Deadpool was the movie we were never supposed to get. Or, at least, that’s how it felt. With the character utterly destroyed years before in X-Men Origins: Wolverine it seemed like a longshot that the Merc with a Mouth would ever get a second chance at the big screen, let alone with Ryan Reynolds, who had already experienced one major comic book misfire with Green Lantern. Yet when Deadpool finally had his on-screen debut two years ago he did so in full foul-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking, sword-and-bullet slinging glory. While definitely not without its flaws, Deadpool was a groundbreaking film in superhero cinema: a hard-R comedic send-up of everything which makes superhero movies both enjoyable and laborious. Of course, as with any successful superhero movie, a sequel was inevitable. Question is: can the team behind Deadpool succeed minus original director Tim Miller and the novelty of the first film?
Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes they can. And they have. (The rest of this review has been left intentionally vague to avoid spoiling either the plot or any of the jokes in the film.)
The very first image in Deadpool 2 establishes that success hasn’t changed the sensibilities of Reynolds and the rest of the ‘Pool crew. A voiceover decrying last year’s Logan for copying Deadpool‘s hard-R superhero concept, paired with an image that totally spoils that film’s ending, leads to the conclusion that Pool, first name Dead, once again finds himself in the shadow of Canada’s other famous movie mutant, a development which Mr. Wilson plans to rectify in the most Deadpool way possible. In previous film, we opened with Deadpool namedropping Wolverine while telling the story of how his movie came to be before throwing himself into a ridiculous CGI-sequence of destruction and violence like none seen at that point, followed by hilariously self-aware credits, and leading into a framing device. In the sequel we open with much the same thing, only cranked up as sequels always have to, the CGI is more ridiculous, the credits even more self-aware, and the framing device… well there’s not much more which can be done with the previous film’s framing device except that this time it’s a much shorter journey to the present.
Deadpool 2 is in every way a continuation of Deadpool, and this is a very, very good thing. The grungy look, the references to other superhero films, the brutality, the repeated jokes, the pansexuality, the gags that fly so fast you’re too busy laughing to catch them all, it’s all entirely Deadpool, adjusted for sequel inflation. Anyone who felt that Deadpool’s schtick wore thin partway through the first film will not enjoy seeing even more of it here, but those who left the theater wanting more will likely feel the exact same way following this one, only with even more questions of what is going to happen next, especially with the coming merger of Fox properties into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (it did strike me that this may be one of the last times we see the 20th Century Fox logo ahead of an X-Men movie, and given their recent track record, it might be the last time we see that logo ahead of a good X-Men movie). If anything, the loss of the gimmick – a superhero dissecting nameless baddies while orating graphic descriptions of dangerous sex acts – actually makes the film better. This isn’t just a dirty superhero movie that talks to the audience, it’s a really well developed dirty superhero movie that talks to the audience.
Much of this improvement comes from the fact that Deadpool 2 isn’t burdened with an overabundance of back story. Of course, new characters such as Domino and Cable both need to be introduced, but having Wade Wilson known from the first frame means that Deadpool 2 doesn’t need to pause its momentum in order to let the audience catch up, it can just plow straight ahead, as belligerent as ever, with seemingly no friggin’ idea where it’s going, gleefully swearing and silencing through two hours that make the two years between films feel like they never happened. Where Deadpool spent much of its runtime on a rather routine origin story, Deadpool 2 is free to develop its own narrative, one which skillfully weaves together disparate narrative threads into a surprisingly coherent whole, as all the best superhero films do, before repeatedly ripping those threads apart in a complete rejection of everything the best superhero films do.
Although the trailers make it seem otherwise, with its assembling of a “super duper f**king group”, it’s to the film’s tremendous strength that Deadpool 2 recognizes that it can’t compete with Avengers: Infinity War. Without revealing anything, let it be said that Deadpool 2 handles superhero team-ups with all the aplomb you’d expect from Deadpool (as well, it’s great to finally see Terry Crews in a superhero film. The guy is built like the Hulk and is never anything less than hysterical). Of these new characters the clear standouts are the aforementioned Domino and Cable. Fresh from his phenomenal performance as Thanos (can I say anything specific about that movie yet? Can I?), Josh Brolin portrays another intense, highly nuanced character whose disagreeable methods belie his intent, making a strong case for Brolin to be this summer’s most valuable player in all of cinema. Personally I always found Cable to be a convoluted mishmash of 90’s comics tropes, as though all the “cool” parts of various violent tough guy anti-heroes were throw together into the X-Universe’s version of Pouchie (see also: Shatterstar). Brolin’s Cable is not only far better than I ever imagined the character would work on screen, he finally helps me understand how this dark, brooding character fit in with someone who’d use his dark brooding to make an hilarious crack about the DC Universe. Similarly, Zazie Beetz’s Domino is a very well crafted character whose intricate feats of dumb luck perfectly contrast and compliment Deadpool’s feats of dumb (word that can only be used in an R-rated movie). Much as she does in Atlanta (currently one of the best shows on television), Beetz quietly asserts herself as one of the strongest elements on screen.
But, as with the first film, absolutely none of this works without Ryan Reynolds. The barrage of pop culture references, the self-awareness, the meta-commentary, the running gags and callbacks (a particular favorite of mine leads from Black Tom Cassidy to Cable being racist), simply wouldn’t land if not for Reynolds’s commitment to this character. As much as Marvel has found wonderful synergy by casting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, no other recent casting choice is as inspired as Reynolds’s Deadpool, perhaps because he spent years lobbying for the part. This is simply the character of Reynolds’s career, he knows it, and he clearly loves every second of it. There’s no doubt that eventually this entire act will get extremely old, but until then half the joy of the Deadpool franchise will be in seeing how much fun Reynolds has as the character, wherever he may appear. After all, we were never supposed to get a Deadpool movie, now we have two, and they’re equally brutal and hilarious, so everything else is a bonus.
(As a closing note I’d like to say that I sincerely hope Marvel doesn’t put Deadpool into any of the larger MCU movies. As good as Marvel has been with its universe, Deadpool needs to be his own thing, existing on this weird, niche island where he’s free to be irreverent and world-breaking, without the worry of maintaining continuity. We all saw what happens when you sew his mouth shut. Now that that mistake has been corrected (stay through the credits), please don’t allow it to happen again.)