Much like its predecessor, Deadpool 2 is less a movie than a smirky, feature-length meme generator. Though the sequel has a new director and some new cast members, Deadpool 2 is unsurprisingly doubling down on what made the first film such a big hit, including jokes about exactly how big of a hit at the box office it was, as well as plenty of other fourth-wall-breaking moments. Considering that the original was successful, it’s somewhat predictable that this sequel is going to the same well of snark and glib ultra-violence, but this is just as obnoxious as its predecessor, if not more so.
Ryan Reynolds (who co-wrote this script) once again plays Wade Wilson, an ex-Special Forces mercenary whose terminal cancer was cured when his latent mutant superpowers were brought to life. Wilson, who dubs himself Deadpool, remains a constantly wisecracking presence. He makes up for the excessive burns all over his body with an endless supply of overwrought profanity, pop-culture references, and other non sequiturs. This time around, Deadpool is nearly recruited into the X-Men by Colossus, though he mostly spends his time deciding that he wants to wrangle together his own warped family of mutants and help out a troubled teenaged mutant (Julian Dennison).
Of course, this threadbare plot is a shoestring on which to hang so many gags that the presence of Josh Brolin in his second Marvel movie in four weeks barely registers. (His Deadpool 2 character, Cable, is a fairly dour antihero, which is kind of fitting with how dour Thanos is.) So much of what happens in Deadpool 2 feels like a series of sketches, or barely interconnected episodes, as opposed to a natural extension of the character or a feature-length plot: Deadpool Trains as an X-Man! Deadpool Goes to Prison! Deadpool Starts a Gang! And so on.
Reynolds is his typically fast-talking, glib self (for better or worse, he’d be a fine choice to take on the mantle of Chevy Chase’s Fletch). The humor in the film matches his pace and attitude, which makes the moments when Deadpool 2 reaches for genuine emotion all the more ridiculous and unbelievable. It’s rare that the humor works in this film — like an episode of Family Guy, this seems more dedicated to just overloading the script full of references, within or outside of the Marvel universe, than it is in attempting to be funny. But at least the humor is consistent, whereas the emotional moments, including a first-act twist that’s designed to be shocking, are hollow and empty.
If there is an improvement, it’s in the action sequences. Though Deadpool, at one point, complains about the budget of the film, it’s clear that Deadpool 2 cost more and was thus allowed to invest a bit more in coherent action choreography. It also helps that the director is David Leitch, of Atomic Blonde and John Wick fame. (Don’t worry, the opening credits are self-referential like the previous one was, and this one references the dog death in John Wick.) The closest this film comes to having an exciting highlight is in a midpoint chase and fight scene through the middle of the city; it is, like many of the set pieces here, leaning too hard on CGI, but Leitch is able to stage the action cleanly enough relative to what Tim Miller did in the original.
Two other slight improvements come in new additions to the cast: Dennison (formerly of Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and Zazie Beetz (Atlanta) stand out as mutants who cross paths with Deadpool to varying degrees. Dennison’s character, Firefist, is nuanced enough — at least as much as this movie can allow — and Beetz’s mutant is portrayed with genuine cleverness, as opposed to something more forced. They’re so good here that it’s almost a shame both Dennison and Beetz are relatively supporting players. Reynolds, as with the first film, is trying his damnedest to make it all work, and plenty aware of his past missteps before getting a solo Deadpool film. (Remember how much Green Lantern sucked? Without going into heavy spoilers, so does Ryan Reynolds.) But this movie’s idea of humor is making fun of something before doing what the movie is mocking. For example, Deadpool acknowledges how much CGI would need to go into a specific hand-to-hand fight scene…before we see a CGI-heavy fight scene. Pointing out problems doesn’t do much when you just make the same problems.
That’s the major issue of Deadpool 2. The cast is largely talented enough, and willing to laugh at themselves. And anyone with even a moderate level of knowledge of superhero movies of the last decade will spot plenty of winking nods, from references to Marvel’s rival to an Airplane!-level attempt to mock the faux-profound musical compositions that accompany intense fights. But this movie’s script is so inside-baseball that it’s moderately alienating. One or two of the gags land — such as a non sequitur about Guy Pearce — but Deadpool 2 is mostly just a carbon-copy of its smugly satisfied predecessor.
/Film Rating: 3 out of 10