'Deadpool 2' Not Quite The Electric Boogaloo I Hoped For

Directed by: David Leicht; Runtime: 119 minutes
Grade: C+

In a climate of movies dominated by the prevalence of Marvel's cinematic universe and the heavy somberness of DC's outings, Deadpool ended up being exactly what was needed to take both sides down a few pegs. After vigorous crowd support and the dedicated efforts of Ryan Reynolds to get right what went so wrong with the character's depiction in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the creative forces came together into what I personally described as a "gleefully violent and blatantly subversive" piece of work, one that relishes how it breaks the fourth wall and deliberately pokes fun at the superhero genre. By getting the character right and living up to audience's expectations -- as well as a gangbusters turnout at the box office -- the bar was set pretty high for whatever would come out of a sequel. In steps Deadpool 2, and while the same sort of descriptions for the initial film also fit its follow-up, it's hard to deny that the forces behind this one got distracted by a desire to one-up what worked previously, cranking up the raucous humor and self-aware lampoons to a point that tries too hard to get its jollies.

Following the craziness of Wade Wilson's transformation into the "Merc With a Mouth" from the first film, Deadpool 2 picks up shortly after its happy ending, in which the hero (Ryan Reynolds, duh), whose genetic modifications grant him enhanced physicality and regeneration abilities that keep his cancer at bay, has led him into globe-trotting mercenary work. Battling the evils of the world also comes with personal dangers, of course, bringing tragedy into Wade's life within the first couple of minutes into this sequel. In response, Deadpool dons his costume and pushes the limits of his abilities by becoming self-destructive, but eventually -- with a little help from certain X-friends -- he tries to piece himself back together and refocus on fighting the bad guys again. While getting back to his normal mouthy self and engaging a different sort of mission, he interacts with a fire-wielding teenager named Russell (Julian Dennison), who's angry at the treatment at his mutant orphanage. His fury has such a wide impact that time-traveling strongman Cable (Josh Brolin) zips back to the current era to fix some of the chaos unleashed by Russell.

The stars aligned better than expected with the first Deadpool, which told an emotive story about Wade Wilson's relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) as he made choices about what's worth doing to his body to fix his cancer and keep their love alive. While not original or complex, everything meshed into an amusing, yet uniquely effective superhero origin story with an expressive backbone, something that director David Leitch and his threesome of writers -- including Ryan Reynolds -- attempt to mirror in Deadpool 2 with a combo of collateral-damage tragedy and the abuse of a teenage mutant. This time, between how somber motivations are created for Deadpool and Julian Dennison's portrayal of a mistreated teen, the underlying sentiments carry both more intensity and less actual impact than Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's first stab at the character. Admittedly, the endlessly sarcastic Deadpool isn't an easy character to progress since so little about him can be taken seriously, but the inelegance and contrivance involved in this sequel's momentum doesn't help matters. Wade Wilson says it himself: there's lazy writing going on here.

What's more dissatisfying about Deadpool 2 is the humor, both the caliber and the frequency. As Deadpool becomes self-destructive, turns over a … uh, different leaf, and interacts with fresh allies and villains, the film doesn't have the same availability to focus on building his character's origin and mythos, and that's where much of the effective self-aggrandizing and fourth-wall-breaking jokes stemmed from in the original. Instead, attention falls more on directly poking fun at idiosyncrasies in the story itself, Marvel's cinematic universe -- as well as the DC universe, to lesser degrees -- and stale pop-culture references and exploiting the desire to further as much of its R-rated reputation as possible. With Deadpool, there was balance; with Deadpool 2, the efforts seem persistent and overt. In some ways, this improves as soon as his new superhero buddies get more comfortable around him: Josh Brolin's gruffness as time-slipping cyborg Cable taps into deadpan suppression of Wade's antics, while Zazie Beetz's cheeky vibrancy as the luck-based heroine Domino could possibly fill the space of her own movie.

The facets that worked together so well before don't fit together as seamlessly in Deadpool 2, though, something that can't be easily overlooked with a plot that's both mundane and overly complicated. Director Leitch works from a script that falls victim to many other superhero sequels, one that dramatically escalates the scope and stakes of what's going on, embellished by the time-travel facets introduced by Cable's arrival. There's a lot going on here: physical abuse to mutant children, preventing future deaths by going back in time to kill wrongdoers, establishing a prison (and tech) for criminals who wield powers, and forming a team of heroes not unlike a combo of the X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy. Oddly enough, all that can feel almost like the rough components of what's going on in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that predictable uptick in comic-book scale causes this film to escape the grasp that the screenwriters had on what works with Deadpool. An attempt is made at personal drama with how Deadpool approaches the teenager and how Cable copes with his family's death, but the abuse plotting and the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff ends up too big and brash in comparison to Wade defending his best girl.

A key creative force behind John Wick and Atomic Blonde, David Leitch has orchestrated a fine-enough action movie with Deadpool 2, I suppose, but its most proficiently-executed sequences are also tied to some of the story's weaker aspects, such as the early slow-mo tragedy that changes Wade Wilson's life and a certain multiple-hero parachuting descent that's undercut by its absurdity. The uptick in visual effects afforded by a larger budget are off-and-on convincing, so long as it's computer-generated elements that are coming in contact with one another: whenever a digital creation interacts with something practical, such as when an ultra-heavy body collides with a metal obstacle, the impact isn't as convincing as when, say, two ultra-heavy CG bodies are in the midst of a comic-book style brawl. Reynolds' voice meshes well with whomever's in the suit as a continuation of the unconventional hero's crime-fighting chaos, and he gets a few zingers in on Josh Brolin's equally stout Cable. There's a pile of entertainment value here, of course, yet somewhere in the thick of spicy dialogue, minor-league team assembly, and general sequel mannerisms, the Merc With a Mouth seems to have misplaced the exact recipe for the wonderful chimichangas he made two years back.

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