To say that 2016’s Deadpool was a surprise success is an understatement. A first-time director, development hell, years of attempted executive meddling, a lead actor who had never been in a good comic book movie, a film which fatally botched the character (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and an R-rating did not get in the way of a positive critical and audience response. It became the highest grossing R-rated film of all time and lead to an influx of R-rated blockbusters. Naturally, a sequel was greenlit by Fox. Whilst director Tim Miller left and got replaced by John Wick co-director David Leitch, Ryan Reynolds and the original writers returned. The result is a sequel that tries to stay on course, but sometimes loses track.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is still living with his newfound powers, as well as his cancer. He spends his time killing criminals and living with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). He soon comes back into contact with Colossus and finds out about Russell (Julian Dennison), a mutant child who has escaped from a test facility. After he and Russell get put in prison, a man from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) comes along with the intention of killing Russell. Deadpool must band together a new group of mutants called the X-Force to save Russell from certain death.
The script generally manages to balance the humour and the drama well. This is shown in a protracted death scene towards the end that is equally sad and comedic. There is also an emphasis on subverting expectations that provide mixed results. On one hand, the fate of the X-Force is one of the film’s best jokes and includes an awesome cameo. On the other hand, the prologue’s conclusion uses a romantic trope that is overdone and cliched, though this is redeemed by the arc that it sends Wade Wilson on. This arc, whilst facilitated by lazy screenwriting, is surprisingly emotional and creates a good bridge between the first film and this one.
However, the first half suffers because the story feels aimless. It takes a while for Cable to be given a proper motivation and there is a sense of constant starting and stopping in Wade’s arc, and the storytelling. Some of these choices are intentional, but many of them do not work as well as they should. The first half of Deadpool 2 is not terrible, but it does not start the film off on a strong note.
But the story improves during a giant set piece midway through. The action increases so much that it keeps the entertainment value up, the pacing is much faster, and the story settles into a solid rhythm. The climax does go on too long, but it still wraps up the story well. The mid-credits scene is the cherry on top because the writers saved the best joke for last; stick around for it because it makes the entire story worth it.
The humour mostly lands. There are plenty of great one-liners, 4th wall breaks and meta jokes, as well as some fun running gags. So many get tossed around that viewers might not notice all of them the first time around, with some cameos and references having flown over my head completely. The reduction of overbaked raunchiness is also welcome, though Deadpool 2 does flaunt its R-rating with a lot of vulgarity.
Ryan Reynolds still excels in this role and carries every scene. His commitment and dedication to this character’s humour and heart is what makes him perfect as Deadpool. Josh Brolin’s stoic mannerisms and delivery making him a good straight man for Reynolds to play off, though it is a step down from his brilliant work as Thanos in the recent Avengers flick. The real surprise performance comes from Julian Dennison as Russell. It would have been easy to play this character as a tragic figure, but Dennison makes him menacing and downright scary, it is like his breakout role in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but a lot more villainous.
David Leitch’s direction is similar in look and tone to the first film, but far more energetic. One of the issues with Deadpool was Tim Miller’s inexperience with directing, which resulted in a lack of energy during the dialogue scenes. Here, the visual editing is tighter which makes the scenes more exciting and much funnier. The fight scenes are well staged and very brutal, with some moments that will have audiences wincing. Sometimes when Leitch goes bigger and more effects heavy it does not look convincing, but there is often a creativity on display that makes these moments forgivable.
Overall, Deadpool 2 is a solid sequel that does not quite work as well as it should. It is very entertaining and stands out among other superhero cinema, but the script could have been polished more and the pacing needed tightening. If you are a fan of this character and of the first film, you will enjoy it.