Directed by David Leitch
The inevitable sequel. Just like horror villains, studios won’t let a good comic book hero die. With this one being invincible, and a surefire box office hit, we could be in for a long franchise. Yes, the merc with the mouth is back. And this time he’s bigger, bolder and bloodier – but sadly not better. In a year when Infinity War showed a superhero flick can be hyped for a decade and still fully deliver, Deadpool 2 may be the most underwhelming since Age of Ultron.
Like the original (also reviewed by me) the have your cake and eat it script sees a very standard superhero narrative repackaged into a 2 hour in-joke that sticks steadfastly to the template it aspires to break. At the core of its meandering throughline, that seems to exist for the sake of its action sequences and laboured joke setups over storytelling, is the trope of the noble hero finding a protégé. Only here the hero is a gun-waving, walking dick joke (Reynolds), who just joined the X-Men, and the protégé is loose cannon orphan Russell, (Dennison), who flings fire and wants to make the world his bitch. Enter Cable (Brolin) from the future who knows this young man will grow up to wreak havoc after the power goes from his hands to his head. But with his mind on starting a family, when he’s not ripping on him Deadpool seems to think Russell can be changed with a hug. Cue a terminator-light battle to get to the boy first and save the future. But with a lot more swearing, raunch and violence than usual.
Body parts are ripped off left right and centre but the most obviously absent is heart. Given it’s more comedy than comic book, this doesn’t have to be an issue (although with a character who can’t die, the tension needs to come from somewhere). Yet, even more than the original, Deadpool 2 lapses into the kind of melodrama the eponymous hero would crack wise and roll his eyes at. The relentless pace sees a gag every twenty seconds so these moments are, with one exception towards the end, sold short. As such, the characters are ultimately done a disservice. An event in the first act, that ought to inform much of what follows, carries little weight because the writers don’t allow their hero or audience to care much. If it’s not shown to change him, or put a dampener on the comedy, then it can’t bother us: we take it as seriously as the film does. Unfortunately, this tendency undermines all the movie’s most serious themes: grief, suicide, and sexual abuse of children. This may be an occupational hazard with the superhero comedy, juggling tone and material, a la Lego Batman, which awkwardly made its brooding hero a goofy singer. Yet Thor Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy have more convincingly balanced laugh-out-loud comedy and scenes of pathos and growth, never weakening them for the sake of a gag.
What makes this especially frustrating is the one-liners miss way more often than they hit. The first 10 seconds of the title sequence and a bad landing scene aside, plus the obligatory mid-credits scene, I don’t recall a single belly-laugh in the whole thing. The humour becomes very samey very quickly, the writing littered with dull references to better films, so-so dick jokes or tedious deconstructions of its own form. This self-awareness is particularly true in the first half hour, where it’s played to death. Disappointingly, these references aren’t especially smart, mostly consisting of geek-lite name-drops to let even the biggest noobs feel like nerds. Throw in a novelty song here, or a laboured simile there, and you got yourself the Deadpool 2 formula. Sure, the original was a bit like this too – but then it had the novelty of coming out first, and telling an altogether tighter tale. A movie can trade off making fun of others once, but by the time there’s a second the writers ought to learn a new trick.
To be fair, whilst the punchlines are much the same, the fights are far more polished this time around. Off the back of the success of Deadpool, new director David Leitch (John Wick) has evidently been given a blank chequebook to work with. And work with it he does – there’s stunning CGI scrapes, big stunts and plenty explosions. Like the first, some of the martial arts bits are cool, and new additions Domino (Beetz) and Cable add variety to the scrapping. Attempts at visual gags to the set-pieces are also successful, with a frantic, improvised energy to much of it. But what’s unusual is I’m praising Deadpool for doing what pretty much every other superhero movie does better. The actors are pretty darn good, with Reynolds, Brolin, Beetz and Dennison oozing the kind of charm that greatly exceeds what they have to work with. Since the genre isn’t going out of fashion, I assume we’ll see them again – here’s hoping it’s under better circumstances.