(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: David Leitch’s surprisingly funny Deadpool 2.)
“This is a family film,” Deadpool tells us early on in Deadpool 2. It is, of course, a joke – a movie loaded with vulgar jokes and ultra-violence can’t really be a “family film.” And yet, there’s an air of truth to this. Because a family indicates growth, and growth is exactly what Deadpool 2 showcases. For all its flaws – like the first film, it’s never quite as funny or subversive as it thinks it is – Deadpool 2 takes the meta world created by the original Deadpool, and builds upon it. It finds new ways to tell an old joke, and for that, it’s (mostly) a success.
A Superior Sequel
In Deadpool 2, Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool, is back on the silver screen, constantly breaking the fourth wall to let us in on the joke. Deadpool isn’t your typical Marvel hero, a fact that the film will remind us of again, and again, and again. This shouldn’t work, really, because it’s obvious to the extreme. And yet – surprise – it does. The first Deadpool was nothing more than a few dick and shit jokes sandwiched in between endless mugging, Deadpool 2 has a bit more on its mind – not that it doesn’t want to throw some dick and shit jokes in for good measure.
Wade’s life is turned upside down when the love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is gunned down in front of his eyes. Right away, I cringed – were they really going here? Were they really going to fridge the only real female in Wade’s life to give him motivation? Yes, they were – but to Deadpool 2’s credit, they’re aware of what a poor choice this is.
First up, as the James Bond-esque opening credits play out (while Celine Dion belts out a pretty great song), a credit appears on the screen that reads “WHAT THE HELL, DID THEY REALLY JUST KILL HER?” Then, much later in the film (during the closing credits, in fact), Wade will actually travel back in time and completely undo Vanessa’s death, seemingly making up for this lazy plot device. (Side-note: in a recent interview, Deadpool 2 writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick claimed they had never even heard of “fridging” before, which is simultaneously surprising and unsurprising, and indicates that I might be giving them too much credit).
Before Vanessa can come back from the dead, Deadpool has to learn a lesson or two. He is plucked from his despair by X-Men member Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), and made an X-Man-in-training. But Wade’s first X-mission (which he launches into by proudly proclaiming the X-Men as little more than a “dated metaphor for racism in the ’60s!”) doesn’t go according to plan. There’s a young mutant named Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison) causing destruction at the creepy and clearly not-on-the-level Mutant Reeducation Center where he’s being housed. After a brief battle, Deadpool decides to side with Russell, and murders several members of the Mutant Reeducation Center staff.
This burst of violence lands Wade and Russell in the “Ice Box”, a high-tech prison especially for mutants (sort of like The Raft from the MCU, even though this prison also exists in the comics). Enter Cable (Josh Brolin), a shredded half-man, half-metal killer from the future. Cable has traveled back in time to kill Russell, because in Cable’s future, Russell has grown up to be a deadly, murderous mutant – the same deadly, murderous mutant that killed Cable’s family, in fact. Which makes Deadpool 2 basically a remake of Looper, with more jokes and less Joseph Gordon-Levitt wearing fake noses.
Deadpool escapes from the Ice Box while Russell remains. And while there’s a part of Deadpool that would rather just leave Russell in the past, there’s also a good heart lurking within his cancer-ridden visage. As a result, he decides to assemble a team to take on Cable and save Russell.
That team is the X-Force – Zazie Beetz as Domino, whose superpower is just sheer luck; Lewis Tan as Shatterstar, an alien; Terry Crews as Bedlam, who can control electromagnetic fields; Bill Skarsgård as Zeitgeist, who can spit acid (why?); an invisible character named Vanisher (played in a quick, hilarious cameo by Brad Pitt), and finally, Peter (Rob Delaney) – an average man who just happened to answer Deadpool’s superhero team ad.
All of this builds towards Deadpool 2’s funniest scene – almost immediately after the X-Force has assembled, they’re all dispatched in gruesome, violent ways. After jumping from a plane, we watch as one by one, each member of the team (except Domino) dies a horrible death. The concept of this joke is lifted directly from MacGruber, but Deadpool 2’s handling of the sequence stands on its own for how shockingly savage it is. The MacGruber sequence introduces a team of badasses, then quickly blows them up. Deadpool 2 lingers on each death, in near-sadistic fashion. This shouldn’t be funny, but the film manages to get the tone just right. There’s also the added bonus of trick marketing – the filmmakers went out of their way to make it look like the X-Force would play a big part in the film, only to quickly kill them off.
A shaky alliance is eventually formed between Deadpool and Cable – Cable will give Deadpool a chance to turn Russell’s life around and stop him from committing his first murder; the murder that sends him down the path to villainy. If Deadpool fails to do this, Cable will kill the kid.
Does Deadpool succeed? Of course he does. Does Cable inexplicably decide to stick around in the past, even though he should really want to head back to the future and see his newly-resurrected family? Yep. Does Deadpool 2 take a bunch of lazy shortcuts to get us here? It does! And yet…it’s okay. But why?
What Makes This Movie Work
I hesitate to even use this phrase, but here goes: Deadpool 2 is, essentially, critic-proof. That’s not to say it’s a perfect movie, or even that it’s a movie that’s smarter than critics. Rather, Deadpool 2 is a film that knows how stupid it is, and is perfectly fine embracing that stupidity. And this is, I think, the key ingredient to distinguishing itself from the first Deadpool.
There was a smugness to 2016’s Deadpool that bogged the film down. A sense that the filmmakers behind the movie were constantly winking and nudging the audience while pretending to be smarter than they really were. It was like watching a terrible stand-up comedian bomb on stage while not realizing how badly he was bombing.
Deadpool 2, in contrast, seems to have settled into a nice groove. There’s a real sense here that the film knows exactly what it wants to be, and isn’t trying to be anything else. Perhaps this can be chalked-up to more confidence in the material. The first Deadpool was testing the waters. It’s easy to forget now that the character has become so ingrained into pop culture, but before the first Deadpool came out, no one knew if general audiences would take to the character. R-rated superhero movies weren’t a common occurrence, and there was a very real chance the first Deadpool could’ve flopped.
It didn’t, though, and that has helped Deadpool 2 immensely. Because for all of the first Deadpool’s attempts at outrageous, shocking humor, the film also often felt like it was pulling its punches. That it was holding back, and not being as risky as it could’ve been. Deadpool 2, in contrast, is more confident in its abilities to shock.
That doesn’t mean the film is nearly as subversive as it thinks it is, but it at least understands how to land most of its jokes. I watched the first Deadpool almost stone-faced, while Deadpool 2 had me laughing-out-loud on several occasions. This isn’t so much a result of the writing as it is delivery.