Review: Deadpool 2 (2018)
Deadpool 2 is about as sappy a film as you can get, devoting most of its runtime to mourning the death of a lover and making heartfelt declarations about family. That this comes from a supposedly-transgressive franchise that’s known for its “edgy” fourth-wall-breaking humour is only disappointing if you think there’s anything truly novel about Deadpool. If, like me, you enjoy jokes with actual punchlines and don’t mistake tired conventions treated in a self-aware manner for actual innovation, you’ll find Deadpool 2 something of a dull slog. Yes, Ryan Reynolds continues to have impeccable comic timing and there is one sequence that is so much better than the rest of the film that it almost redeems it, but as a whole, Deadpool 2 is as tired and generic a superhero film as you can get.
The opening minutes of Deadpool 2 put the nail in the coffin of any notion that this is a transgressive franchise. On the night of their anniversary, Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) fails to kill one mercenary who ends up killing his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Deadpool drops his cynical facade and mourns his lost love, desperately wanting to join her in the afterlife, but he can’t get there unless he becomes a good person. He subsequently decides to prove that he’s a good person by dedicating himself to saving a young mutant, Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison), from a life of supervillainy. This puts Deadpool on a crash course with Cable (Josh Brolin), a disgruntled time traveller who has come back in time to kill Russell before he can become a monstrous genocidal maniac in the future who will kill Cable’s wife and child.
All of this sounds complicated, in the usual X-Men way, with time travel and alternate timelines and superpowers that seem tailormade to the narrative. There’s a hint of Rian Johnson’s Looper in this film’s approach to time travel and the possible redemption of a future monster, but the truth is that no one is really interested in the plot of a Deadpool movie when they watch one. They want jokes. The problem with Deadpool 2, and the style of comedy that it champions, is that its humour is dependent on its story being trite, and then pointing out that it’s trite.
This sort of self-aware meta-humour used to be cutting edge. A television show like Arrested Development used it to compensate for its limited budget and comment on sitcom dynamics, while Dan Harmon fashioned an entire comedy empire around shows obsessed with self-reference and elaborate callbacks and in-jokes. There’s nothing wrong with self-referential humour, per se—Arrested Development remains one the best comedies of all time and I still enjoy Dan Harmon’s work on Rick and Morty, even if his fans are psychotic—but self-referential humour can also be used as an excuse for laziness. And this is what happens with Deadpool 2.
Most of the jokes in Deadpool 2 rehash bland comments and criticisms of contemporary superhero movies. For instance, in the first shot of the film, Deadpool plays with a Wolverine toy and complains about how Logan killed off the beloved superhero, one-upping the R-rated novelty of his own first Deadpool movie. Later, Deadpool asks whether the conflict between him and Cable will be resolved by finding out that both of them have a mom named Martha, referencing an infamous moment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He even calls Cable “Thanos” at one point, pointing out that he, a movie character, is aware that Josh Brolin plays both characters. A guy in a movie pointed out a fact about the actor of the other guy in the movie? How clever!
None of these are actual jokes; they’re just statements of fact. Yes, Logan was an R-rated movie made after Deadpool and it did kill off Wolverine. Batman v Superman did have a scene where Batman doesn’t kill Superman because he finds out they both have mothers named Martha. Josh Brolin is also Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Relying on this type of humour is not clever; it’s lazy. And the actual narrative framework that all of these jokes hang on is equally lazy. Deadpool 2 manufactures a plot that celebrates outsiders, encourages heroism, and celebrates romance and family in the laziest ways possible, and in ways that every other X-Men film has dealt with before. It’s a film where the humour is shallow and the plot is perfunctory.
There is one key exception. Around midway through the film, Deadpool goes about recruiting his own version of the X-Men, which he calls X-Force. His team consists of D-list mutants with bizarre powers, like a guy who has acid vomit (played by It’s Bill Skarsgård) and a guy who is invisible (played by a Hollywood superstar in a one-shot cameo). There is also a woman who is unfathomably lucky (Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz) and a normal guy named Peter (Rob Delaney) who thought Deadpool’s recruitment flyers sounded fun. Deadpool and his X-Force go about trying to rescue Russell from Cable, but things go horribly wrong and most of the team is killed in gruesome, tragicomic ways.
The X-Force scenes work well because they don’t rely on meta-humour or Deadpool commenting on the shoddy plotting of the script. Instead, these scenes employ actual jokes, with setups and punchlines—the visual reveal of the invisible mutant is particularly good. Ryan Reynolds has always been a funny actor and he works best when he can play off ridiculous moments happening on screen around him, which happen in abundance in the X-Force scenes. However, the X-Force scenes are merely a brief diversion before we return to the main conflict between Deadpool and Cable and continue to wallow in the bland romance of Deadpool and his dead girlfriend.
Deadpool 2 rehashes the laziest tropes of the superhero genre, and tries to get away with it by slapping a winking veneer on top of it all, one that says, “Yes, our story is lazy, but it’s deliberately lazy, which is funny.” Except that it’s not. Despite new norms caused by the derangement of our current political times, merely pointing out deficiencies or cynically mentioning real-world absurdities does not count as humour. Making a superhero romance about how superhero romances are stupid is not clever.
I’d much rather watch most of the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than cynical comedies like Deadpool 2 because no matter how conventional the MCU films are, they are genuine about earning your emotional investment (with one big exception). Deadpool 2 just wants to sell you the same old crap you bought before, and thinks that by pointing out that you’re an idiot for buying it, they’re being clever enough as to warrant your praise.
4 out of 10
Deadpool 2 (2018, USA)
Directed by David Leitch; written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds; starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy, Stefan Kapičić, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Eddie Marsan, Shioli Kutsuna, Rob Delaney.