There’s a lot to roll your eyes at, but it’s impossible not to pop for Reynolds.
Though there’s something undeniably lowest common denominator about Deadpool as a pop cultural icon, Deadpool 2, the sequel to the 2016 runaway hit, has just enough charm to entertain more highbrow viewers. But those same viewers may have difficulty comprehending how the spectacle unfolding before their eyes could even exist.
See, everything about the first film’s mainstream success was baffling. The anti-hero’s origins within Marvel’s X-Men mythos are humble, at best. Given how much trouble the studio has had with any non-Wolverine element of the source material, the idea that Fox, after years of bungling the rights to the X-universe, would make a solo movie based on such an obscure character (as a starring vehicle for the perennially underutilized Ryan Reynolds of all people), is a minor miracle, but it’s even wilder that it’s the second highest grossing R-rated film–behind The Passion of The Christ.
The only reason Wade Wilson, the indestructible jabber jaw mercenary addicted to breaking the fourth wall, endured long enough to make it to the big screen when most early ‘90s action comics heroes have not is that he grew into more of an interminable meme than a living, breathing character. For those who can barely stomach the MCU’s interpretation of the superhero genre on screen, Deadpool the character must seem more like an extended “Family Guy” cutaway gag than the central figure of a lucrative franchise.
But Deadpool functioned as well as it did because it smartly balanced the irritating, winking nods for fanboys that typify popular depictions of the character with the semblance of a coherent, emotionally resonant love story. The relationship between Wade and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) kept that film from being a glorified parody picture. Likewise, Deadpool 2 picks up with our two lovebirds preparing to start a family, the next logical step in their respective arcs. Unfortunately, an act one development puts a wrench in those plans, setting the Merc with a Mouth onto a new journey that requires an expanding cast and the very meta groundwork being laid for an eventual X-Force spin-off.
Those new cast additions include Josh Brolin as Cable, a gun-toting time traveler with an axe to grind; Zazie Beetz (of “Atlanta”) as Domino, a mutant with the presumably uncinematic power of luck; and the young mutant Firefist, portrayed by Julian Dennison from Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Each performer, especially Brolin, steals the show in their own little ways, fitting within Deadpool’s world without just being carbon copies of the protagonist. (The same cannot be said for returning cast member TJ Miller, who just does a watered down version of Wade’s colorful swearing gimmick. Seriously, saying things like “pumpkinfucker” isn’t comedy.)
Though the cast has expanded and the budget has increased, the scope has wisely remained somewhat static. It would have been easy to just make this movie bigger, longer and more convoluted than its predecessor, but returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (alongside star Reynolds, who gets a writing credit) keep things largely level. John Wick co-helmer David Leitch is a talented action director, but his work isn’t enough of a step-up from Tim Miller’s to take note. This is essentially a sequel that adequately reproduces the formula of the original without mucking it up or pushing things too far.
For a franchise as unruly and button pushing as Deadpool, that amount of restraint is laudable. The difference is most notable is in how intricate and ubiquitous the inter-genre references get. This is a movie made for a certain kind of audience, so Deadpool can brazenly make “jokes” about other superhero movies and they register laughs as a kind of communal acknowledgement of fact. While most of this just isn’t funny, you can’t help but celebrate that this movie can even get made—and be a guaranteed success.
It was hard for this reviewer not to laugh at the notion that a character as ridiculous as Cable was running around on screen played so seriously by an actor like Josh Brolin while a French Montana song blared in surround sound. In some ways, this is less a movie than a weaponized victory lap for geek culture: the Hollywood system is so broken that Deadpool is a bigger commodity than Superman.
For regular people, however, watching a superhero reference superhero movies won’t be enough. For them, the movie functions best as a delivery system for Ryan Reynolds’ brilliant comedic performance. Say what you will about the Deadpool shtick, but Reynolds sells it with peerless execution. He’s like Shane Black writing Daffy Duck, the perfect mixture of ultraviolence and cartoonish masochism. If Hugh Jackman was able to get 17 years out of playing Wolverine, who knows how many more outings Reynolds will get under the blood red mask?
Unlike Jackman, Reynolds gives the distinct impression he could do this the rest of his life and never get bored. His central performance is elastic enough that Deadpool could get dropped into a more somber film and still work as comic relief. In this one, he gets stretched to the limit of bearability without going overboard. There’s a lot to roll your eyes at, but it’s impossible not to pop for Reynolds with his gross hamburger face singing a song from Yentl, knowing it’s going to be one of the most popular films of the year.