With the death of Vanessa and the mirrored deaths of Cable’s family, Deadpool 2 is squarely aiming for Logan’s territory. However, for a character that perpetually has one foot in its own story and another in the outside culture, Deadpool 2 has little sense of how this storyline might be perceived. The protagonist and antagonist are both motivated by female characters who only exist to spur their male partners to action. This viewer has never read a comic book, but he knows what fridging is, and these are textbook examples. Not only is this dismissive and and the easiest possible way to generate coarse emotion, but it has absolutely no place in a film as frivolous as this one. Vanessa gets gauzy discursions in some version of an afterlife, where Wade visits and longs to join her in death, but then it also gets comic mileage out of characters wondering how much time needs to go by before they can make light of the situation. The whole thing is a tonal disaster for a film that plainly puts grief far down its list of interests.
What Deadpool 2 is interested in is comic violence and sustained snark, and when it’s adhering to this original formula, things go well. Leitch, who made Atomic Blonde in addition to John Wick, knows his way around an action scene, though his earlier, more visceral work sets the bar at a place that can’t be met in a more CGI-driven effects fest. Though balletic in a bone-crunching way, neither of Leitch’s prior work had a shred of humor, and if he’s not on his A-game for action, he is demonstrating a knack for comic timing. A merging of the violence and the comedy brings the film’s funniest setpiece, where phrases like ‘shirtcocking’ run headlong into the realities of limb regrowth. The script once again contains all of the asides about Reynolds’ real career, as well as call-outs and criticisms of shortcuts Deadpool 2 is taking. Running jokes abound, as does the subversion of tropes like characters resisting torture only to inevitably give it up after the appropriate amount of pain has been inflicted. In a benevolent trifecta, the character avoids pain, the viewer learns more about them, and no one has to watch one more interminable instance of sadism in a film with a high body count.
The original Deadpool had a small handful of characters compared to the sprawling casts that fill out any given Marvel film, and the sequel inevitably gives itself over to some level of expansion. Brolin’s already played one superpowered gruff-talker who’s sure of the rightness of his position in 2018, so why not one more. Dennison, a welcome addition after the excellent Hunt For the Wilderpeople, is essentially rehashing the same character, only this one shoots fire out of his hands. Eddie Marsan has no problem playing the clammy and creepy antithesis of Professor Xavior’s mutant caretaker. The team that Deadpool assembles, which he refers to as X-Force, has the greatest potential for bloat, but the film hilariously asserts that this won’t be a problem. The standout addition is Zasie Beetz as Domino, a teammate with the vague power of everything just always working out her. Dressed like Pam Grier, she coasts through the film on a cloud of relaxed certainty, an isle of cool and calm in an otherwise fast-paced and kinetic film.
Deadpool 2 prompts the viewer to wonder how many times a film gets to make reference to plot holes and bad writing before the spell is broken and the joke becomes worth less than the presence of the bad writing. The script does this too many times, and coupled with the failed attempts at emotion, Deadpool 2 often starts to develop flop sweat. However, what works doesn’t just work, but excels, and it evens the film out towards what it should always have aimed for: summer confection for adults raised on South Park and teens raised on Twitch. It’s fine for a property to be empty beyond subversion of the dominant trend in cinema. When Deadpool 2 exists outside of the endless and increasingly repetitive superhero genre, it works. When it’s trying to buddy up to Magneto and Iron Man and convince them that he’s just their filthier cousin, the film loses its purpose. C+