Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, is a Canadian mercenary turned cancer victim who is presented with a cure via a branch of the Weapon X program. Turned into a mutant, Deadpool receives Wolverine’s healing factor, full-body deformity, and increasing mental instability. He often exercises psychopathic tendencies and suffers breaks from reality that manifest themselves as fourth-wall breaking banter. At his most stable, he is a member of X-Force or X-Men. At his most unhinged, he slaughters every superhero in the Marvel universe.
In the Ryan Reynolds iteration of the character, Deadpool plays nice. Comparatively. Deadpool 2 makes clear up front that it is a film about family. Not a family film, but a film in which a Canadian killing machine wants to settle down and start a family.
Between the crude humor and montages of nameless criminals being diced and littered with bullets is an emotional core to Wade’s character. The core originates with, as in the 2016 Deadpool, Wade’s love interest Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). But as the Merc with a Mouth has to come to terms with a tragedy, it extends outward to other characters in this narrow vision of the X-Men universe.
As much as this critic enjoys the Deadpool character when he is sliding through realities killing Captain Americas, Frankensteins, and other Deadpools, it is impressive how this cinematic version of the character is written to have at least some emotional heft. The script—penned by Paul Wernick, Rhett Rheese, and Reynolds himself—tows the line between the bawdy, self-referential humor and a need for the anti-hero to be grounded in a layer of humanity. For the most part, this tight-rope walk is a success.
There is a certain nagging issue with both Deadpool films that is at first hard to place. A naive, wide-eyed young critic of two years ago gushed that the first Deadpool had “extraordinary pacing” thanks to its narrative design. Over multiple viewings, that critic partially retracts his statement.
The films feel quick because their wits are on hair triggers and they pretend not to care about plotting. In this sequel, Deadpool makes explicit mention of a three-act structure multiple times, as if the character is trying to end his movie faster.
But the narrative structure that is present is not altogether streamlined. Both films have first acts framed by self-aware flashbacks. While an adequately jarring way of dropping us into the world, both instances of this technique make the first act feel over-long and clunky. The addition of an origin story in Deadpool makes it harder for that film to climb itself out of that hole.
In this second film, the pacing does pick up swimmingly once we are introduced to Cable (Josh Brolin) and the X-Force. It just takes Deadpool going in and out of suicide watch and in and out of prison before that can happen.
These new character additions are the biggest upside of Deadpool 2. Brolin’s gravelly Cable makes for the best fight choreography and the best deadpan moments of humor. He is the foil that Deadpool needs moving forward, in that he can help prevent the merc’s shtick from getting old.
And the utilization of X-Force, which is highlighted so prominently in the film’s trailers, is misdirection perfection. Their introduction and superhero entrance is the crowning achievement of the film. Rob Delaney’s Peter is the originator of bigger laugh lines than any of Reynolds’ dialogue. And Zazie Beetz as Domino is the Deadpool “sidekick” that I didn’t know I needed.
The person who doesn’t get as much of a chance to shine is Julian Dennison. The breakout talent of Hunt for the Wilderpeople—in which he showcases a brashness and foul mouth that is seemingly a perfect fit for this particular brand of superhero franchise—Dennison’s fiery mutant character is a plot device for most of the runtime. As a result, when the script pivots to make him more important to Deadpool’s emotional arc, it falls flat.
When it comes down to it, Deadpool 2 uses its freedom as a sequel to elevate itself. No longer bogged down by the need to establish this unconventional character to audiences, there is breathing room in the script to execute more baroque comedic bits, whether that be with the soundtrack or the fourth wall breaks or by playing with the superhero formula more broadly.
It doubles back on sources of humor that the first film dabbled in, which can come off as redundant. And it perhaps uses slow motion as a gag one too many times. But overall the comedy here is fairly tight. In a cinematic landscape that is bombarded with superhero movies of various quality, Deadpool is the IP we need right now.
Deadpool 2: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)