Deadpool 2 picks up sometime after Deadpool, with Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, this time not only the star and producer but also a credited writer, alongside Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick) now a working mercenary, taking out criminals around the world. The opening scene ups the ante on the comic book splatter-gore, courtesy direction by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick). Leitch proves a good match for Reynolds as performer as his visual style is as over-the-top as Reynolds’ performance, and Deadpool 2 zings along on their combined energy, never flagging or losing momentum. It’s not a difficult movie to watch, between the pace of the action and the pace of the jokes, but whether or not it’s “fun” is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
There are a million jokes, surprisingly a lot of them do not work at all. A few cheap shots at competitors Marvel-mark-Avengers and DC earn half-hearted huffs at best—except for one joke about Hawkeye that lands well, and also made my nerd heart shiver at the thought of a “Hawkeye vs. Deadpool” movie, it’s a GREAT comic, shut up—but jokes about Wade’s precarious place within the X-Men universe go over much better. In fact, the movie is strongest when it’s about Wilson finding his place within a team. He might not be cut out for the X-Men, but he attempts to found his own team, the X-Force, and the best part of the movie is when Wade auditions and attempts a mission with his new team (do not blink or you will miss a SPECTACULAR cameo).
Deadpool 2 is propelled by Wilson’s search for a family after his own is taken away. The movie is guilty of the worst of comic book sins, fridging a woman for a male protagonist’s emotional growth, but then it tries to make up for that by introducing Domino (Zazie Beetz in a breakout performance), the most successful of Wade’s X-Force recruits. Her power is luck, meaning she can waltz unscathed through a fight, only to have disaster befall everyone around her. She takes the place of Wade’s previous female side-kick, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who only pops up for a few short scenes. It is notable, though, that NTW now has a girlfriend, fellow X-Man Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna). A lot of blockbuster movies claim LGBTQ representation they don’t actually represent, Deadpool 2 never made a big deal out of NTW and Yukio, but there they are, openly a couple. It’s nice but in no way makes up for the presence of TJ Miller, though his role, too, is limited to a few short scenes.
In a lot of ways Deadpool 2 is the same movie as Deadpool, though it looks better thanks to a bigger budget and Leitch’s stellar fight scenes. But it is trying to do more, emotionally, than the first one. Wade makes reluctant friends with a troubled teenaged mutant, Russell (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), a real Ricky Baker type, just with fire fists. (If you haven’t seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople yet, I can’t help you.) And he becomes frenemies with a cyborg assassin from the future, Cable (Josh Brolin), who is hunting down Russell before he turns into a destructive adult. Yes, Deadpool 2 is pretty much just Looper, but it executes the “cynical anti-hero grows through friendship” thing well enough to stand on its own.
Still, it’s incapable of taking itself seriously. Not that a Deadpool movie should be a serious affair, but Deadpool 2 cannot let any moment breathe without throwing out five rapid-fire jokes. The Avengers movies are often accused of bathos, but Deadpool 2 is by far the most egregious offender on this score. Sure, Wade Wilson is a motor-mouth, but some emotional beats are begging to be given their proper moment, and Deadpool 2 stomps on them every time. It can’t even stick to the big emotional motivator from the opening, undoing tragedy with time travel. The Avengers are probably going to be guilty of this in a year’s time, but at least they’re giving the end of Infinity War a year to sit with itself. Deadpool 2 makes a bold choice, even if it is a bad cliché, and then can’t stick with it for even two hours.
If Deadpool didn’t work for you, Deadpool 2 definitely will not work for you. It’s a typical sequel of the “bigger, louder, more” variety, which means the jokes-and-blood tone of the first movie reaches new, orgiastic heights in entry #2. But if you did like Deadpool, then Deadpool 2 should be fine, because it’s everything you like about the first one, plus a better narrative that has some weight to it (at least temporarily). Deadpool doesn’t hold up because there is nothing to it under the jokes and meta-references, but Deadpool 2 attempts to tell a story, and mostly succeeds in doing so. It might hold up, if watching it once doesn’t exhaust you completely.