The wisecracking superhero is back, once again trying to pass off snarky, self-referential gags as substance.
Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2.
Tell Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and he’d toss huge handfuls of them anyway. And, he’d happily, snarkily admonish everyone else for doing it, while maintaining a superior, self-assured position that when he hurls rocks through fragile panes, it’s rebellious and ironic, cooler and bloodier, and just completely different. That glaring contradiction lurked behind the character’s first big-screen outing, resulting in a film that attacked the by-the-numbers nature of the ever-growing superhero genre – peppering its sarcastic gags and one-liners with specific, name-checked examples of how other movies have failed and floundered – yet adhered to the usual derivative formula. The second verse doesn’t deviate from the first in Deadpool 2, with the ‘merc with a mouth’ back for more fourth-wall-breaking digs at comic book adaptations, all while serving up exactly what he’s smugly denouncing.
Basking in the afterglow of the first film’s origin story, Deadpool has been hopping around the world dispatching with wrongdoers with irreverent abandon, until a tragedy at home brings his gleeful international killing spree to an end. It takes his X-Men pals Colossus (Stefan Kapicic, TV’s Counterpart) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand, Tragedy Girls) to drag him out of his self-pity, although it’s orphaned New Zealand teenager Russell Collins (Julian Dennison, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople) who gives the cynical superhero a new sense of purpose. Attempting to protect Russell, whose preferred nickname of Firefist denotes his abilities, lands the two mutants in prison, but a bigger threat is afoot. When the gun-toting Cable (Josh Brolin, Avengers: Infinity War) travels back from the future to murder the troubled kid, Deadpool commits to stopping him, amassing his own definitely-not-X-Men squad – the X-Force – to help.
As much as eponymous figure keeps stressing that this isn’t your usual superhero effort, Deadpool 2 really is. Overcoming personal problems, enlisting a sidekick, saving an innocent and forming a group of protectors are as run-of-the-mill plot developments as returning scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – with the addition of Reynolds as a co-writer – could come up with, and they never feel otherwise. Indeed, if this sequel had really wanted to offer something its big-budget superhero counterparts haven’t, then calling out and owning its own flaws would’ve proven a start; identifying, embracing and improving upon them would’ve been a significant step forward. Instead, Deadpool 2 happily admits its own lazy writing when it makes for a pithy soundbite at one particular moment, but ignores the script’s same shortcomings when almost everything else feels a little too easy, obvious, clichéd or convenient, aka often.
Specifically, when there are laughs to be cultivated, anything is fair game: not only poking fun at other caped crusaders and their template-like movies, but winking and nodding at the audience through meta-textual jokes about Deadpool’s original appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wolverine’s swansong in Logan, Reynolds’ cinematic resume in general, the feature’s own success and the fact that Brolin just played another bad guy in another superhero flick. When the show must go on in the standard manner, however, Deadpool 2 is simply souped-up with swearing, gorier violence, devil-may-care sensibilities and throwaway quips. The film’s subversion proves skin-deep at best, and barely even that; it’s a suit slapped over something average to make it fit a particular image, much like Wade Wilson dons Deadpool’s red attire to hide his cancer-riddled body. Brandishing a distinctive personality might make the movie stand out from the crowd, but it can’t patch over the fact that, underneath, it’s really just like everything else.
More than that, pushing the feature’s in-your-face approach into viewers’ faces isn’t just an attitude; it’s what Deadpool 2 passes off as substance. Lampooning other films isn’t the same as offering a significant alternative, and isn’t enough to bolster the movie’s cursory array of fight scenes. When they’re not drowning under CGI, the action sequences are well-staged though, with director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) in his element. One particular standout also showcase’s the feature’s brightest light among its sizeable cast of characters: Domino (Zazie Beetz, Atlanta), whose superpower is luck, and whose ability to find her way through any situation provides Deadpool 2’s most entertaining moments.
In fact, while Reynolds might spend much of the film slinging barbs with Dennison – who holds his own yet never quite reaches his Wilderpeople heights – and trading blows with Brolin’s surprisingly thoughtful villain, the actor is at his best when he’s matched with Beetz. Overall, Reynolds still illustrates why he’s the right person to step into Deadpool’s suit, but the duo’s back-and-forth banter is sharp and is given time to make an imprint amongst the screenplay’s rapid-fire gag-a-minute onslaught. Plus, it demonstrates how Deadpool 2 can succeed, even if only momentarily, when it fleshes out its protagonist within its own story, rather than propping him up with knowing wisecracks and potshots at the rest of popular culture. Their pairing sets a hopeful scene for the X-Force-focused effort that’s set to follow, although it also thrusts this movie’s glaring issues further into the spotlight. When Deadpool 2 is boasting about great it is and claiming it’s different, it’s a slog. When the film branches beyond that, it might fall back on the very elements it attempts to satirise, but that’s preferable to a flick that’s pretending otherwise while laughing at its own jokes.
Directors: David Leitch
US, 2018, 119 mins
Release date: May 16
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level