I’ve not seen many films that open with pretty much a flat-out spoiler for another comic book movie, but Deadpool 2 – much like its predecessor – has an admirable outright determination to have its cake, eat it, and then have a bit more. The first five to ten minutes is a real blast of intent too, with the fourth wall comfortably splashed, a bit of Dolly Parton played, and a slightly more global feel introduced. Deadpool 2 is a firm believer in the more is more mantra.
At the heart of the sequel, more than ever, is Ryan Reynolds in the title role, joyfully spitting out lines that take aim at the box office take of The Passion Of The Christ, saving the world, and looking to start a family with Vanessa, played again by the terrific Morena Baccarin. It’s hard not, in the very early stages too, to feel like you’re in safe hands. Sure, the directorial baton has passed from Tim Miller (who exited over creative differences) to John Wick co-director David Leitch, but at first it feels like the film has extended the marketing campaign, and very much captured its tone.
However, things soon start to flatten.
The trick that the original Deadpool movie pulled off was to take, at heart, a conventional comic book movie plot, and overlay it with very, very funny jokes and sequences. It was a decade-long labour of love to pretty much drag it to the screen in the first place. The problem, though, is the kind of jokes that the first Deadpool was telling felt risky and against convention. Now, though, there’s a feeling that it’s all more expected. As a consequence, Deadpool 2’s humour feels less spiky, and – appreciating comedy more than most things is subjective – the laugh count feels dramatically down. There are a couple of excellent gags in here, that I won’t spoil, but that stick out all the more so because so many of the other moments fell flat for me. In the first film, it would have worked to joke that a CG fight was to follow. In the second, they joke, and then there’s just a fairly flat CG fight. Just because you’re openly acknowledging that you’re getting a big effects fight next, it doesn’t mitigate the fact that the resultant battle drags.
Leitch as a director feels more at home, in his defence, with the more physical battle sequences than the ones that appear to require dramatic computer enhancement. His comedy touch doesn’t feel as assured though, but then he’s not helped by this film feeling a lot less ensemble-driven than the first. It’s in good part because key characters from the first film – Brianna Hildegrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead and the Stefan Kapicic-voiced Colossus in particular – are sidelined for much of this one. We get doses of Karan Soni’s Dopinder and T J Miller’s Weasel as well, but the collective screen time of the supporting cast feels reduced in favour of moving Deadpool front and centre.
Surprisingly, the key new characters get relatively short shrift too. Josh Brolin has real presence as Cable, but there’s not space here to establish much of his character yet, and as a consequence, it’s hard to get too much of a handle on him. Zazie Beetz is brilliantly bright as Domino, and her demeanour is one of the comedy successes of the film, but again, you simply don’t get time with her. In fact, the introducing of the X-Force group – ready for their own future movie – is fun, but brief. To the point where if something like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had done it, it would have been heavily criticised, whereas Deadpool 2 might just get away with it, because in part, fandom is more on its side.
Reynolds is good company, of course (and he gets co-writer credit this time), but like most comedy performers, he works best with people around him. There’s the seeds of a good double act with Brolin’s Cable here, frustratingly, but not enough to lift it off the screen just yet. There’s something to look forward to in that aforementioned X-Force movie there, though. Most disappointingly of all, however, Deadpool 2 makes a plot choice surrounding one character that, again, I won’t spoil here, but my heart sank the minute it happened. It felt like we’d rewound a good decade or so, and narratively for me, it landed a fatal blow the movie never recovered from. It stuck out watching the film, and it sticks out thinking about it afterwards.
Deadpool 2 will clearly find its audience, and it’ll be the most mirthless of minds that gets no chuckle from it. But it’s, in my view at least, a downgrade on the first film, both narratively and comedically. It is, though, worth sticking through the end credits…
Deadpool 2 is in UK cinemas from May 16th.