At this point, Deadpool 2 feels like it has become incidental to the wider Deadpool experience. Thanks to the boundless enthusiasm of Ryan Reynolds, the character now drifts through popular culture in the same way that he drifts through Marvel comics, serving as a gadfly who turns up to pester other Marvel characters before donning a unicorn mask for a surprise appearance on a Korean game show. No one questions it when Deadpool trades barbs with Hugh Jackman and Celine Dion because we know that’s just kind of what he does. As long as the antics remain fun and no one gets hurt, there’s no need to take any of it too seriously.
Unfortunately, the Deadpool gimmick only works because it seldom creates any lasting consequences, and that’s where the new movie goes awry. Wade Wilson is like a stiff breeze on a hot summer day. Sure, he might knock a few things over, but the effect is more refreshing than tumultuous. Deadpool 2, on the other hand, is grim to the point of nihilism, with an apathetic disregard for human life that overwhelms the film’s determined irreverence.
So no, Deadpool 2 is not as good as the original, although it has enough of its DNA to make it reasonably entertaining. The sequel picks up where its predecessor left off, with Wade working as a mercenary while living with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) until the situation blows up when he accidentally takes work home with him. He falls in with the X-Men while (literally) picking up the pieces of his life, and eventually finds himself mentoring a boy named Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison) who is struggling to control his anger and his burgeoning fire powers after years of abuse at a mutant orphanage.
Wade is still trying to shirk that responsibility when a time traveler named Cable (Josh Brolin) slides back from a dystopian future and tries to kill Deadpool’s unwanted ward. In Cable’s timeline, Russell is a notorious serial killer. Realizing that the boy might be his one shot at redemption, Wade recruits a team in the hopes that he can get through to Russell before he becomes a murderer. Cable is hoping to kill him before he gets the chance.
What follows is a straightforward action romp that tries to recreate the formula that turned Deadpool into a phenomenon. At times, it almost manages to succeed. The movie refuses to take itself too seriously and absolutely nothing is sacred, so every narrative and emotional beat gets tagged with an inappropriate joke that skewers any sincerity that might have been achieved. Thankfully, a high percentage of them land (Ryan Reynolds was born to play this role), making Deadpool 2 quite funny at any given moment.
The problems don’t become apparent until you step back and look at the big picture. According to an early voiceover, Deadpool 2 is a story about redemption, surrogate families, and overcoming personal trauma. In a way that’s true, in much the same way that Deadpool was a genuine romance. The sequel wisely opts to keep the stakes more personal than most superhero films, placing the focus squarely on Wade Wilson and his broken cast of misfit toys. Cable might be a time traveler, but it never feels like the universe is hanging in the balance.
The thing is, that also means that Deadpool 2 doesn’t know quite what to do with its expanded budget. As a comedy, Deadpool didn’t need expensive set pieces to be entertaining. The jokes were enough, and the filmmakers are well aware that humor is central to his appeal. Deadpool 2 is therefore a more extreme version of the original, with more of the sex, swearing, and violence that made Deadpool so memorable.
However, fucks and dick jokes come relatively cheap. The budget only gets flexed during action sequences packed with cameos and CGI, and the balance feels off because the set pieces make Deadpool 2 feel like less of a comedy. The enterprise isn’t as silly as it should be because all of the extra money was used to fund buckets excessive gore.
That’s the trouble. Deadpool 2 is astonishingly violent, with more collateral damage than any superhero movie since Man of Steel, and the jokes simply can’t cover up the sheer carnage happening in the periphery. Through word and deed, the movie repeatedly tells you that nothing matters, and you start to believe it after watching so many people die.
That’s the biggest discrepancy between the two films. Unlike its predecessor, Deadpool 2 doesn’t seem to have much affection for any of its characters. With the exception of Domino (Zazie Beetz), it has nothing but disdain for humanity writ large. There’s no reason to care about this family because everyone is disposable. The movie can make you laugh, but it leaves a bitter aftertaste when you look back and reflect on the losses you suffered along the way.
Deadpool 2 is unlikely to diminish the public’s affection for the character, nor do I think it should. The movie is funny, and Deadpool has always been a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to any individual project. Ryan Reynolds understands that Deadpool is more of a philosophy, and his commitment to the role (and our amusement) is legitimately impressive.
It just makes for a better marketing campaign than it does a movie. Deadpool doesn’t feel quite as harmless when so many bodies are getting mutilated, and the raw nihilism drains most of the joy that you’d expect to find in a movie with so many jokes.