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Deadpool 2

After Infinity War, there’s already a tempest in a teapot over Ant-Man and the Wasp. “Why would Marvel release these movies only three months apart?!” goes the logic. “How can we enjoy this breezy little crime caper that’s happening in the midst of a huge apocalyptic event that won’t even be resolved for another year?” Of course it’s hard to know exactly how or if the two movies will affect each other until we finally have them both in July. But the point stands that Infinity War left us with a massive cultural shell shock that we’re still recovering from, and that comic book crossover giant has more or less been the only game in town since the week before it was even released.

We could probably use a palate cleanser right about now. Enter Deadpool 2.

Once again, Ryan Reynolds dons the ladybug pajamas to play the Merc with a Mouth, while also stepping in as a producer and co-writer. Director Tim Miller has departed the franchise, replaced by the inspired choice of John Wick/Atomic Blonde co-mastermind David Leitch. Under his direction, it should come as no surprise that the sequel delivers on more of the gleeful R-rated ultraviolence and crude humor we all came to know and love in the first movie.

Also, from literally the very opening frame to the end of the mid-credits stinger, the filmmakers ruthlessly skewer everything within reach. Marvel films, DC films, political figures, Rob Liefeld’s lack of artistic talent, the portrayal (or lack thereof) of women and minorities here and in other superhero media, the previous movie’s box office take… nothing is off limits here. And all of this is augmented by a smattering of wickedly funny cameos that I don’t dare spoil here. I was especially fond of one mutant’s inclusion, here given a new chance at a worthy portrayal after getting squandered in the first round of X-Men films.

Alas, Stan Lee was not available to make his customary cameo, though I honestly think that his turn in the first movie was good enough to last for both films. And I have been told that this movie does give Lee a tip of the hat, but if his face is turned away from the camera, I’m not counting it.

We’ve got some other noteworthy characters, of course, with most of the first movie’s supporting cast here to reprise their roles. The most notable new additions are Josh Brolin as Cable; Zazie Beetz as Domino; and Julian Dennison as Russell “Firefist” Collins; in addition to Terry Crews, Lewis Tan, and Bill Skarsgaard as recruits in Deadpool’s new team of mutants, our cinematic portrayal of X-Force.

You might be wondering if Deadpool was at any risk of getting lost in his own movie with so many characters running around. Yeah fucking right. This is Deadpool we’re talking about. The character is so inherently loud, irreverent, unpredictable, and destructive that he immediately becomes the center of attention in any given scenario. No matter where he is or who he’s with, everybody always has to know what Deadpool is doing and Deadpool always has to make his presence known. The downside, of course, is that the title character effectively drowns out the rest of the cast. The whole X-Force venture turns out to be a bust — except for Domino, all the other members are glorified cameos limited to one joke apiece if that. Even Peter (Rob Delaney), who stole the hearts of audiences who saw him in the trailer, gets maybe three minutes of screen time at most.

Surprisingly, the most prominent new player is probably Julian Dennison, here playing a young mutant destined to become a one-man Holocaust. Dennison is fantastic to watch, showing more of the same comedic and dramatic chops that served him so well in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Unfortunately, while Dennison and Reynolds are each wonderful on their own respective merits, their chemistry and interplay together weren’t nearly where they needed to be.

Josh Brolin does perfectly well as Cable, a mutant soldier from the future who comes back to save his wife and daughter by prematurely killing Dennison’s character. Mercifully, the film spares us from trying to make sense of Cable’s comic backstory and his incomprehensible family tree. The important thing is that with precious little dialogue, Brolin effectively sells Cable as an unstoppable badass. I was also deeply impressed with Beetz as Domino, who gets some dazzling action shots and even a few good jokes.

TJ Miller shows up to do more of his same shtick, ditto for Leslie Uggams. Karan Soni reprises the role of Dopinder, and his desire to get in on the action does result in a few legitimate laughs, even if his more specific ambition to be a contract killer falls flat. Stefan Kapicic gets plenty of great scenes as Colossus, and his friendship with Deadpool is among the most potent relationships in the movie. Alas, Brianna Hildebrand gets virtually nothing to do in this movie, ditto for NsTW’s new girlfriend (Yukio, played by Shioli Kutsuna). Sure, it’s cool that we finally have a same-sex superhero couple on the books, it’s just a shame the film didn’t actually do anything with them.

But then we have Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin. This character is a huge middle finger, for reasons that had nothing to do with Baccarin herself. She’s perfectly lovely in her performance here, and her chemistry with Reynolds is sizzling. The problem is that this character ends up getting killed in the film’s opening minutes, simply to inject some pathos into Deadpool’s character.

Shoving Vanessa into the fridge was one of many mistakes that this film made to try and address a basic problem: How to bring pain and vulnerability to a character who’s practically invincible. Wolverine had a similar problem, which is why Hugh Jackman’s portrayal often dealt with more emotional stakes and — in his later standalone films — the loss of his healing powers. Both methods are employed here. In addition, the plot forces Deadpool to save a life through empathy, addressing a problem that runs 100 percent counter to his usual methods (read: snark and lethal weaponry) and thus forcing character development. For good measure, the movie even features inhumane treatment against mutants, further complicating matters for Deadpool in a way that dovetails beautifully with the classic themes of the X-Men franchise.

In theory, none of these were bad ideas. In practice, none of them actually work, because Wolverine was built for that kind of pathos while Deadpool simply wasn’t.

I respect how the movie put so much effort into exploring Deadpool as a character, and I appreciate the attempts at spicing things up so it wasn’t all blood and lampshade jokes. But that’s what we have the supporting cast for. We already have a massive and varied roster of characters that Deadpool can clash and contrast with in unique ways. The previous movie — and the comics, to a far greater extent — did this so consistently and effectively that the filmmakers were able to fit in several different kinds of jokes and show multiple sides to Deadpool while keeping the title character more or less static.

As it is, the filmmakers try to portray mortality and loss in a way that demands authentic grief, even as they want us to laugh at the irreverent and self-effacing humor on display. Vanessa is killed, and then comes a James Bond parody opening with title cards that cheekily ask if the filmmakers really did that. The emotional impact is even further mitigated at a later point (time travel is involved — I won’t go into details) and the whole thing is made entirely pointless.

Every attempt at authentic grief is time taken away from the violent goofiness that we and the filmmakers came to see. The movie refuses to give a shit, even when it asks us to give a shit. And it can’t work both ways. Taking a character to the breaking point only works if the filmmakers fully commit to it, and they never sell these more dramatic moments as anything other than a waste of time.

Even so, and in spite of this movie’s numerous flaws, I still had fun with Deadpool 2. When it’s good, it’s hysterically funny and the action greatly benefits from Leitch’s direction. Moreover, Reynolds is still a blast to watch in the title role and he’s surrounded by a ton of capable supporting characters. Unfortunately, the movie suffers for trying to take Deadpool into darker and more sympathetic territory that the character was never built for and the filmmakers weren’t prepared to handle. Making him deal with the death of a loved one, stripping away his powers, forcing Deadpool to confront his own mortality, putting him in a position where he has to save a life rather than take one… these are all more interesting in theory than in execution.

I’m still giving the movie a pass, but I strongly recommend adjusting your expectations. There are certainly worse things than a sequel that doesn’t live up to the first film — especially when the first film was so good — but that’s what we’ve got here.

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