When the original Deadpool arrived in theaters, it was a breath of fresh air. Comics fans may have already been familiar with the smart-assed “merc with a mouth,” but in the context of modern superhero movies, both the character and the self-referential style of the 2016 film were a subversive delight. Deadpool‘s creators clearly knew how silly superhero movies had become, recognized that audiences also knew it, and mixed it all up into an R-rated romp that brought in more than $780 million worldwide, while costing just a fraction of the price tag on an average DC or Marvel tentpole.
But studios and filmmakers learned the lessons of Deadpool quickly, with James Mangold’s Logan embracing the visceral intensity an R-rating can allow, and Marvel practically lampooning itself with Taika Waititi’s hilarious Thor: Ragnarok. We now live in a post-Deadpool world, and with the element of surprise no longer part of its arsenal, the inevitable Deadpool 2 has to go about the more traditional business of crafting a sequel that delivers on fan expectations, while also giving them just enough of a fresh twist that the entire thing doesn’t feel completely cynical. The result isn’t as novel as the original, or as effortlessly kinetic, but it is nevertheless a joke-packed action film that continues to deliver on the character’s potential, while opening up the door to an even bigger series of sarcastic superhero adventures.
Warning: mild spoilers for Deadpool 2 below.
Even though the film is about a character who’s all swagger and almost no smarts, Deadpool 2 heads in an unexpected direction early on: it makes Deadpool — also known as Wade Wilson — doubt himself. After a personal setback, Wade (Ryan Reynolds) begins to question the point of the superhero business, and it’s only after Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) bring him in as an X-Men trainee that he begins to come around. Deadpool is Deadpool, however, and his arrogant bravado is able to turn even the simplest mission into a complete and utter disaster. Soon, Wade is rendered powerless and thrown into prison alongside a young pyrokinetic mutant named Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison). With his healing abilities gone, Wade would prefer to wallow in his angst and simply fade away, but when a time-traveling cybernetic soldier named Cable (a grim Josh Brolin) arrives from the future with murder on his mind, Wade is drawn into donning the Deadpool mask once again. This time, however, he decides to recruit some allies to fight alongside him in his own superhero group: X-Force.
Some members of X-Force have already been highlighted in the film’s trailers, but those quick two-minute clips don’t reveal that the X-Force shenanigans make up some of the film’s strongest moments. (Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz, as Domino, is particularly memorable.) Where the original movie was able to upend all expectations about what a superhero film should be, Deadpool 2 upends expectations about superhero team-ups. And coming off the heels of Avengers: Infinity War, the satire couldn’t be more perfectly timed. It’s no spoiler to say that the X-Force sequences are hilarious, unexpected, and utterly outrageous at times, displaying a freewheeling willingness to cross every line imaginable, in ways that provoke as many cringes as laughs.
The meta jokes the first film delighted in are all there and accounted for — Deadpool calls out DC movies, The Goonies, Batman, and Ryan Reynolds’ own less-stunning career performances, among countless others. But they don’t pack quite the same punch this time around. They’re expected at this point, table stakes for the Deadpool character, and many of them have already been spoiled in the movie’s many trailers. Instead, Deadpool 2 feels most confident when it gleefully does the exact opposite of what the audience expects — or, in many cases, what the audience wants — while snarking and smirking the entire way.
It’s a mission statement that the film delivers early, in a James Bond-esque credit sequence that literally incorporates the imagined reactions of an outraged audience into the visuals themselves. It plays almost as a dare for the audience to play along, and whenever the film is able to zig when the audience expects a zag, it simmers with palpable energy. What detracts from the proceedings is that sometimes Deadpool 2 does exactly what viewers should expect, resulting in a movie that feels decidedly uneven at times. One moment the character, and the film, are actively surprising the audience, squeezing out laughs at a rapid clip. Other times, it’s like watching yet another Deadpool commercial or TV spot, with his bro-humor schtick growing less interesting with every passing quip. Deadpool, it seems, is hilarious in doses, and the constant marketing barrage has the side effect of making the actual film feel a little less special.
But Ryan Reynolds certainly delivers in the title role. Deadpool continues to feel like the character Reynolds was destined to take on, and he’s able to deftly combine a self-effacing sense of humor with his now-familiar nasal delivery to create as character that’s nearly impossible not to like, no matter what horrible things he says or does (and there are a lot of those). Reynolds is even able to generate real audience sympathy for Wade in some surprisingly touching moments. Josh Brolin as Cable pulls off a similar trick; he’s a menacing half-cyborg most of the time, but by the end he’s actually summoned some vulnerability as well. That trick of combining ironic humor with a touch of authentic human emotion was key to the first film, and the same holds true in Deadpool 2. Rounding out the lead trio in the film is Beetz’ Domino, who is able to give Deadpool a run for his money from nearly the moment she shows up on screen — and it likely won’t be long before audiences start clamoring for a Domino spin-off film.
It does feel like something is missing from the overall mix, however, and that’s likely due to the difference in visual style between the two films. In the original, first-time feature director Tim Miller was an action dynamo, his whirling dervish of a camera creating action sequences filled with so many absurd stops, starts, and operatic slow-motion moments that they seemed to be mocking modern action filmmaking itself. The approach felt intrinsically tied to the Deadpool character; if the performances and script were a knowing wink and nod, why shouldn’t the directing be as well? Deadpool 2’s David Leitch, on the other hand, has already developed his own kinetic style of action directing, in movies like Atomic Blonde and John Wick. His approach gives the action scenes and fight choreography in Deadpool 2 an undeniable sense of energy and fun, but for the most part the movie plays things straightforward. As a result, Deadpool 2 never feels quite as giddy as Miller’s film.
As far as complaints go, that isn’t a deal breaker — particularly not when Deadpool 2 does so many things right. After its uneven second act, the film barrels towards the finish line with nary a missed note (save for a standard-issue throw-down between two CG characters; despite Deadpool cracking wise about it, a tedious CG fight is still a tedious CG fight). To top it all off, the film ends with some truly fantastic post-credits scenes that play with the format and arguably surpass the credits scenes of most recent Marvel films.
That’s the big takeaway from Deadpool 2: this little-franchise-that-could is able to do some things better than even the mighty Marvel Studios can. And despite the periodic weaknesses, it’s nearly impossible to walk out of this film without wanting to see where Ryan Reynolds is going to take this character next. Deadpool proved that audiences were hungry for a superhero as self-aware as they are; Deadpool 2 proves that character can actually ground an ensemble. With filmmaker Drew Goddard (The Martian, Cabin in the Woods) tackling an X-Force movie next, there’s going to be an entirely new playground for Deadpool’s snarky schtick and silliness — and it’s likely going to be there for many years to come.
Deadpool 2 opens on May 18th.