Is it possible to make an R-rated movie that seems catered to 12-year-olds? I don’t know, but Deadpool 2 certainly tries. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is a foul-mouthed, mutant mercenary who fights for what’s right but is never afraid to get his hands dirty, all while endlessly quipping and breaking the fourth wall. By nature, this is a film with tons of jokes per minute crammed into its runtime. Unfortunately, not enough land.
That’s not to say that most don’t; Deadpool 2 is still a very funny movie, thanks mostly in part to Reynolds and the rest of the cast playing off of him. When the first film was released, it was new and fresh. An R-rated, violent comedy was something that breathed new life into the superhero genre. Times change rapidly nowadays though, and Deadpool 2 still seems stuck in the past. It hurls obscene dialogue and inappropriate witty banter at the audience, seemingly going for the shock factor of it all, but none of it is actually shocking or surprising in the slightest. The lack of surprise holds the film back from being something special and different like the first film was, and this sequel ends up feeling like a very paint-by-the-numbers superhero action flick.
Deadpool is tasked with protecting super powered young mutant boy Russel (Julian Dennison) from the wrath of time-traveling cyborg Cable (Josh Brolin). The film’s emotional core centers around Deadpool’s relationship with Russel, kicked off by a conversation he has about having kids with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) at the start of the film. It works for the most part by choosing to focus on the man behind Deadpool’s mask, Wade Wilson. We learn what motivates him and what he cares about, how he reacts to failures and how he adapts and overcomes. Russel and Cable are both fun additions to the cast; Josh Brolin is in the midst of the best summer of his career, and having Cable be the straight man in this outrageous movie is what helps the good jokes stick.
The best bit of the entire movie is Wade putting together the X-Force, a group of superheroes that will help him fight Cable. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s one of the few genuinely hilarious parts of the film with several fun cameos. The breakout star of it all is definitely Domino (Zazie Beetz), who Wade refers to as the “the black Black Widow”. Domino has the power of luck, and while whether or not that’s an actual superpower is up for debate, she receives the most inspired action sequences of the film, and Beetz exudes such fun charisma and star power that I’d be shocked if she doesn’t start receiving multiple leading roles very soon.
Deadpool director Tim Miller did not return for this sequel, citing creative differences between himself and Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds reportedly wanted this to be a much more stylized film, something that would require a larger budget (the first Deadpool was made on a rather modest budget). Miller was replaced by David Leitch, a stuntman / stunt coordinator on countless films, and who also was a second unit director on many others, including The Wolverine, Anchorman 2, Jurassic World, and Captain America: Civil War. Leitch made his directing debut with last year’s Atomic Blonde.
Leitch has an obvious eye for action scenes with endless hours of experience to match, and the action of Deadpool 2 is definitely exciting and well choreographed, especially a chase scene through the city that occurs in the film’s second act. However, similar to Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 suffers from poor pacing. The film feels like it’s starting and stopping over and over, and it moves along at a very clunky pace. The opening of the film utterly fails to grab your attention, awkwardly stumbling along until it manages to steady itself in time for the fun title sequence. It doesn’t appear that the change of directors helped Reynolds achieve his goal of a more stylized film either. Deadpool 2, even with all of its excessive violence and sexual raunchiness, feels very safe and generic. The concept of Deadpool as a character and what he can do makes for endless opportunities, but the film never goes far enough with it, giving you exactly what you’d expect from the merc with a mouth but nothing more.
Deadpool is meant to be extremely meta and self-aware, and yes, he does continuously break the fourth wall throughout the film, but it feels like something that’s there to just be checked off a list rather than something that breaks up the action to remind you just how unique this franchise can be. Too many jokes come across as downright juvenile, bizarrely aimed at a pre-teen sense of humor. The countless pop culture and superhero references also feel like just that: references without any actual joke attached to them. The Deadpool franchise might be better off in the hands of actual comedy writers (writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick only have the first Deadpool and Zombieland on their resume) or at least a comedy director, as the humor of the character is what’s most important to get right. It’s a shame this was the end result of a truly remarkable marketing campaign for this film.
Deadpool 2 is still a lot of fun despite its problems, with a surprising amount of heart in its story about finding your family. It boasts a very strong ensemble cast, where everyone is memorable and gets their chance to stand out, though I wish we had gotten more of the Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna) power couple. The strong cast elevates what is an otherwise simple film with self-confessed “lazy writing”, and it’s this fun team of strange characters that I hope future installments choose to focus on. Deadpool 2 isn’t as great as its predecessor was, but it sticks to its guns with enough panache to keep it afloat and keep possibilities for better sequels available. Just please stop bringing your children to see these movies. Please.