. When in actuality, their weaknesses are the same as the Disney controlled Marvel films: bad jokes are used 5-6 times throughout a film in the hopes of them being funny “once.” When Deadpool joins the X-Men, who have still not been fully developed in this universe, they call him a “trainee.” The joke reoccurs more than needed, which was more than once. The need to make these stale punchlines work are what makes the hero’s constant throwbacks to the Avengers seem ironic (as Avengers solely relies on that sort of barrage).
What does succeed is Josh Brolin as Cable. Brolin doesn’t attempt to copy the comic version of Cable, rather he just acts as himself. That is, it’s not Brolin as Cable. It’s Brolin as Brolin playing Cable. And thank God for that because the character is seriously underwritten. His dialogue isn’t great, relying on comic platitudes, and there’s little development added to the character past the reason he’s entered this universe and time. Nevertheless, through gritted teeth, Brolin pulls the thinly written character through.
Zazie Beetz as Domino is also a highlight of the film. Any binge watcher of Atlanta is well-aware of Beetz’s talent. Here, as Domino, she’s quirky, bubbly, and confident. Though the hero’s only super power is luck, Beetz has the best fight choreography of the film. Whereas the other characters felt weighted and heavy in their movements, Beetz’s choreography seemed loose.
Unfortunately, many of the main characters from the first film feel out of place. Weasel (TJ Miller) is on screen for maybe 15 minutes (making it a bigger head scratcher that Miller wasn’t completely cut from this film after his sexual misconduct allegations and other run-ins with the law), and when he is on screen, he’s often unfunny and an obstruction. The same could be said of Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), whose character became overplayed in the first film.
Other characters that I wish had more screen time was X-Force. Bedlam (Terry Crews), Vanisher, Peter (Rob Delaney), and Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård) are a plucky band of outcasts that I think provides the film its best and funniest moments. They’re one of the few successful lampoons of superheros in the film. Making fun of the fact that at one point, comic book publishers were creating characters left-and-right. Some with great powers, some featuring the mundane. Deadpool 2 reviving that lineage, along with perfect casting, makes the 15 minutes they’re there for, feel too short lived.
I also believe that Russell (Julian Dennison), the “villain” of Deadpool 2 is fantastic here. Villains with shades of grey, the ones we can empathize with, are obviously the most compelling. And Russell, a mutant child who’s been abused in a mutant sanitarium is strong, enthralling, and funny. While I do have an issue with the overall idea of a mutant sanitarium and prison, and its logic within the universe, I’ll save that for a possible spoiler-based review.
But what’s deficient in Deadpool 2, much like its predecessor, is its lack of divergence from other comic book fare. Yes, there are more expletives. But the humor is very much the same, the need for characters to learn lessons through others dying is still there, and the bating to pop culture references is overflowing. In short, as much as Deadpool wants to be subversive, it’s just your standard comic book film. And while the film does provide growth for its lead character and offers new and interesting personalities like Domino (and a great mid-credits scene), there are too many wasted supporting characters from the prior film and overused jokes to save it from being “not the comic book film we need, but, unfortunately, the comic book film we deserve.”