2016’s Deadpool bucked the trend of sanitised superhero schlock with winking humour, copious gore, and f-bombs galore. So how does one follow-up one of the most refreshing blockbusters in recent memory? The answer, evidently, is more profanity, more Troma-esque ultra-violence, more snarky adolescent meta-commentary. In short: more Deadpool.
Filling in for departing director Tim Miller is David Leitch, fresh from the John Wick films and last year’s Atomic Blonde. The “guy who killed Keanu Reeves’ dog” brings his flair for action to bear here, resulting in a much more colourful and dynamic visual experience than Miller’s effort. It’s no exaggeration to say that Deadpool 2’s opening sequence – a neon-soaked montage of bullets, acrobatics and dismembered limbs – is one of the year’s best-shot action sequences. Leitch’s regular cinematographer Jonathan Sela creates a vibrant colour palette that puts other superhero tent poles to shame, and the film’s editing and action choreography sits comfortably alongside the director’s previous work.
Ryan Reynolds’ affect as the eponymous merc with a mouth is as adolescent as ever, sitting just this side of irritating. Like Downey Jr.’s Iron Man or Jackman’s Wolverine, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other that Reynolds in the role, but what’s surprising is how much genuine heart he manages to invest in the character. Indeed, each of the film’s three leads are driven in some way by trauma, handled with surprising sensitivity and nuance. Comparisons are inevitable between Josh Brolin’s time-travelling cyborg Cable and Thanos, who Brolin also plays in Avengers: Infinity War – even Deadpool himself can’t resist cheekily referencing it.
Nevertheless, Cable’s personal journey has arguably more in common with John Wick than the cosmic destruction of Avengers’ mad titan. Julian Dennison is predictably hilarious as the delinquent Russell, though not as revelatory as his star turn in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Terry Crews and Brianna Hildebrand, returning as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, are criminally underused, but the real discovery is the charismatic Zazie Beetz as Domino. Supernaturally lucky, her powers result in some of the film’s most inventive beats, like a series of inverted Final Destination-style death scenes.
Deadpool 2’s biggest problem – and it is a major one – comes in its extremely clichéd, problematic inciting incident. For a film that prides itself on its awareness of genre tropes, both Leitch and his trio of screenwriters, Reynolds among them, seem oblivious to the most tired and well-known trope in comic books. In a film that otherwise balances snark and sincerity so beautifully, it’s genuinely disappointing to see the writing exploit such a cynical and frankly sexist narrative device. It’s testament to the film’s other strengths that Deadpool 2 mostly recovers, though no amount of meta-quips and dick jokes can make you forget the lingering bad taste of such lazy writing.
Infinity War will likely be first choice for the summer season crowd, but Deadpool 2 wins hands down in terms of personal stakes and visual flair. Reynolds has hinted that this could be the character’s last outing. After the fun wrung from this one, it would be a shame not to have one more turn on the merry-go-round, but if we do, for Pete’s sake, next time let’s keep the fridge door closed.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell