Deadpool 2 is a weird movie. On the one hand, it’s the film you expect it to be: raunchy jokes flying at you non-stop paired with gory violence. That’s the character, that’s the brand, and that’s why the first movie was a success. But on the other hand, buried beneath all the F-bombs and superhero references is a real story about Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) learning to fight for someone other than himself and opening up his heart. It’s the kind of earnest storytelling that the rest of the movie would seem all-too-eager to mock. This gives Deadpool 2 a case of tonal whiplash where you’re laughing hysterically at the devil-may-care jokes only to have to pump the brakes and care about Deadpool’s emotional arc. And yet at the end, Deadpool 2 is similar to its predecessor in that you’ll have a blast while watching it and then almost immediately start to forget it.
The new story has Deadpool going on a journey of self-discovery of sorts. His journey eventually leads him to try and join the X-Men only to quickly get into deeper trouble when he tries to help an angry kid, Russell (Julian Dennison), who can shoot fire from his hands. Deadpool’s life is made even more complicated when Cable (Josh Brolin), a time traveler, shows up from the future on a mission to kill Russell. Determined to protect the kid, Deadpool assembles his own team consisting of Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is “luck”, and an assortment of other superpowered folks to take on Cable.
For the most part, Deadpool 2 is exactly the movie you want. It’s loaded up on reference humor, this time expanding to superhero movies including the DC Universe and Marvel. In a way, the movie is perfect for its time because it’s part of a conversation that fanboys are already having. It’s acutely aware of the popular trends in fan culture, but never goes deep enough to provide an insightful critique. There are jokes in here that people have been making for well over a year, but it’s funny to hear them in a major blockbuster because it also offers some kind of perverse validation. “I made this joke with my friends, and now Deadpool is making a similar joke! It must be good!” Deadpool isn’t designed to offend as much as it’s about being on the same page as the jokes you share with your pals.
Where you’d expect Deadpool 2 to up the ante is in the action with John Wick co-director David Leitch replacing Tim Miller, and yet the action is largely just serviceable. There’s not much in the way of memorable set pieces, and while the action is competently shot, it doesn’t have the impact we’ve come to expect from Leitch’s past work. There’s a weightless to many of the endeavors with CGI flying off CGI (and of course Deadpool making a joke about it at one point), and too many cuts to make it all flow smoothly. There’s nothing here that even comes close to approaching the mastery Leitch showcased in his previous movie, Atomic Blonde.
The film gets shaky once it asks you to invest in Deadpool’s personal story. Without giving anything away, the film demands to be taken seriously at certain points, and that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie. Both the original and the sequel have never really seemed to figured out how to give emotional weight to a weightless character. If nothing is sacred in the world of Deadpool, then why should we treat Deadpool’s personal journey with any respect? Either you exist in a world where everything, including the very film itself, is subject to mockery, or you don’t. That’s not to say movies need to be all comedy or all drama, but the unique world of Deadpool and its brand of meta-commentary makes it difficult for the film to sink back into being a real movie.
The plot also can’t rely too heavily on its bigger supporting cast. This is really The Deadpool Show (featuring X-Force) and characters like Domino and Cable fail to leave an impression. Sure, it’s fun seeing a character like Shatterstar on screen and then having the movie mock that character, but no one really gets an arc outside Deadpool and Russell, and Russell only gets an arc because he’s vital to Deadpool’s story. Domino and Cable are fine, but they don’t get to be particularly memorable as much as they feel like they’re being introduced so they can get proper stories in the inevitable X-Force movie.
Despite these shortcomings, Deadpool 2 is still an incredibly enjoyable movie. I can’t deny that I was laughing throughout the whole thing because I’m a nerd for superhero movies and there are lots of jokes about superhero movies. Deadpool 2 is a movie that’s eager to let you know it’s in the club and wears its bonafides on its blood-stained sleeve. But there’s also something kind of easy about everything the film is doing, and that makes its appeal limited. It’s a movie that shocks rather than surprises, so nothing really stays with you. You laugh from start to finish, but if pressed to come up with a favorite joke, you start to draw a blank. Deadpool 2 offers a glorious sugar high, but that inevitably means it comes crashing back to Earth.