It ain’t easy being Deadpool.
I’m not talking about his full-body scars, his questionable mental state, or the fact that his life finds new and interesting ways to wind up in the toilet, though - I’m talking about the weight of expectations. It’s been two years since the Regenerating Degenerate headlined his own movie starring rapid-fire snarker Ryan Reynolds- which in itself was spearheaded by the unlikely leak of some almost instantly viral test footage - and let’s be honest, Wade made some serious bank, deftly juggling over-the-top action with some choice skewering of the superhero genre’s most enduring tropes.
But with all that well-deserved fame and fortune, how does a movie follow up on that success, now that it’s arguably a banner standard for the genre it was spoofing? That’s ultimately the question that Deadpool 2 struggles to answer, as it ups the ante with its superheroic scale as well as its accompanying metacommentary, but at the cost of some of the rough-around-the-edges attitude that made the first film such a surprising smash. While fans will likely cheer at the choice inclusion of X-Force characters such as Josh Brolin’s Cable or Zazie Beetz’s Domino, you can’t help but notice how much softer and hazier this sequel feels, both in terms of tone as well as the spotlight of its central character.
Opening with some deeply funny commentary on the state of the last R-rated X-Men film, Deadpool 2 shows us that Wade Wilson has hit rock bottom — he’s had some surprising personal losses rock him to the core, and his life’s direction is seriously in question. Without giving too much away, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, teaming up with Reynolds himself for a co-writing credit, take an unexpected angle for Wade’s arc, but you can’t help but notice that the tone of this sequel has certainly swerved to a happier, warmer Deadpool than what we’ve seen before — this Wade is itching to be a family man, and the movie’s occasionally gooey themes of teamwork and family are about one wife-beater and a Civic away from being a Fast and the Furious movie. It strikes me as a surprising detour from the first Deadpool movie, which was many things, but sentimental wasn’t one of them.
This sense of sentimentality, which works best with Reynolds’ scenes with Morena Baccarin, winds up sanding down the previous movie’s scrappier sensibilities, which had struck a winning balance between trash-talk dick jokes, in-your-face intense action, and deeply satisfying pokes at the superhero movie craze. But with this sequel, the meta jokes can’t help but feel already a little dated and overdone — asking if Josh Brolin’s Cable was from the ultra-dark DC movie universe, a hilarious sight gag involving the X-Men, or a sly dig at Reynolds’ past as a has-been Green Lantern are definitely funny beats, but at the same time, when Wade winces at his own “superhero landing,” you can’t help but wince along with him. While many of the jokes work individually, watching them all cumulatively shows there’s a thin line between “maximum effort” and beating a dead horse.
Yet at the same time, another word I could use to describe the first Deadpool movie would have been “disjointed,” and in that regard, Deadpool 2 does a good job at correcting some of the problems that plagued the first movie. Let’s be honest — I’m not sure a lot of people cared about the villainous Ajax or his mutant factory, and the first Deadpool often dragged when Wade wasn’t actively hunting the guy down. In that regard, Deadpool 2’s main plot feels like a more personal affair, as Wade crosses paths with Julian Dennison’s teenage pyrokinetic Firefist, who has been clearly abused at a fundamentalist school for mutants — while Wade’s embers of compassion lead him to try to redeem the revenge-hungry kid before he goes on a murder spree, it also puts him at cross-purposes with the time-traveling Cable, sent on a sort of reverse-Terminator mission to put down the young mutant before he goes bad in the future.
And speaking of Cable, Josh Brolin is two for two in terms of comic book roles this summer — while I think his impact here is muffled a bit thanks to his winning performance as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Brolin still looks like he was ripped straight out of the comics, with a Clint Eastwood-style glare that cuts through Wade just as much as his futuristic weaponry. Cable’s ultimately at his best when he’s able to show off his weird, old-man sense of humor, like the fact that he carries around a fanny pack as a “utility pouch” over his shoulder. Meanwhile, Zazie Beetz’s Domino has a low-stress charm in every scene, as her “luck” powers often give her a much, much smoother landing than the rest of her teammates. (Speaking of, the scene involving the rest of the X-Force team culminate in a delicious punchline that would be criminal for me to spoil here.)
That said, the first movie was ultimately anchored by the off-the-charts excellent highway battle that punctuated a solid half of the movie — and unfortunately, director David Leitch doesn’t quite surpass his predecessor Tim Miller in terms of the action. There are a lot of action sequences here — a three-pronged battle between Cable, Deadpool and Domino across a busy city street being the easy highlight of the film — but without that crazy, Rube Goldberg-style of cause-and-effect energy permeating through the action sequences, you can’t help but feel a little numb at times, particularly with a big, self-admitted CGI fight between Colossus and another cameo that would be rude to spoil.
Still, one of Deadpool 2’s biggest liabilities is that it doesn’t know when to say goodbye to its supporting cast. T.J. Miller, embroiled in his own controversies, would have been an easy cut as Weasel, especially since Karan Soni’s cab driver Dopinder gets a hilarious personal arc in the film (seriously, he steals the show in almost every scene he’s in), while mainstays like Blind Al or Teenage Negasonic Warhead could have been lost with zero consequence. I’ll be honest, it’s kind of baffling to me why Colossus, easily the weakest part of the first movie, is given even more screen time in the sequel, given that he sinks the movie like a lead weight every time he appears on screen. (Even Wade’s uncomfortable humor with the X-Man could have been cut-and-paste to give him more time annoying Cable, which would have been a win-win across the board.) Being more economic with the supporting cast would have also helped in a big way with the structure of the film, particularly when the finale of the film feels honestly like a bit of an unearned cheat. (Without giving too much away, the post-credits sequence is so energetic and inventive that one can’t help but wonder how it would have served as the entire third act.)
Granted, Deadpool as a concept often works as armor to many of these critiques — the character by design breaks the fourth wall but doesn’t take himself too seriously, and the movie itself often calls itself out on foreshadowing, rights limitations, or just plain lazy writing. And make no mistake, this accomplishes a lot of heavy lifting, giving Deadpool 2 a sense of energy that propels its never-ending supply of jokes, even if the gags feel a little more uneven than the first film. (And despite my occasional knocks on the movie, there’s a gag involving baby legs that is probably the funniest, weirdest thing I’ve seen all year.) Ultimately, it just means that Deadpool 2 is a very different animal than its predecessor — it is a solid piece of fan services whose lows are never as low but its highs never quite reach the heights of its foul-mouthed forebearer. But ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Regenerating Degenerate read that and dried his tears the only way he knew how — with cold, hard cash.