Oh, hi. Didn’t see you there. I hope you don’t mind if I continue this review of the super-duper new Deadpool movie speaking directly to you in an over-familiar tone with a whole bunch of penis gags (see, I’ve started already) and even more pop culture references. Don’t worry if you don’t get them all because another character will conveniently lampshade the older and more obscure easter eggs because fuck knows every other Hollywood film does that these days to keep millennials from losing themselves in their i-Phones for the rest of the running time.
So, anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, Deadpool 2: the exciting new feature starring the Green Lantern, that New Zealand kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Thanos, who has taken some time out of his busy schedule playing Fortnite. You getting tired or irritated by this constant self-aware fourth wall breaking yet? No? Great, then you’re gonna love this film. Oh, you are? Shit, there’s not much else I got to offer beyond generic superhero tropes.
Okay, I’ll stop it now. Chances are that even if you haven’t seen the original Deadpool, you’re probably still very familiar with Ryan Reynold’s (second) take on the “Merc with a Mouth”. The exhaustive (and exhausting) viral marketing campaign which has led up to Deadpool 2 has left the indestructible Wade Wilson in serious danger of being over-exposed – and I’m not talking about him revealing his nether regions as he so fond of doing. While some of the campaign has been inspired (the Bob Ross impression, in particular), its sheer ubiquity and volume has also grated and worn thin after nearly a year’s worth of build up. There is an argument to say that films should be judged on their own terms or even in a vacuum, but it’s difficult to apply this to the latest superhero movie from 20th Century Fox (perhaps its last in the current guise) thanks to it being so drunk on its own hype.
As soon as Deadpool 2 starts rolling with Wade enviously mocking the death of Wolverine with a plastic toy recreating his famous demise, one can’t escape the feeling the scene feels like yet another YouTube clip being used to promote the film you’ve already started watching. It would be too generous to claim that the character has become a victim of his own success since, of course, he’s very aware of the momentous, unexpected success of his first outing (and yes, this gets referenced at least twice). No, it would be more accurate to say he his a victim of his constant attention whoring over the last twelve months and I was fearing during the first act that the sequel would be another feature-length excuse to let Deadpool be Deadpool and not a lot else (and don’t even bother trying to tell me that the first film was anything other than just that).
However, my fears were allayed as events progressed and Wade began trying to wrap his mouth around a more traditional superhero movie – specifically, an X-Men movie. Unfortunately, this in itself is problematic and it robs the sequel of its progenitor’s bold and mostly successful attempt to subvert the genre by not being persistently concerned about inevitable future instalments. I won’t go into too many plot details (scout’s honor this review will remain spoiler-free), suffice to say that, after a tragic event, DP tries his hand at joining the X-Men proper and it doesn’t quite take. This leads to Wade setting up an alternative band of mutants, an intention that is ripe with possibilities to royally send up his inconsistent parent franchise.
Disappointingly, these shenanigans hone a little too close to 1999’s Mystery Men – replete with an interview scene lifted directly from the underrated superhero spoof – and fails to provide much in the way of cutting commentary on ensemble comic book movies that we would rightly expect from Wade’s acid-laced tongue. That isn’t to say that there aren’t laughs to be had throughout, indeed, there are plenty; however, once Deadpool has had enough of running his own super-team, Deadpool 2 seems more comfortable conforming to the X-Men template rather than subverting it.
Taking out the Trash
It would not be controversial to opine that the original Deadpool was a trashy film. With a cast consisting of two actresses from cancelled cult sci-fi shows and another who is a sexy ex-UFC fighter, a determinedly puerile sense of humor, and a plethora of cartoonish ultra-violence, Deadpool’s origin movie had less in common with its Marvel brethren than it did with a typical Troma Studios offering (except Deadpool had a slightly less well-developed plot than any of those bottom-of-the-shelf exploitation flicks). Of course, Wade felt right at home in such an environment and his larger-than-life character filled in all the gaps as Tim Miller’s film galloped through its scant story (seriously, there are like ten scenes in the whole film) in less time than an episode in the current season of Westworld.
As previously stated (several times), Deadpool 2 is a more traditional superhero movie and while this neither tames or subdues the titular character, it frustratingly exposes him as a character with no desire to grow or change. The standard comic book sequel trope of briefly robbing our hero of their power is deployed during which the character is supposed to learn a pointed lesson in what it is to be vulnerable and the value of their absent abilities. But Wade learns diddly squat and the matter is resolved on his behalf, reseting his character to continue on his perpetual loop of nihilistic wisecracks. There is an illusion of a character arc here as Wade seeks to essentially adopt troubled mutant, Russell AKA “Fire-Fist” (played by Julian Dennison, repeating his act from Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople – except with more self-immolation this time), but if there’s any growth here, then it will be in more discerning audience members’ weariness of a joke that’s been told too many times already.
Both in its protagonist and its boilerplate superhero plot, Deadpool 2 takes an enormous risk in turning familiarity into contempt. And that needle goes firmly into the red with the arrival of Josh Brolin’s Cable.
The Killing Joke
Perhaps it’s just unfortunate happenstance, but Brolin’s grizzled take on the time-travelling Marvel (sometimes) antagonist feels remarkably reminiscent of another that I reviewed only two weeks ago. That his plotline closely resembles that of a certain iconic 80’s sci-fi thriller throws further fuel on this bonfire of cliches, which threatens to rage out of control at this stage (although, I did admire Wade’s restraint in lampshading this hackneyed homage only once). It also quickly becomes clear that Brolin’s had much bigger fish to fry during production – such as wiping out half the lifeforms in a universe in which all involved here could soon find themselves a part of – since his performance as Cable is decidedly off-the-shelf. I’m sure the intention was to provide DP with a straight man to riff off, but the result is more akin to Wade verbally shadow-boxing against a brick wall. Deadpool’s other sounding boards don’t fare much better, either.
T.J. Miller’s cowardly barman/handler, Weasel, is oddly off-key with the troubled actor offering only a fraction of his undoubted acerbic comic skills this time around. Elsewhere, taxi driver, Dopinder, is given a potentially amusing ambition to pursue but this is squandered by his limited screen time and lame deployment as Karan Soni attempts to be the only cast member with aims of growing his character. With significantly reduced roles for Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa and Leslie Uggams’ Blind Al, it falls to new cast members to give Reynolds someone to sound off against but only Zazie Beetz’s Domino (the “Black Black Widow) truly succeeds in this area.
Ultimately, it falls to Ryan Reynolds to carry the whole shebang again but, while the Canadian actor does rise to the task with aplomb once more in a role he was born to play, his character refuses to change his tune and it’s starting sound like the record has gotten stuck. They say brevity is the soul of wit and perhaps if we had spared an interminable marketing campaign that has seen Deadpool cross-promote everything from Manchester United to Devour frozen sandwiches, then maybe Deadpool 2 wouldn’t feel like a joke that has gone on for too long.
IF YOU ARE HUNGRY FOR MORE WADE WILSON, THEN DEADPOOL 2 WILL CERTAINLY SATE YOUR APPETITE. IF YOU HAVE ALREADY HAD YOUR FILL OF DICK JOKES AND FOURTH WALL BREAKS, THIS UNINSPIRED SEQUEL WILL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A DUCK BEING REARED FOR FOIS GRAS.