May 17, 2018

Deadpool 2

Slay Anything

Grade: B
Director: David Leitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapičić, Karan Soni, and Leslie Uggams
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Lo, two long years ago when Deadpool hit movie houses, it felt like the much-needed thumb to the eye of an increasingly stodgy, self-serious superhero genre, sans the recent Guardians of the Galaxy. Today, Deadpool 2 drops in the wake of a Guardians sequel, Thor: Ragnarok, Ant-Man (with a sequel on deck), The Lego Batman Movie, and a more millennial Spider-Man. In other words, the comedic superhero movie has become more the norm, with the lewd, loquacious Deadpool its R-rated id.

Just as Deadpool parodied the superhero origin story, Deadpool 2 riffs on the inevitable character evolution in which the hero learns the value of family and self-sacrifice, eventually called upon to exhibit both. There’s a kid who needs saving, a time-traveling antagonist, and an exaggerated death scene—it’s no accident that the film opens with a jab at the ending to Logan.

There’s even a James Bond-style opening credits montage coupled with an overwrought anthem by Celine Dion. Suitably, this sequel feels like the second verse to a familiar song. It hits the same beats and pacing as the original, building on the same foundation of bawdy language and ultra-violence. The filmmakers are still assigned cutsie monikers: the director, David Leitch, is “one of the guys who killed the dog in John Wick” (Leitch was an uncredited co-director for ‘Wick’). Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), plays off of flatmate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), bartending buddy Weasel (T.J. Miller), and long-suffering taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni). Wilson revisits Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters to again chide the X-Men ethos (blink and you’ll miss a few notable cameos).

Deadpool, now a “X-Men trainee,” takes a shine to a young mutant named Russell, aka Firefist (Julian Dennison), an orphan who is the tortured product of childhood abuse. The authorities want to put down the dangerous, seemingly uncontrollable Firefist, and when Deadpool interferes, he and Russell are excommunicated and exiled by Colossus (Stefan Kapičić). Meanwhile, Russell becomes the target of Cable (Josh Brolin), a time-hopping super soldier who is out to prevent a future private tragedy. The set-up feels a bit like Looper, with Deadpool trying to salvage Russell and Cable trying to kill him.

Along the way, Deadpool recruits his own ad hoc “X-Force,” an effort that hilariously fails on its first attempt (once again, blink and you’ll miss a notable cameo by the actor playing “the Vanisher”). The lone survivor of the original bunch is Domino (Zazie Beetz), reframed here as a Foxy Brown-style heroine whose lone superpower is good luck. It’s a wry take: just as Deadpool parodies the laughable indestructibility of movie heroes, Domino lampoons the typical protagonist's often outlandish ability to escape from any sticky situation.

The wisest move Deadpool 2 makes is expanding and expounding on its screwball comedy schtick, rather than trying to retool or revamp it. There are more than a few moments when the action sequences look de rigueur, and Reynolds’ motor-mouthed non sequiturs and the tsunami of pop culture references feel forced. Indeed, the latter might have derailed the film, but for the presence of Brolin, Beetz, and the rest of Deadpool 2’s cast (yes, including and especially T.J. Miller).

There may soon come a time when we don’t look towards a superhero relief valve like Deadpool to save us from genre glut. But not quite yet. He may not be the superhero movie we deserve, but he’s still the one we need right now.