Director: David Leitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin, Eddie Marsan, TJ Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Briana Hildebrand, Shioli Kutsuna
It seems a strange, almost perverse thing to say of a film so coarse and violent, but the incredible success of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, which turned a comparatively modest US$58m budget into a US$783m worldwide gross, was one of the film industry’s feel good stories of 2016. It was both vindication for Ryan Reynolds who had worked tirelessly for the chance to redeem the character after its butchering in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and reward for 20th Century Fox’s willingness to take a chance on a superhero movie whose R-rating automatically ruled out a key demographic for superhero movies. A sequel, however, presents an entirely new challenge. Could a second film capture that same sense of freshness and difference, or would it just end up mimicking itself? Fortunately, Deadpool 2 not only lives up to the original, it arguably exceeds it on many fronts.
Things have been going pretty well for Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). Having taken his bad guy murdering global, work is good – as demonstrated in a montage to Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ which features more dismembering than has previously been associated with that song. On the home front Wade and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are celebrating another anniversary and thinking about starting a family. Wade is happy. However, when you have a character whose defining trait is that he uses humour as a defensive mechanism against pain, we know it won’t last long, and sure enough tragedy strikes and our hero is plunged into the depths of despair. Hoping to put him back together, Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) once again invites Deadpool to join the X-Men. His first mission as a trainee X-Man is answering an emergency call from the Essex Home for Mutant Rehabilitation where a young orphaned mutant, Russell (Julian Dennison), is flipping out. Of course, Deadpool being Deadpool a lot of people end up dead and both he and Russell find themselves in the Icebox, a special prison for mutants. While in there a time travelling cyborg from the post-apocalyptic future named Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives, determined to kill Russell for some reason, and Wade finds himself compelled to try and protect the young boy.
With David Leitch of Atomic Blonde and John Wick fame stepping into the director’s chair, and a roughly doubled budget, Deadpool 2 is a scaling up from the first film, but not too much. The first film established a point of difference in the superhero genre not just through its R-rated humour and violence, but through its lower stakes storytelling. The stakes in a Deadpool movie are always more personal, and that is part of its charm. While there is a scaling up of the narrative for the sequel, we are still dealing with a story that is comparatively modest by Marvel or DC movie standards. The fate of the world is not on the line here. Deadpool is just trying to save a kid.
In the film’s opening scene Deadpool informs us that this is to be a family movie. With the character of Deadpool already established, this sequel is about connecting him with other characters, so rarely do we see him operating on his own. Russell gives Deadpool an emotional foil. In order to protect Russell, Deadpool puts together a team of superheroes which he dubs X-Force – their first scene together is the high point of the movie, though not for the reason you might expect. The star of this new team, and the movie’s secret weapon, is Domino (Zazie Beetz), who carries herself with the supreme sense of self-confidence that would naturally come from a lifelong run of everything always working out in your favour. That is because Domino’s superpower is luck, which would seem uncinematic but proves to be exactly the opposite.
You would be hard pressed, outside of Stallone and Rocky, to find a closer actor-character bond than that between Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool. For Deadpool 2, Reynolds upped his involvement, joining Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick as a credited as a co-writer. Between them they have maintained the irreverent, self-aware, meta style which worked so well last time, while managing to dial up the comedy and, most impressively, sneak in some genuine emotion and character development. Deadpool 2 is, however, still not as subversive as it imagines itself to be. While operating on a lower stakes scale, its narrative is still a straight up and down superhero film. Reese, Wernick and Reynolds’ screenplay tries to have its cake and eat it too by resorting to cliche, but then self-consciously acknowledging that it is doing so, as though the wink to the audience excuses the worn out choice. Most disappointing, though, is the trope that it doesn’t acknowledge: the killing off of a female character in order to motivate a male protagonist. Such a common trope that a term has developed for it, ‘fridging,’ it is kind of surprising given the self-aware tone of the film that Deadpool himself doesn’t comment on it.
Amazing financial success brings with it bigger budgets and more freedom, but also grander expectations, so this sequel is not going to fly under any radars. Fortunately, Deadpool 2 can handle the spotlight, being a rare sequel that exceeds the original not only in scale, but in humour, depth and heart-felt emotion.
Review by Duncan McLean
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