Tuesday, May 15, 2018

REVIEW: Deadpool 2

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
The first Deadpool exploded onto the pop culture landscape largely because of the element of surprise. Most people weren’t too familiar with the hyperviolent, wisecracking, fourth wall-breaking antihero. So when Ryan Reynolds introduced general audiences to a masked vigilante that mocked comic book movies – after a nearly a decade of big-budget features teaching audiences what the blueprint looked like – it breathed new, profane life into a genre that many were starting to take for granted.

That’s why I approached Deadpool 2 with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. Could the creative team work their magic again, with heightened expectations and the law of diminishing returns working against them?

I’m pleased (and a little shocked) to report that not only does Deadpool 2 recapture the hilarious, raunchy energy of the original, it might actually be better. That’s a credit to the hard work and creative energy of Reynolds, who co-wrote the screenplay with returning duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, as well David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick) who took over as director after Tim Miller departed over creative differences. 

As with most sequels, the budget is bigger and the stakes are higher. Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is finally enjoying life now that he has reconnected with his beloved Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) while also still eviscerating bad guys as his super-powered alter ego. But that changes when time-traveling solider Cable (Josh Brolin) suddenly emerges on his radar, determined to kill a young, troubled mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison).

Deadpool likes to pretend he doesn’t have a heart, but deep down he’s a softie. That means he can’t let Cable get to the kid, even if there is a compelling motive behind the time-traveler’s mission. So the Merc with the Mouth – as comic fans know him – assembles his own, low-rent version of the X-Men to protect Russell. As you might imagine, things get a little out of hand.

For the most part, Deadpool 2 subscribes to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it philosophy.” There’s the same propensity for graphic violence and dirty jokes (the target demo for this movie is clearly 13-year-old boys who will have to buy a ticket for something else and sneak in), as well as a “please like me, look how hard I’m trying!” attitude that’s somehow endearing instead of annoying. The jokes are practically nonstop, so it’s okay if a gag falls flat here and there. A better one will come along shortly.

That’s primarily because Reynolds is an absolutely incredible one-liner delivery system. It has taken him a couple of decades, but the actor has finally found the perfect role for his specific combination of talents. He also exhibits terrific chemistry with Brolin, who’s great as Cable. Their different strengths as performers (one chatty and sarcastic, the other stoic and imposing) work well together when they’re fighting each other and also when they ultimately join forces to pursue a common goal.

Additionally, Deadpool 2 works because it manages to somehow pull off a few mean-spirited surprises, even though it was made in a much brighter spotlight than the original. There are a couple of cameos (which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling here) that made me emit some weird laugh/scream hybrid, and the end credits gag is easily the best one I’ve seen in years.

My biggest gripe – which is a really small one, honestly – is that there are occasional shifts in tone that don’t quite work. When the movie primarily exists to laugh at superhero clich√©s (complete with frequent references to them), it’s jarring when the story suddenly establishes real stakes and consequences that it wants you to take seriously.

Still, Deadpool 2 works far better than it has a right to considering the spotty track record of comedy sequels. Fans are going to be very happy and I expect we’ll be hearing news about a fourth installment any day now. (An X-Force spinoff with Deadpool at the center has already been announced.)

Deadpool 2 is rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.

Grade: B+

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