Deadpool 2: Go With a Smile, by Tyler Smith
David Leitch’s Deadpool 2 is a surprisingly difficult film to review. There’s just something about the film’s near-constant meta commentary that almost seems to anticipate any positive or negative comments the audience may have about it. I suppose that’s part of the appeal of the film; it is so self aware that it almost functions as a review of itself, along with every other major superhero film of the last few years. To do this while still trying to construct and maintain an engaging story requires a degree of tightrope walking that I’m pleased to say the makers of Deadpool 2 are mostly able to accomplish.
The story kicks things off in a decidedly James Bond-esque way, with Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) trying to find domestic happiness with girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), only for his world to come crashing down. As Deadpool is pulled back into action, he encounters a young mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison), whose treatment at the hands of would-be mutant sympathizers has turned him angry and vengeful. Enter Cable (Josh Brolin), a soldier from the future hellbent on murdering young Russell in order to change the course of history. In an attempt to save the boy, Deadpool assembles a ragtag team of mutants to ride with into battle.
This team – which includes Zazie Beetz, Terry Crews, Rob Delaney, and Bill Skarsgard – is an enjoyable ensemble, but it’s really Brolin and Dennison that contribute the most to the film. Few actors can make humorlessness as entertaining as Josh Brolin does, and Cable is nothing if not utterly humorless. But, of course, underneath the many battle scars is a man whose own pain and loss have given him laser focus on his goal. It’s hard to know exactly if Cable is a hero or a villain. Is he noble or monstrous? This tension of character is something that Brolin has always excelled at, and it is a big part of what keeps the story so propulsive.
Julian Dennison, the breakout star of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, brings a lot of heart to Russell. The character is, at times, kind of adorable, but often in the midst of horrifying situations (like constantly trying to shiv people at a prison). But, like Cable, we need to see the seeds of good and evil within Russell. We need to believe that he could someday be capable of tremendous brutality. That Dennison can be frightening and funny, often within the same scene, all while holding his own alongside pros like Reynolds and Brolin, speaks to his ability and confidence as an actor.
Hinging an action film on the endangerment of a child is certainly nothing new. The Terminator movies have been doing it for years, and even last year’s Logan features a storyline that is broadly similar. But story has never been what Deadpool is about. Despite the constant stream of jokes, these films actually have at their core a surprising amount of heart. Deadpool is a character that has experienced extreme trauma, both physically and emotionally. His scars have made it so that he can never be who he once was, and his mutation has made him nearly unkillable. Like Wolverine before him, his invulnerability and longevity are, in many ways, a curse, forcing him to forever live with his pain. But where Wolverine broods over this fact, Deadpool has chosen to laugh, while never quite forgetting the sacrifices he has made to get here.
He is a fascinating character, whose genuine moments of longing and playful winks at the audience are brought together nicely by Ryan Reynolds, who imbues the character with a boiling anger just under his smarmy veneer. These films were always going to live or die based on the lead performance, and it’s safe to say that Reynolds’ sensibilities are at this point so vital to the tone of the series that it could not exist without him.
However, the gallows humor is not isolated to Deadpool himself. This isn’t simply a straightforward superhero film with an off-kilter lead. Every bit of the film is saturated with the manic energy and gleeful violence displayed by the character himself. And, frankly, with other recent superhero films upping the ante as far as body count, this film underlines the invulnerability of its lead by playing up the expendability of everybody else. The audacity of this film – to set up and knock down its supporting cast like so many bowling pins – is bound to delight and infuriate hardcore fans. There were even a few moments when I felt taken aback by the filmmakers’ choices, and I haven’t read a comic book in years.
But that’s what this film series has always been about. Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe grows wider and wider, and the DC Universe darker and darker, the world of Deadpool looks at all of it and shakes its head. After all, many of these films are so adept at drawing in their audience that we often fail to realize just how absurd these stories are. Deadpool is willing to point that out, while never straying from what it is that engages these audiences in the first place. Superhero movies are often about outsiders, wronged by life and trying to cope. Out of their sense of injustice, these characters choose not to dwell in their grief, but to instead let it motivate them. Deadpool is no different; he just chooses to do it with a smile on his face and a knowing twinkle in his eye. And at this point – both in film and, frankly, in the world around us – that can come as a welcome relief.