"Deadpool 2 is very pleased with itself, and not nearly so subversive as it imagines"

Cable Ready

(052618) As the superhero movie spreads like a forest fire to every corner of mainstream film-making, it has branched out in unexpected ways. In the last two years or so we've had superhero slapstick (Thor: Ragnarok), superhero metaphysics (Doctor Strange), superhero feminism (Wonder Woman) and superhero self-satire (Deadpool).

Though that last film was praised to the skies by some critics for its daring nihilism, I found it a tiresome, nasty, misogynistic production, in which the anti-hero's whining mockery was interspersed with spectacularly unpleasant outbursts of violence. It had no charm and showcased Ryan Reynolds at his most irritatingly smug.

My expectations of the sequel, then, were not sky high. But while no masterpiece, Deadpool 2 is funnier than the original, and not nearly so objectionable. In the 2016 film, we were introduced to Wade Wilson (Reynolds), a well-intentioned mercenary who's working Manhattan's mean streets when he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He's reeling from this news when a mysterious stranger offers to inject him with a special serum that will cure his disease and unleash hidden mutant superpowers. It did that alright, but also severely disfigured him, after which he became a vengeful and unstable masked avenger.

Wade's superhero alter ego is Deadpool and his powers include great strength, agility and an ability to recover from even the most terrible wound. But he seems unsure about superhero etiquette, and tends to leave a trail of mangled corpses in his wake. He's a kind of punk X-Man who swears like a longshoreman, drinks to excess and uses duct tape to stop the arse of his homemade superhero suit from falling out.

The one civilizing influence in Wade's life is Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a former prostitute to whom he's hopelessly devoted. At the start of Deadpool 2, they're planning to start a family together when a criminal gang stages a brutal raid on his apartment. Wade and Vanessa are separated and without her calming influence he descends into a tailspin of nihilistic violence and ends up in prison. There he befriends a teenage mutant called Russell, who can shoot fire from his fists but seems lost and vulnerable. Meanwhile, a cybernetic mutant soldier called Cable (Josh Brolin) has travelled back in time and seems hell-bent on killing Russell. But what Wade wants to know is why?

Based on a 1990s Marvel comic book character, Deadpool and Deadpool 2 are unruly offshoots of the X-Men franchise and intended as salty satires on the pompous wholesomeness of that film series and the superhero genre in general. The first film had shock value: its violence was nihilistic, the F-word was dispensed with gay abandon and Wade seemed to mock the very idea that anyone could claim to be a hero at all.

Its looseness and low humor made Deadpool a surprise hit: made for under $60m, it grossed almost $800m worldwide, revived Reynold's moribund movie career and, in the US, became the second most profitable R-rated film ever, behind Mel Gibson's Passion Of The Christ. There's a reference to that in Deadpool 2, which is full of such knowing in-jokes. When Deadpool is asked for an autograph, he signs it Ryan Reynolds. He breaks the fourth wall constantly and comments regularly on the superhero genre. When he first meets Josh Brolin's character Cable, he says "you're dark - are you from the DC Universe?". All of this is wonderful news for diehard superhero buffs, who tittered dutifully from murky corners at the screening I attended. Deadpool 2 is very pleased with itself, and not nearly so subversive as it imagines: for all its swearing and preening cynicism, it's still a superhero film and that's about as blandly mainstream as you can get.

But the writing's funnier this time and Reynold's exhaustingly energetic performance holds the show together. There is a scene involving Wilson gathering his team, X-Force, and their first mission that had me in sustained laughter for a solid 3 minutes. The result is a broader, more expansive film then the first in every way: it has more kinds of jokes than the first film (in which everything was either mocking formulaic comic book movies, or hoping the F word was intrinsically funny), more and better action, substantially more of an attempt to have some kind of strong emotional content. What made the difference? Could just be as simple a thing as the change in director. The most significant change to the creative team is that Tim Miller (who had never directed a film prior to Deadpool and still hasn't made a second) has been replaced by David Leitch, co-director of the 2014 John Wick, who made his solo debut with 2017's under-rated Atomic Blonde. This has one obvious, major effect on the film, which is that its action scenes are vastly superior not just to those in Deadpool, but to almost every other superhero movie of the last several years. There's a very good car chase in the middle of the film that moves between different stages of action with excellent timing, and a climactic slug-fest between two CGI blobs that is one of the very best CGI blob fights I've seen, actually suggesting a clash of two heavy, large fighters with substantial weight and mass. It's, like, a proper action movie, something a superhero film hasn't been since I don't even want to think of when.

Directed by:  David Leitch
Written by:  Screenplay by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds, based on the characters from Marvel Comics
Starring:   Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin
Released:  051818
Length:  119 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material

DEADPOOL 2   2018 20th Century Fox
Review 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.