A 'Deadpool' Skeptic Dissects 'Deadpool 2'

Deadpool 2 Still 10 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
For someone who didn't enjoy the raunchy humor of the 2016 surprise hit, is the second time the charm?

[This story contains spoilers for Deadpool 2]

It’s never exactly fun to be on the outside looking in at a cinematic phenomenon, but such is the case for me with Deadpool. When the gleefully R-rated superhero movie opened in spring 2016, it was a hit with most audiences and critics, whether or not they were familiar with the so-called “Merc With a Mouth” from Marvel Comics. When I watched the film on Blu-ray a few months after its release, I had as strong of a reaction as fans did, just in the opposite direction. I was so annoyed by the film’s attitude, humor, visual aesthetic and indulgence in lazy tropes even as it pointed out those tropes that I turned the film off halfway through.

But now that we have Deadpool 2 to consider in theaters, I felt like I needed to give the original a second chance. As I was going to write about the sequel, it only felt fair for me to watch the whole first movie, whether or not I like it. (I finally did watch the 2016 film last week — it didn’t get any better after the point where I turned it off originally.) At least when I sat down to watch the press screening of Deadpool 2, I wouldn’t be lost as to the antics and exploits of Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the former Special Forces mercenary who became a mutant after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis and being tortured to draw out a mutation that would eradicate the disease. I went into Deadpool 2 wary, if only for this reason: Most people loved Deadpool, so it was hard to imagine a sequel that wouldn’t do more of what worked for those audiences the first time around.

As such, Deadpool 2 didn’t surprise me that much. There are a few improvements in the sequel, to the point where I would allow that it’s technically a better film than its predecessor, just without being a very good movie. The sequel is as proudly R-rated as Deadpool is — within the opening act alone, there are beheadings, bloody gunfights and Deadpool blowing himself into tiny pieces. There’s plenty more of the same puerile, Family Guy-style humor that marks the original film, as screenwriters Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Reynolds break the fourth wall with heedless abandon, drown dialogue with profane epithets, and have an overload of pop-culture references to emphasize the winking nature of Deadpool as a character. Because there are so many gags — so many of them — I’d be lying if I said none of them work. But few of the jokes inspired me to do more than chuckle. (I did laugh out loud once, at a reference to the Australian drama The Proposition, which was met with stony silence by the rest of the audience. Of course.)

If there is a core problem with Deadpool 2 (at least for this grumpy skeptic), it’s in one of the story’s inciting incidents. Wade’s fiancee, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), is killed in cold blood by a random criminal merely minutes after telling Wade that she wants to start a family with him. (It’s almost as hoary a storytelling trope as the cop who’s just one week away from retirement being killed on the job.) This death is certainly shocking, to the point where this film’s opening-credits gag simply underlines how surprising it’s meant to be: “A Film by Wait a Minute,” “Starring Someone Who Clearly Doesn’t Want to Share the Spotlight,” etc.

But even that opening-credits bit, which is a riff on the Skyfall opening credits and features a Celine Dion song, highlights the issue: How emotional can a character death be if the story swerves right back to being jokey? The same kind of problem marks the third-act twist, in which Wade sacrifices himself to save a frustrated teenage mutant while wearing a device that removes his healing superpowers, as useless. No, Deadpool 2 isn’t going in the same direction as last month’s Avengers: Infinity War... kind of. This time around, the Josh Brolin character doesn’t use a device to control time and kill half of the universe. This time, the Brolin character … uses a device to control time and stop Deadpool from sacrificing himself and save the teenage mutant. But first, we get a faux deathbed scene that begins sincerely, ends with snark, and lasts two or three more minutes than it should.

I realize that I’m in the minority on Deadpool 2, as I was with the original. Comedy is subjective; either you find something funny or you don’t. I simply cannot get on board with so many of this film’s comic choices, as I couldn’t with the original; the more the film tries to pull together some genuine theme about the necessity of family, the hollower those jokes seem (and the hollower the underlying theme feels). There are a couple of laughs in the film, and a slightly improved style of action filmmaking. But as with Deadpool, I remain on the outside looking in. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Josh Spiegel is a freelance film writer and frequent Heat Vision contributor.