Superhero films have had a tendency to be a po-faced lot. Guardians Of The Galaxy did a lot to reverse that trend, but it took 2016’s Deadpool to bring some proper, ugly, nasty, sweary humour to the genre. It was a foul, filthy film, wrong and bad, and it was very, very funny as a result. And what made it so effective was its clear, sharp focus on its central and titular character, played with a quite remarkable range of snark, pathos and vim by Ryan Reynolds. It was a film about Deadpool, and it was dead good.
Deadpool 2, on the other hand, is a film with Deadpool in it, and it is so much the weaker for that subtle but disappointing change. While 2016’s original was a character-driven film, its sequel has decided that we’ve seen enough about Deadpool, and we now need a story. The story, then, such as it is, is that having suffered a shocking loss, Deadpool finds himself trying to help out a young mutant named Russell but calling himself Firefist. The two find themselves in mutant prison and wearing shackles that defeat their superpowers; all the while, Josh Brolin’s Cable is up to no good, it appears. Wade — for without his powers, he’s hardly Deadpool any longer — and Russell break out of prison (hardly a spoiler; it would be a very short and pointless film otherwise), form a superhero troop of their own, and try to put things right.
And the fact that there’s that much story is the problem. The original film, as we’ve said, had a laser-like focus on its central character and his potty mouth. This sequel has too much to do, too many characters to keep track of — it has a story, and that just gets in the way of what would be, were it to be a Deadpool film worthy of the title, fun and foul and wrong. Instead, it gets bogged down in trying to go in too many directions at once. When Reynolds is allowed to be Deadpool — which happens far too infrequently; he’s simply Wade for entirely too much of the film — he’s every bit as arch and tart and bitchy and catty as he was two years ago. But he has to share too much of the film with Brolin, and Julian Dennison as Russell, and the balance has shifted, and not for the better. The first film was a very, very funny film that happened to have roots in the Marvel universe; this is a Marvel film that has some funny scenes. And doesn’t it know it’s a Marvel film — there are endless in-jokes about X Men and Patrick Stewart and this not being a DC film, and while there’s humour to be found in so much meta-ness, it occasionally becomes just a little too knowing. Marvel fans will relish the crossover appeal of mutants and X-characters and Cable, but ultimately all they really manage to do is dilute the ‘pool.
The supporting cast do their best to pick up the slack when Reynolds is off screen, which happens altogether too often. Dennison, of course, has been lionised in the New Zealand press, but he’s given much too little to do in this film; while clearly had a lot of fun making Hunt For The Wilderpeople, and that film was as close to perfect as a film has been in some years, he doesn’t get chance to do much more than scowl and shout in Deadpool 2. A mention of him being “some kid from New Zealand” got a cheer, of course, in a screening in Pukekohe, but he deserves better roles. So does Zazie Beetz as Domino, another character who really needed a touch more fleshing out and something more than the racially-questionable dismissing she gets from Deadpool toward the end of the film. So do Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Shioli Katsuna’s Yukio, who seem to serve little purpose beyond ticking the “inter-racial lesbian couple” box.
I should have realised that Deadpool 2 could never be as good as the original. We saw something similar thirty years ago with Crocodile Dundee — the first film was about a character, and it was bloody funny, but the second tried to put him in a story, and it fell quite flat. Deadpool’s writers would do well to dwell on the lesson that they failed to learn from that disappointment before they try writing the inevitable Deadpool 3, or we’ll be in for even more crushing let-downs in a couple of years.