7.5 out of 10
Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool
Directed by David Leitch
Deadpool 2 Review:
Sequels suck. Not because they can’t be good, they certainly can be, but because they are basically a no-win proposition. The two most obvious options are to hew as close to the original as possible — and risk losing interest due to repetition — or to swing wildly away to something new and risk losing interest due to dropping the best elements of the original. It’s an impossible needle to thread but one which best business practice requires filmmakers to attempt over and over again. The sheer number of attempts means some are destined to succeed, but only after climbing over the decayed corpses of their fallen comrades. So where does Deadpool 2 fall into that? It’s a sequel.
The first Deadpool had two big things going for it: it’s irreverent, trope-aware attitude towards its genre and audience, and Ryan Reynolds’ committed performance as a character who required heaping doses of the kind of charismatic smart-assery Reynolds does so well. Deadpool 2 still has both of those things in spades and uses them to their utmost to give you that same endorphin high when you come out of the theater. At this point it wouldn’t surprise anyone if it was later discovered that Ryan Reynolds was genetically designed to play Deadpool on screen. He and the character are such perfect fits that it doesn’t even seem like he’s acting so much as just walking around in a red suit, being Ryan Reynolds. Just with a lot more murder.
It’s no surprise Reynolds added a co-writing credit to this film (working alongside returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick). Together it preserves much of the alchemy of the first film even with a change in director as John Wick co-helmer David Leitch takes over from Tim Miller. The most evident improvement from the change at the top are the inventive and aggressive set pieces. While Miller made a lot out of a moderate budget in the first film (primarily in the justly-praised SUV battle which filled Deadpool’s first two acts), Leitch raises the stakes immensely, taking advantage of the characters he’s been handed, particularly Cable (Brolin). Deadpool and his team of misfits attempt to take on a movie prisoner transport is an ongoing entertainment high from stunts to quips to devastating finale, not to mention one of the longest setup and payoff jokes I’ve ever seen in an action film. Most of the second act is a set up for one gag and it’s just about worth it, even if it can be seen coming from a mile away.
Leitch also admirably integrates new characters like Cable and Zazie Beetz’s Domino quickly and easily into the ensemble. It’s clear that Reynolds and crew don’t just fundamentally get Deadpool, but so does the entire supporting cast. The best part of Deadpool 2 by far is the Deadpool/Cable relationship. Playing the straight man to Deadpool without ever being ridiculous or ridiculed himself, each meeting between the two showcases the potential this franchise has. Domino is a bit too sidelined to quite match up – she’s more of a gimmick (she’s really lucky) given life than a fully-formed character, but there’s a lot of potential there.
So as much good stuff from the first film the filmmakers have been able to repeat without losing traction, what could be wrong? Well…
What problems Deadpool 2 has ultimately stem back to the unexpected success of Deadpool. With a worldwide success on their hands, no one has any inclination to examine that first film for faults, but instead they focus on repeating it as much as possible but more so. Which means while the highs have been replicated and even enhanced, so have the lows. One of the big issues which kept the character from coming to the screen for so long is that he is not a character in the traditional sense of the word, he is a transmission system for hijinks. Which is perfectly entertaining, and can work fine in serialized comics (particularly those aimed at a niche audience) but is a bit more of a roadblock when trying to transform the character for general audiences, a move that requires answering the question ‘what does Deadpool want?’
Prior to the first film, there was never any need (or long term attempt) to answer that question and in the process of developing Deadpool, the best answer anyone could come up with was generic action hero blandness: rescue his girlfriend. Stuck with such a generic backstory, glaringly out of step with the tone of the character and the film, Deadpool 2 doubles down as he becomes the unlikely protector of an obnoxious teenage mutant (Dennison) who will one day grow up to murder Cable’s family. It’s a move which requires Deadpool to sincerely state the unbelievable line “I fight for what is right,” which would be hard to put to pass muster coming out of Steve Rogers’ mouth, much less fitting into a Deadpool film. It is very, very difficult to spend all of your time taking the piss and then turn and ask for genuine emotional engagement. This was a problem the first Deadpool never solved and Deadpool 2 not only hasn’t solved it either but has required us to take even more notice of it. If the sequel has taken what worked the first time around and amped it up, it has also taken the first film’s weakest points and made out of them.
With higher highs and lower lows than Deadpool, the sequel has a lot of the problems all sequels do. Having such a strong starting point as it does, the end result is still incredibly entertaining with more laughs per minute than a big action movie really deserves. And if that’s all anyone wants out of the series, it can probably continue on as is for a long, long time. But if anyone involved wants to make as big a leap as the first film did, it’s time for the series to take some hard looks at itself.