DEADPOOL 2. Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand. Directed by David Leitch. 119 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong bloody violence and coarse language).
Deadpool, the foul-mouthed, fourth-wall shattering mercenary, was unleashed upon viewers in early 2016. His standalone debut (after a widely maligned attempt to include the character in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’) was a smash hit worldwide, becoming the highest grossing R-rated film in history (R being the American equivalent of our MA15+), and was also hailed by critics as a breath of fresh air amongst an influx of stagnating comic book adaptations. Though entertaining, the first film suffered from a little mustiness, after its screenplay sat in a draw at 20th Century Fox for years, leaving some of its jokes stale and its central deconstruction of heroic tropes a path already trodden by films like ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘Super’ (both from 2010). This sequel was put into gear shortly after the first film was released, and its pop culture references and jokes are very fresh, which noticeably elevates the action-comedy. It’s funnier than the first movie, the action is more impressive (thanks to the recruitment of ‘John Wick’ co-director David Leitch), and the new additions to the cast are excellent (particularly Zazie Beetz as Domino). With a bloodied tongue always planted firmly in its bitten cheek, ‘Deadpool 2’ is a raunchy, action-packed funhouse (though its gleefully offensive assault on the limits of taste will turn off more than a few viewers).
The film kicks off with Wade Wilson, a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), plying his murderous trade in a variety of exotic locations; whether it’s a gang in Hong Kong or a mafia family in Sicily, there is no mark that Deadpool won’t accept. Of course, this isn’t the only thing happening in our hero’s life – Wilson and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) have decided to start a family.
Whereas the first film followed Deadpool’s search for revenge against the people who gave him his powers (and his horrifying scarred visage), the sequel is about redemption. After briefly joining the X-Men (as a “trainee”, as he is constantly reminded), Wilson befriends young mutant Russell (Julian Dennison, underused). When time-travelling super soldier Cable (Josh Brolin, growling and scowling) materialises in the present, hellbent on killing Russell, Deadpool decides to stop him (and no, the parallels with the ‘Terminator’ films are not lost on our blockbuster-literate protagonist). Viewing protecting Russell as a proxy for the fatherhood he so desperately craves, Deadpool drafts a handful of mutants to create a superpowered X-Force to stop the Cable and protect Russell.
His X-Force includes Domino (Zazie Beetz), who considers extreme luck her superpower, the acid-vomiting Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), electricity manipulator Bedlam (Terry Crews), alien Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), and Peter (Rob Delaney, hilarious), an everyday guy who just saw their recruitment ad on LinkedIn. Domino is the standout of the group, and her power makes for a couple of terrific action sequences, throughout which the dice fall in her favour as she walks through the carnage unharmed. Beetz, who hit the mainstream in TV’s ‘Atlanta’, has fine comic timing and a likable confidence, which leaves you wanting more of her story in future.
When it comes to the script’s gags, nothing is off-limits – Wolverine’s send-off flick ‘Logan’, Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’, just about every film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even Ryan Reynolds’ previous attempt to launch a superhero franchise, ‘Green Lantern’. Even the title sequence, which adapts the humorous credits used so memorably in the first film, takes a pot shot at Bond, setting its mesmerising visuals of our hero interacting with female silhouettes and guns to an anthem provided by Celine Dion (one of the most Bond theme-esque singers to have never recorded a Bond song). There are some pacing issues, but its runtime whizzes past, perhaps thanks to the rapid stream of laughs. In fact, the nature of the Deadpool’s fourth wall breaking invokes the Zucker Abrahams Zucker and Mel Brooks school of comedy, where jokes aren’t afraid to obliterate the boundaries of logic or good taste, and they come so thick and fast that any duds fade quickly from memory. These are helped dramatically by star-producer-cowriter Ryan Reynolds, whose charisma and well-developed funny bone are potent weapons.
It’s not all laughs – Wads gets a serious arc as he comes to terms with the scariest F-word of all: “family”. Wade and Vanessa’s relationship is the one thing that the script seems set on protecting, in a strange sort of way (spoilers abound, so I will tread carefully). Their love story, which provided much of the thrust for the first film (in which Wade tried to sum up the courage to approach Vanessa with his scarred face), is at the emotional centre of the sequel too. It works, for the most part, thanks to the chemistry between Reynolds and Baccarin and the instinctual emotions that their journey traverses.
Director David Leitch, humorously if a little reductively identified by the credits as “One of the Guys Who Killed the Dog in ‘John Wick’”, has a tough gig balancing these disparate elements of the script, but he does an excellent job. His previous films, ‘John Wick’ and ‘Atomic Blonde’, tended to be one superbly choreographed set piece after the other, blending long takes with stylish lighting and stylised violence to create memorable action. Given that Deadpool, Cable and Domino’s weapons of choice are an arsenal of firearms, Leitch’s brand of ‘gun fu’ is an excellent match for the franchise. What neither ‘Wick’ nor ‘Blonde’ required was a tricky tonal balancing act, and Leitch is far from the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of an action-comedy filmmaker.
Yet somehow Leitch is just the right man for the job. The path that ‘Deadpool 2’ treads is wholly its own, blending the cool action and serious character arcs with a near constant flood of jokes, ranging from goofy to knowing, risqué to borderline offensive. It bounces so violently between extremes that rather than jar, the tone takes on a distinctively elastic quality (something that viewers familiar with the first film might be more prepared for than casual viewers). If you enjoyed ‘Deadpool’, then ‘Deadpool 2’ does exactly what a good sequel should; it’s bigger and more confident than its predecessor, leaning further into the strange alchemy of laughs and violence that made the first film such a hit, staying true to the all-important anarchic spirit of the titular antihero.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out May 16.
20th Century Fox.