At the opening of Deadpool 2, we see the titular super-antihero constructing a model of Wolverine—and not just any Wolverine, but dead Wolverine, impaled on a tree branch as he was at the end of Logan. It’s a remarkably apt curtain-raiser: hilarious, but with a vein of tragedy that will consistently characterize—and deepen—the film to a surprising degree.
Wade Wilson (a.k.a. Deadpool) is not in an upbeat mood. Our potty-mouthed and essentially unkillable protagonist huffs a few breaths from his gas oven before lying down on several barrels full of test fuel. Ever competitive, he takes a drag on a cigarette and explains, “Guess what, Wolvy: In this one, I’m dying too.” He flips his cigarette in the air and, when it comes back down, it does what flame sources tend to do when they come in contact with 1,200 gallons of immensely flammable liquid. Boom.
Rewind to a few days or weeks earlier: Wade (Ryan Reynolds) is working his way through a gang of child traffickers. Katana-severed limbs fly everywhere, set to the accompaniment of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” (What a way to make a living!) Alas, he’s only half finished when he realizes he’s late for an anniversary dinner with his fiancée, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When his ride, the cabbie Dopinder (Karan Soni), asks, “So, mission accomplished?” Wade replies, “Well, in a George W. kind of way.”
For their anniversary, Wade gives Vanessa a Skee-Ball token, in memory of their first date. She, looking forward rather than backward, gives him her IUD: She wants to make a baby. If you can’t guess where this is headed, you’ve probably never seen a movie before. The subsequent title sequence helpfully introduces the film as “Presented by What the Fuck?” and “Directed by One of the Guys Who Killed the Dog in John Wick.”
The movie that unfolds from this premise is at least as funny as the original Deadpool, and better in virtually every other respect: better plot, better villains, a few unexpected narrative swerves, and, yes, at least one genuinely moving sequence. The first Deadpool felt like an experiment in Can we make a raunchy comedy that’s also a superhero movie? Seven hundred and eighty-three million dollars of global box office later, that question has been conclusively answered, so this time out the filmmakers can concentrate on perfecting the form. They come pretty close.
After a variety of customary misbehaviors, Wade finds himself incarcerated in the “ice box,” a wintry mountain prison for mutants. There, his cellmate is a slightly hefty Kiwi teen named Russell (Julian Dennison)—or, as he prefers, “Firefist”—with serious anger-management issues. (Asked why he doesn’t become a crime-fighter, he replies, “Have you ever seen a plus-size superhero? The industry discriminates.”) The mismatched duo are barely ensconced in their new digs before a cyborg from the future—or, as Wade describes him, “a grumpy old fucker with a Winter Soldier arm”—named Cable (Josh Brolin), shows up and tries to murder Russell.
In an effort to protect the boy, Wade puts together his own supergroup, with the help of his bartender pal, Weasel (T.J. Miller). In contrast to the X-Men, Wade announces his super-team will be a “forward-thinking, gender-neutral” X-Force. I won’t bore you with the whole group, as most play limited roles, but it’s worth mentioning Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose odd but highly useful superpower is being exceptionally lucky. (Whether or not this actually constitutes a superpower is, of course, subject to extensive onscreen debate.) X-Men Colossus—a CGI giant voiced by Stefan Kapičić--and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) make reappearances, as does Wade’s former roomie Blind Al (Leslie Uggams). And I won’t disclose the identity of the longtime X-Men nemesis (no, not Magneto) who plays a significant role.
The one-liners are as sharp as Deadpool’s swords, including gags about Interview With the Vampire, Yentl, Fox & Friends, RoboCop, Dave Matthews, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Say Anything, and countless others. There are almost too many in-jokes about superhero movies to keep track of, at the expense of Marvel and DC alike. (Yes, it goes to “Martha.”) But unlike its predecessor, Deadpool 2 is more than just a litany of wisecracks: “Good guys” will be revealed to be not so good, and “bad guys,” not so bad.
The direction by David Leitch (who was, indeed, an uncredited co-director of John Wick) is brisk and fluid, and the script, which Reynolds co-wrote with Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is, as noted, a substantial upgrade on that earlier effort. Reynolds is so comfortable in the title role it’s almost hard to picture him doing anything else. And Brolin, who’s had quite a season of supervillainy—he also played the motion-capture Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War—is once again terrific. Let there be no doubt: His Cable is premium, not basic.
The film ends on a remarkably touching emotional note. Had it held to the strength of its convictions—and it is immensely obvious why it did not—it might have been the best ending of any superhero movie to date. (No, the bar’s not terribly high.) But it’s nonetheless awfully good, and we can still look forward to, mid-credits, the world’s best-ever Green Lantern joke.