FILM REVIEW – DEADPOOL 2. With Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller. Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds. Directed by David Leitch. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material. 119 minutes.
The surprise 2016 smash “Deadpool” was like being stuck watching an off-brand “X-Men” knock-off while sitting next to an unsupervised eleven-year-old who had just discovered the f-word and wouldn’t stop flicking boogers at the screen. A blandly corporate “subversion” of superhero cash cows starring the blandly “irreverent” Ryan Reynolds, this lazily plotted and shoddily assembled picture offered the novelty of a potty-mouthed protagonist breaking the fourth wall and heckling the film’s tired tropes while nonetheless religiously following all the exhausted formulas it purported to mock. Some movies like to have their cake and eat it too. “Deadpool” had its cake, made fun of the cake for being lame, and then ate more cake.
A significant improvement over the original while still not being particularly good, DEADPOOL 2 begins with our obnoxious anti-hero Wade Wilson in a pit of suicidal despair, unable to even kill himself thanks to those pesky mutant regeneration powers. Because movies like this are made for little boys who are terrified of powerful women, it has already swiftly disposed of Wade’s sexually adventurous girlfriend (Morena Baccarin) before the opening title sequence, wherein director David Leitch kiddingly credits himself as “one of the guys who killed John Wick’s dog” to let us know he means business.
Leitch, a former stuntman who also helmed last summer’s none-too-shabby Charlize Theron vehicle “Atomic Blonde,” has a surer hand and a less gratingly bro-tastic sense of humor than original “Deadpool” director, Tim Miller. (At least this time I didn’t leave the theatre feeling drenched in AXE Body Spray.) The sequel leans into the story’s sappier elements, which unexpectedly makes Reynolds’ smarmy, adolescent posturing a bit easier to bear. “Deadpool 2” isn’t trying so hard to pretend like it’s something “dangerous” or “edgy” and is perfectly content to be a typical summer superhero smash-up that’s slightly snarkier than the competition across the hall.
During a failed tryout as a trainee for the X-Men, our despondent Wade takes an interest in an abused orphan (Julian Dennison of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) who possesses massive mutant powers and the mediocre moniker Firefist. Unfortunately for all, Josh Brolin’s snarling cyborg assassin Cable has just beamed himself back here from the future, Terminator-style, to kill the little brat before he can embark upon a career of genocidal supervillainy. So it’s basically the baby Hitler argument, or “Looper.”
The ploddingly-plotted “Deadpool 2” at long last kicks into gear somewhere around the one-hour mark, when Wade hastily assembles an all-star super-team called “X-Force” to go rescue the kid and immediately gets most of them killed in spectacularly grisly fashion. Leitch has a real knack for Rube Goldberg mayhem, particularly in scenes involving perpetual survivor Domino (the hugely appealing Zazie Beetz) whose sole superpower is “luck” and thus always leaves behind her a trail of catastrophic coincidences. This is visually witty stuff.
Reynolds’ hit-and-miss, “ain’t I a stinker?” asides are tempered by fine deadpan reactions from Stefan Kapicic’s Colossus and the second unexpectedly modulated Josh Brolin Marvel supervillain performance in as many months. “Deadpool 2” ultimately attempts to skewer the dour self-importance of last year’s “Logan” but also tries to jerk tears with sad orphan kids and heavenly dream sequences set to a mournful, acoustic rendition of A-ha’s “Take on Me.”
For all Deadpool’s vulgar showboating, this is still a careful, corporate product and nowhere near genuinely transgressive takes on costumed heroes like Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” or James Gunn’s “Super.” It’s a film full of edgy, R-rated language and a safe, PG-13 sensibility.•••
Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.