‘Deadpool 2’ Serves Up Somewhat Superhero Subversion, and Its Slight Success Is a Sliver Saddening

Logan turned its R-rating into a somber, existential and even in parts meditative affair reflecting on the nature of who we are; whether or not we remain capable of change in the midst of an uncaring world with no pity for our mortality, and Deadpool’s not too happy about it. The Merc with the Mouth’s much-anticipated sequel opens with yet another reference to his curious Wolverine complex: an oddly cutesy toy depicting Wolverine’s death, impaled on a log, that can spin around playing lullaby music. He complains with his usual sense of psychotic sarcasm that Wolverine jacked his style, vaguely threatening the audience that he will die if that means reclaiming the R-rated superhero throne.

Not that he was ever cast from it, however, as global box office totals prove and which he surely knows given his fourth-wall breaking wisecracking about superhero movies, financing and the industry itself. That Deadpool, as a character, is insecure, however, ought not come as much of a surprise, busting through a madcap surfeit of passive aggressive jabs at previously established franchise entities, resentful of not having his own fifteen minutes until this late in the game. He is a playfully spiteful king protectively wearing his crown, but even he subtly admits in this opening sequence that the anger that has characterized him may not be for much longer.

Like Logan, Deadpool 2 looks at the sustainability of persistent anger as a defining trait, though while it is much briefer here, this exploration is subtly framed as the subversion of who we expect Wade Wilson to be, as if his arc toward realizing its total destructiveness were the ultimate subversive act changing how we expect this particular superhero narrative to be told. Or perhaps, that’s how we inevitably view this transition, contextualized by the character himself, and then is projected upon how we interpret and process the story’s structure. In either case, it’s a fun idea from returning co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick that adds an intriguing new flavor to the formula, though doesn’t quite tweak the recipe in a meaningful way.

It’s arguably a microcosm for the Deadpool franchise aesthetic as a whole; interested in subverting tropes merely for the sake of subversion itself. It laughs in the face of all that is familiar without making or suggesting any changes to the system it mocks, because if it can string together a quick succession of laughs from its relentlessly caustic reference-making, then there’s nothing truly wrong with the formula. And though there are other elements to Deadpool 2’s story, aside from its continuing where the first film’s comedy left off, that intimate at a slightly different sort of narrative, with the usual fun characters and performances in tow, it can’t help but feel as though it’s walking the same path as before.

It was already enough to accept that a character whose modus operandi revolves around mercilessly making everyone and everything the butt of incisive joking could actually embark upon any meaningful development – something Reese and Wernick accomplish quite nicely, in fact – but reconciling that the film was never going to deviate too far from what ensured the first film’s surprise success is a whole other bitter pill admittedly alleviated by solid craftsmanship. Leitch proves his directorial pedigree navigating through thrilling, though at times chaotic set pieces and franchise newcomer Zazie Beetz emanates charisma as Domino. Most importantly, though, Ryan Reynolds keeps Deadpool’s occasionally exhausting antics from becoming too grating from the burdens of expectation.

Even still, the film can only manage some scattershot and modest chuckles compared to its predecessor because of that expectation, leaving one to wonder whether the comedy in the first film primarily hinged on there being no previous reference point for such acerbic, foul-mouthed humor in a superhero film. Josh Brolin’s gruff, no-nonsense Cable and Julian Dennison’s Russell Collins/Firefist, along with both’s steady emotional motivations sensitively handled by Leitch, however, offer a satisfying counterbalance to Deadpool’s consistent punchline and insult-slinging when he isn’t uncharacteristically brooding. Arguably, it’s their presence, in addition to other minor characters, that makes the material work more than Reynolds’s being faithful to the titular mercenary.

Though it’s unfortunate to think of Deadpool 2 as a movie that succeeds in spite of itself, it’s perhaps a conclusion that could have been spotted from miles off. With a production budget nearly double the size of the first and being shown greater faith in its performance with a release date amongst a saturated summer schedule, the minimal margin for error Reese and Wernick surely felt might not have been the best work environment in terms of complete creativity and possibly even risk-taking. MCU Marvel movies are known for their particular brand and usage of humor, but for Deadpool, comedy is an irrevocable facet to experiencing and understanding how stories and dialogue flows, and how we perceive performance and chemistry.

Deadpool 2 only solidifies the feeling that comedy and traditional structure are hopelessly entwined. The laughs may satisfy yearning hungers, but there comes a point when you realize they aren’t interested, if they ever were, in carefully extracting humor as much as plugging in whatever assortment of words and phrases can force out a laugh or two, because it has nothing else on which to rest its laurels. Though its expected and grows weary at times, its an expectation that must be met, or else the general aesthetic keeping everything afloat starts taking on water. This boat hasn’t sunk yet, though if it does, you know the Merc won’t shut his mouth up comically excoriating what went wrong.

3/5

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