The first Deadpool wasn’t such a great movie. As a friend of mine said shortly after seeing it, it basically consisted of four scenes. That’s more or less true, and it was also hampered by a generic villain and a few shortcuts budget-wise. But it did have one thing going for it: Ryan Reynolds, who gave his all in the role he was born to play, and whose undeniable charisma and nonstop, meta patter (provided with the help of screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) literally carried the entire picture. Well that, plus its cheerfully inappropriate humor and over-the-top-and-beyond violence.
So I’m happy to say that Reynolds serves up more of what made his Wade Wilson so instantly iconic on the big screen in Deadpool 2, only this time he’s got more of everything: more characters, more plot (which was pretty thin the first time out), more jokes, and more money to spend. And in this case, more is actually more: Deadpool 2 still delivers all the gore, brutal action, and wildly coarse humor of the first (if a bit less of the raunch), only with a better story, bigger, more expansive action, and some great new characters to play with.
The film kind of gets off to a rickety start, as Wade takes his superhero/vigilante act on the road via a series of montages set in China, Japan, Italy and finally home. We then go on a quick tour of the returning characters from the first film, including Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (TJ Miller), Dopinder the cab driver (Karan Soni) and, of course, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), the love of Wade’s life. But, rather surprisingly, a series of unforeseen events then sends Wade on a brief foray as an X-Man under the tutelage of Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapecic), where Wade finds himself offering to protect an angry, orphaned mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison).
That in turn places Deadpool on a collision course with Cable (Josh Brolin), an embittered, enhanced soldier from the future who is pursuing Russell for murderous reasons of his own. As Deadpool realizes he can’t face the relentless Cable by himself, he builds a superhero team, which includes the very capable Domino (Zazie Beetz) and a slew of somewhat less competent recruits, all set to a number of hilarious music cues.
Just as the first film did, Deadpool 2 starts somewhere in the middle and then works itself backwards to fill you in, all the while Reynolds’ incessant fourth-wall-breaking chatter serving as our guide. The pop and geek culture references fly thick and fast, starting with a nod to the movie Logan and encompassing everything from Say Anything to the DC Universe (there is even an aside that references Brolin playing Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War). The only time the banter slows is during an unexpectedly dark stretch near the end of the first act, but it picks up again as more characters enter the picture for Reynolds to bounce off.
Although the whole Deadpool concept–a wisecracking, potty-mouthed, would-be superhero who knows he’s a fictional character and keeps reminding you of it–may not have the same freshness and novelty the second time around as it did the first, Reese and Wernick (with an assist from now credited screenwriter Reynolds) put more meat on the bones of the story here, taking the narrative into some truly bonkers directions and offering up a string of scenes right out of the comic books. And while the movie still lacks a truly inspired villain, there are enough bad guys and anti-heroes around to keep the stakes reasonably high without creating another world-threatening scenario.
The first movie’s director, Tim Miller, is out, and David Leitch (one of the guys who killed the dog in John Wick, as per the opening credits) is in this time too. And there may be no better director at staging action of this kind at the moment. Although the fight sequences in Deadpool 2 are not quite as stunning in their stylization as the surreal John Wick, and there may not be as jaw-dropper of a set-piece as the staircase fight in Atomic Blonde, Leitch keeps everything spatially coherent, breathless and visceral, even when some of the more absurd violence kicks in.
As for the new characters, it may indeed be unsettling to hear Thanos’ voice coming out of Cable’s mouth so soon, but Brolin does his usual excellent job by imbuing what could easily be a Terminator-like automaton on the screen with humanity and depth. Beetz’s Domino doesn’t quite get the same chance to explore her famous character, but Beetz establishes a formidable physical presence in her fight scenes as well as a sly cynical distance from the boys. The rest of the X-Force–characters like Bedlam (Terry Crews), Zeitgeist (It’s Bill Skarsgard) and, uh, Peter (Rob Delaney)–don’t get much development, but their hiring and first mission are two of the funniest scenes in the film (and please keep an eye out for a don’t-blink showstopper of a cameo).
Although perhaps a bit long, Deadpool 2 doesn’t really overstay its welcome. It does what a sequel should do: it expands the world of the original, adds new characters to the mix, and–as unlikely as it sounds–develops the protagonist in interesting new ways. Not all the jokes land, but many of them do, and clearly Leitch and company are working with more money, a broader variety of locales, better visual effects, and a star out to prove that the long-in-the-making first film wasn’t just a one-and-done deal. Surprisingly we didn’t hear any cracks about sequels that suck, perhaps because Reynolds, Leitch, and the rest know that this one doesn’t.
One last thing: please stay through the end credits; Deadpool has a few things to tidy up before you leave.
Deadpool 2 is out in theaters on Friday, May 18.