Like its predecessor, David Leitch’s Deadpool 2 muddies the distinction between parodying comic-book-movie conventions and perfunctorily adhering to them. The film’s opening sequence finds Wade, a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), filling his apartment with gas and blowing himself up, claiming to want the same critical validation that Wolverine received for sacrificing himself at the end of James Mangold’s Logan. The timeline then jumps back a few days to show Deadpool’s fiancée, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), being murdered just as the couple has decided to settle down and have kids. The unkillable mercenary’s sardonic self-immolation is thus clarified as a display of grief, albeit one that simplifies his punkish gesture.
Similarly, Vanessa resurfaces throughout the film as a ghostly presence, to push Deadpool toward a more moral life and, in effect, make literal the trope of the lover whose death motivates the hero. Her appearances are obligatory emotional signposts in a film that otherwise breezes right past her death in order to cede the stage to Deadpool’s trademark wisecracking. As for the jokes themselves, they frequently fall flat, as Deadpool’s witticisms are mostly empty rejoinders to easy setups by other characters. Furthermore, these comebacks consist of little more than references to DC and Marvel properties—which is to say, tailor-made for knowing fans. Deadpool 2 believes this to all be peevish, deconstructive parody, even though it’s how most major comic-book movies are now written. Indeed, the only significant difference between the callbacks here and the ones in, say, Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, is that they’re played for laughs rather than applause.
The story proper begins when Deadpool tags along with some third-string X-Men to a halfway house for mutants where an unstable, fire-wielding teenager, Russell (Julian Dennison), threatens a standoff with authorities. Deadpool deduces that Russell has been abused by his caretakers and intervenes disastrously, landing both of them in a supermax prison for rogue mutants. Dennison, so charismatic and witty in Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, sees his talents wasted here. Russell pokes fun of his weight, makes ludicrous power plays to establish his dominance in prison, and invites a number of deeply uncomfortable jokes about his inevitable sexual abuse in prison—a line of comedy that feels even more unwelcome given that the film’s cast includes an accused sexual assailant in T.J. Miller, who needlessly returns as Deadpool’s best friend, Weasel, in a few throwaway scenes.
Things get only mildly more bearable by the introduction of Cable (Josh Brolin), a cyborg soldier who comes from the future to prevent a calamity from his own time. Cable is initially generic, wracked with grief over the deaths of his family as he wields comically overcompensating firepower to kill all who cross him. He tears through the prison in pursuit of Deadpool and Russell as a one-man killing machine in a sequence that follows in the methodical rampaging footsteps of John Wick, which Leitch co-directed. Yet the filmmaking of this sequence is disappointingly flat and functional, less a fluid display of combat mastery than a stitched-together montage of self-consciously cool displays of Cable’s strength and superior weaponry.
But just as things threaten to become interminable, a switch goes off when Deadpool is finally motivated to truly protect Russell from Cable. He holds auditions for superheroes to join his newly dubbed X-Force and ends up with a motley assembly of dubiously powered individuals, including Domino (Zazie Beetz), who claims good luck as her superpower, and Peter (Rob Delaney), a rando who happened to see one of the flyers Deadpool put up and thought an audition sounded like fun. The crew deploys against Cable in a parachute jump that goes wrong from the start and spirals into catastrophe in one of the funniest scenes to ever grace a comic-book movie. It’s the first moment in Deadpool 2 to live up to the anarchic energy promised by the property’s snark, and it brings the remainder of the film into sudden, sharp focus.
The film climaxes with a clever workaround of the average superhero blockbuster’s overreliance on apocalyptic finales by presenting a small-scale skirmish that, per Cable’s future knowledge, will have dire consequences down the line. The action remains mostly routine, but the film allows Deadpool’s sudden tenderness for Russell to bleed through his smarm without delving into mawkishness. More importantly, Reynolds and Brolin have chemistry to burn, with Brolin resurrecting some of the same funnier-than-he-looks straight-man intensity that he brought to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Deadpool 2 finds itself in its homestretch, with solid enough narrative and comic plotting to make the prospect of further exploration of the longstanding history between its two leads an enticing one.