We are well past the point where an obscure comic-book property getting its own prosperous franchise is surprising. Before Iron Man changed the trajectory of summer blockbusters a decade ago, the character himself largely was a supporting player on the page. Hell, in a couple months, audiences will be packing theaters to the see the sequel to 2015’s blandly charismatic Ant-Man. Still, the unmitigated success of the original Deadpool felt like a shock to the senses in that it revolved around a titular character whose shtick is relentlessly crass, juvenile and dependent on uber-fanboy inside jokes. The film itself made up for a lot of its eye-rolling gags with an oddball charm and breezy pacing.
Deadpool 2 skates by on that same charm while improving upon the original on nearly every front — largely thanks to new director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) who lends the sequel stylized visuals and fluid, engaging action that had hitherto been missing. The humor, though occasionally grating, also succeeds with much more frequency this time around. Fox and Ryan Reynolds have carved out their own goofy niche in the cinematic superhero landscape, and its relative lack of interest in universe-building and overblown spectacle should provide a refreshing tonic to those still weary from the bloat of Avengers: Infinity War.
Our antihero’s journey begins par for the course, as the Merc With a Mouth is busy being just that, taking assassination gigs from his pal Weasel (TJ Miller, whose role seems to have been reduced in the editing room after joining the #MeToo movement in a most egregious manner) and stabbing and shooting bad guys in trademark Looney Tunes fashion. When he’s not slaughtering faceless goons, Wade Wilson is still shacked up with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), his underwritten love interest from the previous film utilized here in even clumsier fashion.
After a group of Russian thugs brutally intrudes on Wade and Vanessa’s domestic bliss, tragedy occurs, and Deadpool spends much of the first act moping around as Sadpool. The first 30 minutes or so take a while to get going, as it leaves the audience wondering just where the film is headed. Fortunately, the plot begins in earnest once DP is sent to a mutant prison after a botched attempt to rescue a troubled mutant kid (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison). It’s then that we’re introduced to the gruff, time-traveling cyborg Cable (Josh Brolin, great as the thinly veiled Terminator ripoff), who’s hellbent on killing the kid to prevent a future catastrophe as well as for Personal Reasons.
Once that belabored setup is out of the way, Deadpool 2 can finally go about flexing its greatest strengths: fast-flying, ludicrous humor and surprisingly strong new cast additions in the form of Zazie Beetz as Domino and the aforementioned Brolin. In the comics, Deadpool often worked best as a supporting player, particularly in Rick Remender’s outstanding run on Uncanny X-Force, a team shown in its infant stages here. Giving the character other personalities to bounce off of leads to some of the film’s best moments, particularly during the super-team’s disastrous first mission, which ends up being the most uproariously funny sequence in a mainstream comedy so far this year.
Listen: Your mileage on a movie like this will vary wildly depending on how amused or annoyed you are by Reynold’s motormouth style of quipping and eager-to-shock sensibilities. Like I mentioned earlier, this is undoubtedly a shtick, and at its best, the off-the-wall one-liners and outright silliness feel like Marvel’s own version of Airplane! How many times have you seen a superhero smash his face into a mound of cocaine before attempting suicide? Deadpool’s healing factor is once again toyed with here in a bit that starts off feeling like a retread of the tiny-hand gag from the last movie until it evolves into something far more bizarre.
At worst, the whole thing can feel a bit desperate with the 2edgy4U humor and references to Marvel and DC movies nobody will even understand in 10 years. Really, how many people are going to connect the Brolin of this movie to his role as Thanos or even remember Green Lantern? This is a tendency that greatly held back the first film and is, luckily, less prevalent in this sequel.
A few half-hearted attempts are made toward generating pathos and a (totally hypocritical) message against violence in the final stretch. But it seems like everyone involved here knows these movies work best when they’re occupying an irreverent space that no other titles in the genre currently inhabit. Like the eponymous character himself, Deadpool 2 is alternately annoying and endearing. But ultimately, you’re glad to see him around.