Sometimes I don’t know what’s been worse for my mental health — 20th Century Fox’s “news” division or its superhero movies. On one side, you’ve got a bunch of formerly credible people debasing themselves to sell a ridiculous narrative of white persecution, and succeeding despite being so transparently full of shit that it makes you question everything about your reality. And on the other side, you’ve got a propaganda channel that employs racist potato sack Sean Hannity. It’s a real toss-up.
So thank god for Deadpool, the one and only X-Men film in Fox’s near-20 year history of trying to make X-Men films that is genuinely good from start to finish. Deadpool was everything Fox’s other efforts weren’t — fun, funny, genuinely affecting, and enamored of its comic book roots rather than embarrassed by them. Swimming similar waters as James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool is a potent mix of retro pop needle-drops, cheeky self-awareness, raunchy jokes, and a big, open heart. It was also quietly innovative. Where other superhero films went big, Deadpool went small, content to zero in on a very simple story of loneliness and revenge supported by just two major action sequences. Clever use of non-linear editing — something almost never employed in blockbuster cinema — obscured its modest scale. In a blockbuster environment choked with self-seriousness and ever-increasing spectacle, Deadpool was a breath of fresh air. Made for a piddly (for a superhero film at least) $58 million, Deadpool grossed Fox north of $780 million, giving them a downright comical return on investment of at least 700 percent. But just in case you’re tempted to give Fox credit for that — don’t, because Deadpool‘s production history is well known and damning. The film was basically made under duress.
All of this is preamble to say that I had little hope that Deadpool 2 could deliver. The threat of a sophomore slump is real even under the best of conditions, and something as unique and fresh as the first Deadpool could easily have felt stale on a second go-around. Deadpool 2 was also saddled with high expectations from both audiences and the clueless, meddling idiots who run Fox. Behind-the-scenes drama about directors dropping in and out, casting battles, and so forth only gave me more reason to be cynical. With all that in the air, it would not have surprised me in the least if we got another wet fart from the big league fuck-ups who have driven their legendary 80-year old movie studio into the ground.
But I needn’t have worried. Because Deadpool 2 has the goods.
Right from the start, it’s evident that Deadpool 2 isn’t resting on its laurels. The opening ten minutes leap effortlessly from a silly-gory in media res teaser to a raucous, globe-hopping prologue, to an opening credits sequence that should make the folks over at Eon hang their heads in shame. It’s a total blast. From there, Deadpool 2 throws itself headfirst into a manic smash-and-grab of a story. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, joined this time by star Ryan Reynolds, are unapologetic about stuffing every joke, every reference, every crazy idea that they can think of into the screenplay — just because they can. At one point, an unexpected cameo even prompts Deadpool/Reynolds to gush, “Oh my god! He’s my favorite comic book character!” That all of this wacky nonsense adds up to another genuinely affecting story in the end is something of a miracle.
Credit for that should go first and foremost to the cast’s most important new addition — Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s Julian Dennison. As you may have gathered from the trailers, Dennison’s character (whose true identity I won’t reveal here for the sake of serious X-fans) is a bad egg, and Cable has come back from the future to terminate him before he gets too powerful. Dennison plays him as a sweet and vulnerable kid who has been abused by a world that hates and fears him, and who is teetering on the edge of turning all that hate and violence back on the world. It’s not a stretch to say that Dennison does more to give emotional credibility to mutants in the X-universe than literally any character we’ve seen previously.1 The fate of Dennison’s character gives the film’s finale the kind of dramatic heft we so rarely get these days. The stakes are as simple as one kid’s soul.
The other big standout in Deadpool 2 is Zazie Beetz as Domino. Beetz has tons of screen presence, sure, but it’s her acting choices that really stand out. Domino’s superpower is “luck,” and Beetz smartly plays her with the kind of breezy pleasantness that a supernaturally charmed person would have. While everyone else is grunting and screaming their way through action scenes, Domino is blithely riding the wave and just letting things work out for her, as they always do. The unique nature of her superpower also allows director David Leitch and his stunt team to get super creative with her action beats, killing off her adversaries as much through Final Destination-like freak accidents as bullets and fisticuffs. Whenever Deadpool 2 threatens to devolve into a bog standard shoot-em-up or beat-’em-down, Beetz pops up to make things interesting again.
Here’s where I’ll briefly admit that the movie is not without it’s faults, as I am contractually obligated to do. The overstuffed narrative sometimes labors under the additional weight, and it totally lacks the lean-and-mean effectiveness of its predecessor . Some jokes really don’t work, or are so of-the-moment that they feel dated already. It can feel like the Shrek 2 of superhero movies, in that regard. We don’t get enough of Josh Brolin’s Cable to make him interesting, and anyone hoping for more of the first film’s unsung MVP, Negasonic, are likely to be disappointed.2 Those who, like me, enjoyed Junkie XL’s synth-heavy score will have to make do with something more subtle from Tyler Bates (listen closely).
But harping on about any of that stuff feels like epic point-missing. Somehow, under Fox’s ever-watching and overbearing Eye of Dipshit-Sauron, Reynolds, Reese, Wernick, and Leitch were somehow able to make a genuinely good Deadpool sequel. Despite going much bigger, they manage to stay on task and give audiences exactly what they hoped they would get—the same silly, good-natured raunch, but splashed on a much bigger canvas. Deadpool 2 proves that the first film was no fluke, that the Merc with a Mouth deserves his own lengthy franchise, and that the real pay-off to all those years of Singer-soaked, black leather-clad misery isn’t Logan‘s wistful good-bye, it’s Wade Wilson painting the box office wall with its fucking brains and laughing all the way to the bank.