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Deadpool 2 (2018)
~Review by Grawlix (May 2018)
It’s understood that the portrayal of a given comic book character will change depending on who’s writing them at the time. In the case of Deadpool, this is a bit more true than most. Deadpool was originally a standard costumed mercenary (shamelessly ripped off from DC Comics’ Deathstroke) that had a tendency to run his mouth during combat, sort of like a slightly more harder-edged Spider-Man. Over the years he’s morphed into a sort of walking, talking critique of the entire genre and industry of comic book publishing, more akin to BatMite or The Great Gazoo, with an additional, vaguely defined set of self-referential powers that allow the laws of logic and probability, already fairly mutable in comic pages, to apply to him even more inconsistently. It’s kind of like that joke in Who Framed Roger Rabbit: it can’t be done all the time, only when it’s funny. How much these latter powers are invoked depend largely on who’s writing him at the time (and, usually, what characters are guest starring) but their application is always a distinct possibility. There’s a danger to this, when things like handwaving and lampshading essentially become part of a character’s list of abilities. When, in Deadpool 2, he looks directly at the camera with a wry smirk and derides a plot development with “Well, that’s just lazy writing”, it might be good for a quick laugh, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.
This isn’t to say that Deadpool 2 is lazily written. Not really. But it does balance a lot of swinging moods and has a plot that jumps from place to place rather abruptly. There are definitely times when it felt like they fell back on the humor and Deadpool’s unique powers of observation to zip past some plot developments that might’ve raised a few more eyebrows in a more serious production. But that’s just it, sometimes Deadpool 2 wants to be taken seriously. It seems to rewrite its tone and plot rules from scene to scene, sometimes from minute to minute, and it can be tough to know how, exactly, to evaluate it as a whole for this reason. This is, of course, likely by design, and the original Deadpool had to manage the same balancing act as well, but considering that things are a bit bigger now, the budget of Deadpool 2 is twice that of the original, the shifts are markedly more noticeable.
Unfortunately, I can’t go into too much detail regarding these plot shifts. Compared to what was revealed in the trailer, the movie amazingly managed to keep a lot of its twists and surprises under wraps and I’m not going to spoil them. Needless to say (though I usually do anyway) that the less you know going in the better. In brief, circumstances cause Deadpool to reevaluate his life and career path, ultimately succumbing to Colossus’s perpetual overtures to join the X-Men (as a trainee). True to form, on his first mission to quell a rampaging teenage mutant, he botches things completely, landing both himself and the wayward juvenile in a maximum security mutant prison. Shortly thereafter, the prison is besieged by Cable, a time-traveling cyborg super-soldier with his sights on the teen, putting Deadpool into the unfamiliar position of having to protect a life instead of the opposite.
Cable is played by Josh Brolin who is having one hell of a month, having also appeared as the archvillain Thanos (via voice and motion capture, anyway) in the current (as of this writing) box office king, Avengers: Infinity War, which opened a mere two weeks ago. Brolin gets to physically join the action this time, though he’s still buried under significant makeup and CG enhancement. His Cable is gruff, grim and all business, his attitude, as well as his look, recalling more than a little of the Terminator, a fact that the movie not quite subtly acknowledges. It’s a significant contrast not just to Deadpool, but to nearly every other character in the film, which contributes to some of that tone dissonance I mentioned earlier. The addition of time travel to the already overfilled melting pot of ideas might cause some viewers to hold their breath, but thankfully it isn’t dwelt upon overly much, and is certainly nowhere near as cumbersome of a plot device as it was in Days of Future Past. Cable is in the past (relatively speaking) to prevent a future tragedy, as one does, but his motivations are largely personal, keeping things refreshingly simple while still explaining his dogged relentlessness and tenacity.
Ryan Reynolds is, naturally, back as Deadpool, a role he practically seemed born to play. Not only does he boast a look (even under makeup) and athleticism that makes him instantly believable as a superhero (well, antihero) but he has a natural comic timing and delivery that conveys just the right combination of wide-eyed wonder and jaded done-with-this world-weariness. Most of the humor falls into two broad categories: unfettered strings of profanity, and fourth wall breaking observations about other actors, movies, and characters tangentially related to the movie at hand. Not exactly highbrow material, but definitely dialed into the interests of the target audience. But there are plenty of surprises too, including a few brilliant cameos, a hysterical music cue (you’ll know it when you hear it) and a post credits sequence that may be worth the price of admission all by itself.
The action was good, although sometimes it did feel a little, I don’t know, off. I’m not sure if it was due to the clashing styles of Cable and Deadpool whenever they threw down, or just the editing, but things just seemed to not flow as well as they could have. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the recent string of comic book movies consistently finding ways to up the ante with their battle scenes, but for the first time in a while it felt like things were following a mold instead of finding ways to break it. This criticism extends to entire sequences in the movie. The prison scenes reminded me more than a little of the prison parts from Guardians of the Galaxy, and there’s a convoy style vehicle chase that mirrored a similar one in X-men 3. It’s possible that we’re just hitting a saturation point for these types of movies and it’s equally possible that these are deliberate callbacks, like so many other things in the movie, but it doesn’t change the fact that, given a set of similar circumstances, the writers decided to simply slot in some stock parts and call it a day, banking on the raunchy and ridiculous humor to paper over the cracks and carry the film forward.
And the thing is, most of the time this works. Even though the action and plotting hew to convention more than I’d prefer, the R rating and its consequent lack of limitations on both the violence and language are still fairly new concepts for comic book movies (Punisher and Blade notwithstanding) and Deadpool 2 hits this niche early and often. It’s clear that the novelty is going to wear off of this approach sooner or later, a fact Deadpool 2 itself acknowledges early by reproaching Logan for outdoing its prequel. But much like earlier superhero flicks that set down the blueprints that Deadpool is following, in its own cheerfully vulgar way, Deadpool 2 innovates where it still can, and when it gets into the zone, it’s golden.
Final Grade: B+
With greater budget comes greater responsibility, and while it would’ve been nice to have to our cake and eat it too, Deadpool 2 doesn’t quite manage to get full marks across the board. As a superhero movie, it’s merely good, but as an irreverent, potty-mouthed send up of superhero movies, it’s great.
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