Deadpool 2 is what happens when fan service becomes sentient. All the hopes and dreams of the hyperconscious devotee thrust mind, body, and soul into one red-suited, yammering assassin. It does every single thing that the Deadpool comics promised: merciless violence, powers that fuse cool ninja shit and guns, an indestructible hero who turns mid-panel to address the reader with smirk-worthy pop cultural bon mots, sidekicks who deserve their own titles, undercooked villains, a tangential connection to the X-Men universe, time travel, more bon mots, Brad Pitt, assholes teasing out their likability, and an ever-raining frog-shower of bullet casings. It is a masterpiece of Too Much, a blender crammed full of IP, only they forgot to affix the cap before turning it on. Deadpool 2 just sprays itself all over the place, from the moment Wade Wilson appears on screen to burst his body into a flaming pile of appendages all the way to the end-credits sequence when Deadpool assassinates every last vestige of his previous life, from the bungled version of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the actor Ryan Reynolds, who so perfectly imbues Deadpool with the getta-loada-me smarm offensive that made Deadpool such a vivid, representative, and useful figure in the ’90s Marvel canon. That sentence had too many words and clauses and that’s just the kind of sentence that should appear in a review of a movie like Deadpool 2, where going for it isn’t just a choice—it’s the very point of the thing. Deadpool 2 is the cinematic embodiment of Your Problematic Fave and the logical conclusion to our superhero existential sigh. It is R-rated and so proud of exploiting that fact to its gruesome, end-zone-dancing extreme at every turn. I, for one, welcome our new meta overlords.
Let me be less straightforward, to keep this review going: Deadpool 2 is a helluva movie—mostly hell, but not always in a way that would suggest it’s bad for the world. It opens with two simple words: “Fuck Wolverine,” and from there we are off into a solar system that seems somehow separate from the expanded universes that American movies have been teleported into for the past 10 years. This is a world where when the time-traveling soldier-killer Cable (played with teeth-gritting quasi-charm by Josh Brolin) describes the elusive and somewhat illogical powers of the machine that allows him to jump across the space-time continuum, Deadpool simply mutters, “That’s just lazy writing” directly to the audience. And we accept that the breezy, impossible logic of comic book storytelling is mostly mularkey without worrying much about how that could undermine our investment in the story. In fact, less than three weeks removed from the manufactured anxiety of the Avengers: Infinity War superhero death crisis, we watch Reynolds’s character die three different times in this movie. He’s also shot dozens of times, a spike is thrust into his cranium, he has his arms bent like pipe cleaners, and his torso ripped completely from his legs by an iconic X-Men bad guy. He then regrows those legs and goes pantsless—Porky Piggin’ it, so to speak—for a solid five minutes. It all seems cool, not really a big deal. These are strange times at the movies.
Here are some other things Deadpool directly references in his second movie: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s silly mommy moment, the Frozen soundtrack, Hawkeye’s lack of powers, dubstep, the Winter Soldier, Yentl, Reservoir Dogs, Black Panther, the DC Universe writ large, Iron Man 2’s use of AC/DC, Say Anything, and about a dozen more morsels of pop culture ephemera. At one point, Deadpool turns to Cable and calls him “Thanos,” a direct reference to the fact Brolin is portraying two canonical Marvel characters in movies released by two different studios in the space of a month. And all this referentiality can be great fun the first time around—at my screening, there was a fellow who yelled “Woot!” every time he heard a pearl-clutching, line-crossing reference he understood. He was a cowbell for the cattle, a kind of scorekeeper for our game of What Did Deadpool Do? Some of that is depressing. At one point, before a showdown between two oversized comic book characters, Deadpool purrs into the camera, “Here comes a big CGI fight.” It’s a cute joke, but also a sick reminder that director David Leitch—cheekily referred to as One of the Guys Who Killed the Dog in John Wick in the opening credits—and one of the best fight choreographers in the world, is forced to make two animated monsters hit each other into cars. In his last movie, Atomic Blonde, he made human beings do this to each other:
But the truth is that a lot of this winky, nudgy, wook what I did movie is fun if you can see beyond its evident end times subtext.
About that: Wow, we are through the looking glass. Deadpool 2 is spring-loaded with so many jokes and so much fizzy cutting that it makes it difficult to figure out whether any of the story matters. In some ways, that’s a huge relief. The subplot about the mutant teenager (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison) with the fiery fists and a dark past keeps our story thrumming, but it isn’t exactly crucial to much, other than drawing Deadpool, Cable, the human lucky charm Domino (Zazie Beetz, underused and still fantastic), the chrome-armored Colossus, and the rest of the X-Force—the “hip” mutant group that emerged as a kind of Crystal Pepsi to X-Men’s original recipe—that was created by Deadpool’s daddy Rob Liefeld. (Deadpool 2 even has a marvelous inside joke about Liefeld’s infamously shoddy anatomical illustration issues.) This movie, like all superhero movies, is leading to another movie, likely featuring the X-Force in full force. Hooray?
Underpinning the motivations of Deadpool—cancer survivor and mutant killing machine—is his love for his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and soon, the vengeful bloodlust over her death. This is fine, but presumes the fans of this budding franchise need even the vaguest attempt at the phony emotional stakes of other superhero stories. And, well, all stories. These movies really don’t need that. If you’re not buying the throat-ripping, bullet-eating mania of this series, a sweet seduction scene at the top likely isn’t going to save it.
What does is how we see it stacked against everything it refers to in the first place. Deadpool does not exist without what came before it, but by existing in the first place it reveals what a massive waste of time all this is. Except for saying the unsaid. The one true value of Deadpool is his eagerness—and Reynolds’s chatty, hyena-like motormouth is a perfect vessel—to just say it all. If the likely astronomical success of this movie reveals a subtext about moviegoers’ desires and expectations, its text tells us more characters should just tell us what we’re thinking. Of course Deadpool 2 is better than Batman v Superman. Of course the story doesn’t make sense. Of course Rob Delaney is gonna die, because he doesn’t have superpowers. Of course I’ll see this movie. You will, too. What else are you going to do?