The first Deadpool was something of a flash in the pan; how would 20th Century Fox be able to successfully translate the character’s unique blend of crassness and splatter-paint approach to humor, penchant for meta-jokes, and remarkably R-rated attitude to film without falling on their own katanas? How could they? All of these questions came only after a surreptitiously leaked test reel of what would eventually become the film’s opening fight sequence convinced the studio that the project might be worth investing in.
Somehow, against all odds, Deadpool was a stunning success. An astounding number of jokes landed considering the rate at which the cast was flinging them at the audience, the action was fun and delightfully gory, and Ryan Reynolds proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was, is, and would forever be, the definitive Deadpool. The film went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated title ever at the global box office and slid into a comfortable second place domestically, just behind The Passion of the Christ (a humorous fact which does not escape the attention of the Merc with a mouth). Naturally, after this warm reception, there would be a sequel.
At this point, warning bells began to sound in my head. The first Deadpool was such a longshot, how could they possibly manage to split the same metaphorical arrow two consecutive times? The film was far from perfect, but it managed to make two hours of nonstop jibber-jabber from what is essentially an 8th grader with a surprising wealth of 80’s pop-culture knowledge and a passion for the music of Wham! into a can’t-miss comedy, so that seems deserving of some praise.
To make Deadpool 2, the filmmakers would need to maintain their understanding of what made the character so much fun, but more importantly, they would need a heaping load of self-restraint. One of the things that made Deadpool feel so different and refreshing (aside from the profanity, genitalia related jokes and copious amounts of violent death) was it’s smaller scale. This was, of course, necessitated by the film’s budget: a comparatively minuscule $58 million, which is basically shoestring for a AAA superhero tentpole (Infinity War cost between $300 and $400 million, and that’s even less than Age of Ultron). This meant a smaller scope, more reserved usage of special effects, and a dramatic likelihood that there would be no giant blue space lasers. The ultimate impact of this could be felt throughout the film; not only were the script, characters, and rating positioned in steadfast defiance of what both audiences and Hollywood had come to expect from the genre, but even the production was a shrine to superhero counter-culture.
And so, Deadpool 2 comes screaming into theaters with a prime-time slot at the beginning of the summer blockbuster season and a budget nearly doubling that of its predecessor. This being the case, how do the two compare? For the most part, shockingly favorably.
Deadpool 2 is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a sequel to a film where Wade Wilson makes jokes about the size of his package as compared to his tiny baby hand. That is to say, it’s even cruder, even bloodier, and the stakes are higher than ever. It’s difficult to discuss the story without immediately spoiling the emotional crux of the narrative, but the plot is, ostensibly, about Wade trying to stop Cable (a nasty time-traveling supersoldier from the future) from killing Russell (a young mutant from New Zealand who has some serious anger management issues). Along the way, audiences are treated to appearances by fan-favorites like Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, as well as some quirky newcomers such as Domino, Shatterstar, Zeitgeist, Bedlam, and the lavishly named Peter.
I’ll go ahead and get the bad stuff out of the way first: the film suffers for it’s increased connections to the X-Men universe, Cable is a pretty serious missed opportunity, some of the heavier emotional stuff is really at odds with the zany comedy, and too much of the humor feels like an attempt to recall or recreate iconic moments from the first film. Also, the script saddles poor Julian Dennison (Russell) with more emotional weight than he can handle. He does an admirable job much of the time, but some of the weakest moments in the film come from expecting far too much out of a child actor.
Regarding the other complaints, some are more frustrating than others, but none manage to derail the film completely. Integrating Deadpool, which had previously been a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque extension that technically existed within X-Men franchise into the series at large does help siphon some of the rebellious charm from the film, but by the end, it seemed more of a minor irritation than a serious issue.
If there are any real failings to be found here, they come in the form of Cable and the first twenty minutes or so. Aside from his understandable motivations and the way that his character plays into the meatier subtext, we know absolutely nothing about the man and aren’t really given any reason to care. He’s got about as much dimension as Francis from Deadpool, but at least he was a purely hateable baddie, and Wade had well-defined reasons to want him dead. Brolin’s performance is solid but unremarkable, and the script rarely gives him anything much to do aside from grimace and shoot things.
Similarly aggravating is the sense that, at least for the first third, Deadpool 2 is straining under the pressure to live up to the original while still doing its own thing. There are too many references to old jokes or straight up reuses of certain gags, and most of the dialogue feels dreadfully expository. It’s a stiff, mechanical introduction to a free-wheeling, irreverent comedy, and feels very little like the effortless introduction of Deadpool’s character in the previous film. This sense is, I assure you, temporary. Once Deadpool 2 comes into its own, it’s an absolute riot.
Leading the pack of positive elements is, of course, Ryan Reynolds. It’s pretty much pointless to say it at this point, but Reynolds so perfectly and delightfully captures everything that people love about Deadpool that it’s difficult to shake the impression that he was born for the role. And to think, had some mysterious person who was most certainly not Ryan Reynolds not leaked that demo, the world would have been deprived of all this joy. Zazie Beets stands out as well as the enthusiastic and likable Domino. She and Reynolds quickly establish a rapport that makes for some genuinely hysterical interplay.
Perhaps the most significant difference between Deadpool 1 and 2 is the approach to narrative. The first film told the classic, overplayed origin story we all know so well, but made up for it with some clever riffs on the formula and an overdose of charm. This time around, not only is the plot significantly more involved and layered, but it’s built on a surprisingly emotional foundation. Again, it’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, but the writers managed to leverage themes of family and forgiveness in a way that doesn’t feel stale or trite. Naturally, there is some tension between these moments and the ones where characters repeat phrases like “just shirt-cocking it,” but the balance works well for the most part (cue obligatory Last Jedi joke).
Additionally, the action is predictably spectacular. The fight choreography is as wild as ever, and a few of the setpieces were both hilarious and thrilling. They do occasionally veer a little too far into gross-out humor territory, but this too, is a minor issue.
The single best element of the film is, without even a minuscule shred of doubt, the mid-credits sequence. In all honesty, it might be the best thing in the X-Men universe, the MCU, or any superhero movie ever. It justifies and redeems the existence of post-credit sequences. If all of the teases Marvel has ever done, both good and bad, needed to happen just so this sequence of images could flash upon my screen, be perceived by my retina and undergo the complicated biological miracle that is color vision, it would all have been worth it. Purchasing a ticket, waiting outside the theater until the credits roll, and just watching this stinger would be a perfectly responsible use of currency. It is an immaculate, perfect, beautiful thing, and I love it.
By any conventional metric, Deadpool should have been a failure. By extension, Deadpool 2 should have buckled under the weight of its own unlikely existence and monstrous expectations. Yet, somehow, Deadpool 2 works, and pretty well at that. It offers up heaps of butt-kicking action, side-splitting laughs, and manages to retain most of the charm that helped to define the original. While not without its faults, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better time at the theater.