By the time Deadpool 2 reaches its closing credits it’ll have accomplished a lot of things, some of them quite surprising. It’ll have made jokes about the current spate of superhero movies, Marvel’s and DC’s both (yes, including a “Martha” gag); it’ll have ended on an oddly poignant emotional note; it’ll have poked fun at everything from former Presidents to RoboCop to The Time Traveller’s Wife and Interview With A Vampire; and it’ll even have managed to squeeze in a reckoning with the character’s much-maligned origins and perhaps the greatest Green Lantern joke ever told.
Look, I’m as surprised as you are.
Things begin irreverently enough, with Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, aka Ryan Reynolds, constructing an authentic model of an impaled Wolverine circa last year’s Logan and huffing gas from an oven before detonating 12,000 gallons of test fuel with a promise directly to Wolvy himself that, yes, Deadpool will be dying in this one too. “The Merc with a Mouth” isn’t one to be upstaged.
I won’t spoil whether or not that promise is kept, although you wouldn’t believe me even if I did. But Deadpool 2 treats it with enough seriousness to rewind to a few days or weeks or whatever earlier, so we can see what led to his mushrooming despair. It’s a tale that involves the gleeful removal of child-traffickers’ limbs scored to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”, a first-date anniversary with Wade’s fiancée, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who’s ready to start a family, and a tragedy you’ll probably see coming. This is, so we’re told, courtesy of “one of the guys who killed the dog in John Wick.”
Which is true, by the way. Deadpool 2 is directed by former stuntman David Leitch, who did indeed share a co-credit on Keanu Reeves’s peerless gun-fu revenge fantasy and more recently brought us the strobe-lit ice-baths of Atomic Blonde. His presence certainly helps to lend Deadpool 2 a fair helping of action sequences that outdo the original’s, while the script, co-written again by Reynolds along with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, substantially upgrades that film’s plot, characters, villain, structure and swerves.
I should note, again, that I’m as surprised as you are. The first film worked on the level of a much-needed anarchic subversion, arriving at just the right time in the superhero movie zeitgeist to feel like a welcome antidote to the Marvel monopoly and DC’s dreary depressants. (And, I suppose, a pre-emptive strike against whatever the X-Men movies were doing a year later, which I still haven’t quite figured out.) But the title character’s snarky self-referential shtick didn’t feel like it had enough legs for a second go-around; thanks to a certain extended sight gag in this movie, the fact it did will make that sentence a surprisingly good joke.
But in seeming anticipation of those film-school dorks who insist that adhering to the template you’re supposedly subverting doesn’t actually work as a subversion, Deadpool 2 obviously decided it’d build a really rather good action-comedy atop of all the fourth-wall breaking and snarky in-jokes, just in case. In doing so, it almost perfects the form that nearly 800 million dollars of global box office takings suggested the first film introduced pretty well.
So, after some typical trademark misdemeanours, Deadpool finds himself in an icy mutant prison alongside a chubby teenager, Russell (Julian Dennison), who prefers to go by the name “Firefist” thanks to a somewhat obvious power that his abuse-related anger-management issues make difficult to control. Into this mix is thrown a time-travelling cyborg known as Cable (Josh Brolin), who has arrived from the future to murder Russell for predictably apocalyptic reasons.
To protect the kid, Deadpool, with the help of his bartender pal Weasel (T.J. Miller) and his regular cabbie Dopinder (Karan Soni), sets up his own progressive, gender-neutral (his words) superhero team he dubs the X-Force. Most of them are one-note characters in limited roles, including a perfectly ordinary bloke who joins up because he saw the poster and it looked like fun, but a new character, Domino (Zazie Beetz), gets a lot to do and is worth mentioning, in no small part because her superpower is just being really lucky. (You can imagine how much mileage that has.) Also on-deck are the X-Men from the first film, including the square tin-man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who has a girlfriend now, as well as Deadpool’s former roommate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) and an iconic X-Men villain whose identity would constitute a spoiler.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on here, don’t panic. Leitch’s direction is more than capable of maintaining clarity during the busier sequences, and the script smartly trims the players down as things go on, either getting rid of them entirely or just shuffling them into the margins until they’re needed. Besides, the driving dramatic force of the movie comes from the relationship between Deadpool and Cable; Reynolds, as always, seems so suited to the role that you can scarcely imagine him doing anything else with his career, and Brolin proves once again that he’s a dab hand at supervillainy. In fact, the weirdly touching finale works mostly on the strength of his performance, even if it doesn’t quite have the confidence to go where it looks as though it might.
In a way, though, you’ll probably be thankful that it didn’t. Against all odds, Deadpool 2 manages to recapture lightning – and in the same bottle, no less. It’s funny, profane, subversive, sometimes serious, and always seriously entertaining. It might be a surprise, but it sure is a pleasant one.