Two years later, itâ€™s hard to pinpoint exactly what was so enjoyable about the first Deadpool movie. Was it the action? The fourth-wall-breaking? The swearing? The cocaine and masturbation jokes? Well … yes. A hard-R bloodbath that gleefully polluted the pristine sea of squeaky-clean superhero movies, Deadpool went on to make more than $783 million worldwide at the box office. It was the kind of success that guarantees a sequel. Of course, that sequel faced an entirely new problem from its very conception: living up to its predecessor.
In theory, this shouldnâ€™t be that hard. Star Ryan Reynolds and director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) presumably had more money to work with this time around. The cast is bigger, and includes Atlantaâ€™s Zazie Beetz (the lucky hero Domino) and Thanos himself, Josh Brolin (the cyborg Cable). But thereâ€™s one thing no amount of money and star power can give: the element of surprise. Deadpool got a lot of mileage out of the fact that no one outside the character’s die-hard fandom saw it coming. A sequel canâ€™t do that. It can, and often does, coast on the fumes of the first one; it can also just be a total letdown. But Deadpool 2 doesnâ€™t just match the originalâ€”it cuts it off at the knees and gives its hero a whole new set of legs to run on. (This is both a metaphor and an actual plot point.)
Deadpool 2 opens on Wolverine. Well, a figurine of Wolverine. Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) is none too happy that his Marvel brother has also gotten himself an R-rated movie and heâ€™s celebrating Loganâ€™s demise by showing a miniature of the clawed hero impaled on a tree, just as he was at the end of Logan. Cut to Deadpool, splayed out on drums of fuel, smoking a cigarette. “Guess what, Wolvie?” he says. “In this one, Iâ€™m dying too.” He flicks the smoldering butt and is blown to bits along with his entire apartment, his armâ€”middle finger outstretchedâ€”flying toward the audience.
He, of course, survives, and through a flashback and fast-forward viewers discover out why he had a deathwish and how he can get over it. Cue the 007-themed, Celine Dion-accompanied, completely tongue-in-cheek opening credits.
After being picked up and dusted off by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool returns to the X-Mansion to convalesce. While still an X-Men trainee, he encounters Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeopleâ€™s brilliant Julian Dennison), a gifted orphan threatening to destroy the home where heâ€™s been living to get revenge on its abusive headmaster. Deadpool tries to stop, then ultimately helps, Russellâ€™s efforts and soon enough they both find themselves in a mutant prison known as the â€œIcebox.â€�
Enter: Cable, a cyborg from the future (or an “old fuck with a Winter Soldier arm,” if youâ€™re Wade) who is looking to kill Russell to fulfill a weird twist on the Hitler time-travel paradox. The kid gets away, but sets in motion a series of events that brings together Deadpoolâ€™s “forward-thinking, gender-neutralâ€� X-Force super-team and gives Deadpool 2 a much stronger narrative arc, and emotional payoff, than its predecessor.
Thatâ€™s not to say the Deadpool sequel is in any way a serious film. The genius of the script, which Reynolds wrote with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, still lies in its jokes and sight gags. There are riffs for comics fansâ€”punchlines about “Martha” and Domino being created by “a guy who canâ€™t draw feet”â€”and general-interest pop culture bits. (Personal fave: A visual shout-out to a-haâ€™s fourth-wall-breaking, comic-book-invoking “Take on Me” music video.) The X-Force’s first mission feels like something out of Macgruber, in the best way possible. Thereâ€™s an A-list celebrity cameo that somehow makes perfect sense, a Rob Delaney appearance that has already become a cult favorite, and a moment that once and for all closes the book on Reynolds’ disastrous Green Lantern.
Not everyone, obviously, will succumb to Deadpool 2â€™s charms. Jen Yamato at the Los Angeles Times noted it can often feel like “more of the same.” Thatâ€™s fair. The movie is nothing if not overstuffed. There are rarely breaks from the snark and one-liners. But amidst the piss-taking is a subversive superhero film with more than a few high-action set piecesâ€”which, once Domino enters the fray, become a wonder of Goldbergian choreography. (Leitch was a stuntman and stunt coordinator for years before taking up directing and, as Atomic Blonde proved, knows his way around a fight scene.) And in a cinematic world where the comic-book-adaptation poles are Shiny and Smart Marvel Heroes and Dark and Brooding DC Heroes, itâ€™s nice to go off the grid every once in a while.
As Deadpool 2 builds to its surprisingly heartfelt ending, it becomes apparent that this sequel actually set out to be a movie, not just a series of jokes stuck to a Macguffin. Thereâ€™s a story, and feelings, and theyâ€™re real! This is still a Deadpool movie, though; as soon as the credits roll, it takes a page from the other Marvel films and inserts sequence that restores all the fourth-wall frivolity that set these films apart from almost everything else in the genre. It ends as it began: giving a middle finger to anyone with the gall to call themselves a hero and take the title seriously.
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