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Last time Marvel's Deadpool landed on cinema screens, the anti-hero blew away expectations with twisted humor and giddy ultra-violence. And the film really had to lean on those qualities (and Ryan Reynolds' out-of-the-park performance), as the production felt trapped beneath budgetary issues and flimsy connections to the greater X-Men universe.
The 2016 film's surprise success has clearly opened doors for the sequel to dig its Wolverine-mocking claws into all things Marvel. Deadpool 2 delivers that on paper, with major X-Force characters (particularly Cable) anchoring this as a full-blooded, big-M Marvel film. That hasn't dampened the fact that this is a Deadpool-caliber sequel, with gross gags, juvenile jokes, and cutting sarcasm for days.
But last time, I remarked on how the parts of Deadpool 1 that felt too formulaic ever so slightly dragged that film's fun down. This time around, Deadpool 2 has absolutely fallen into a formulaic-sequel rut. It shouldn't keep dedicated fans from buying a ticket, but anyone hoping for a sequel that feels more like a Deadpool romp—meaning, more willing to sacrifice sacred cows in a "nihilistic Three Stooges" way—should check their bloody expectations at the door.
Continuity? In a Deadpool film?
Disfigured red-suited hero Wade Williams hits the ground running in this sequel by slaying dozens of crime-syndicate bosses around the world. However, his final takedown, in his own hometown, goes awry. Shaken and dismayed, Williams finds himself shacking up with the two X-Men he befriended in the last film, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Together, they have designs on becoming more of a force for good.
Unsurprisingly, this motivation dries up as soon as Deadpool goes on his first X-mission (while wearing a hilarious "trainee" T-shirt, as if he were a red-shirting freshman on a football team). In trying to protect the confused teen mutant Russell (played by Julian Dennison from the brilliant Hunt For The Wilderpeople), Deadpool screws up—and sets into motion events that catch the eye of time-traveling ass-kicker Cable (Josh Brolin).
Much of the film revolves around Deadpool and Cable squaring off—which forces Deadpool to recruit more heroes to join his effort and save Russell (who steals quite a few scenes as a smart-talker). His new team, dubbed the X-Force, includes characters from the Marvel series of the same name and takes on a particularly Deadpool-film flavor before long. You really could write out the X-Force related stuff in a spoiler-filled review as an example of this series' sardonic genius at its best. Indeed, the whole film contains comedic gems on par with Deadpool 1, from the expected (a silly opening-credits roll or ridiculous jabs at Hugh Jackman's expense) to the nerd-faithful (jokes about a former Marvel Comics staffer that had me howling).
The biggest problem, really, is the amount of time and emotional energy spent on momentum-stalling developments. Deadpool 2 gets surprisingly hung up on obeying rules of continuity—and this results in long, drawn-out, no-jokes-no-action attempts to connect the first film to the second and to ground characters' motivations. (During these scenes, Reynolds' apparent boredom doesn't help matters.) Deadpool, more than any other Marvel Comics hero, huffs the fumes of plot dadaism, which fits Williams' eff-the-world attitude to a tee. Thus, even when Williams' character makes certain sequel breakthroughs, he almost instantly rebuffs them with ridiculous jokes and gags—so why'd we even bother with the slow-and-sappy stuff?
Easier to nitpick than to spoil
It's easier to nitpick on the film's failings than to spoil its dark-comedy successes. I can safely tell you that DP2's fight sequences generally lack the original film's gratuitous, blood-stained fun. I can point out how much Cable's cold-and-lost plot and Brolin's often-flat performance fail to introduce the hero with the same convention-busting ass-kickery that made the character a '90s comics icon in the first place. To be fair, Deadpool and Cable do exchange one round of particularly blazing fisticuffs, and thank goodness for that.
And I can loudly ask why the heck this anticipated sequel has so much corner-cutting CGI and so many ho-hum action setpieces. The biggest exception, a city-spanning car chase, enjoys some polish and bombast, but it, too, looks like a superhero-film cliché as opposed to a compelling upgrade of what has come before.
On the other hand, the wackiness, the didn't-see-that-coming twists, and Reynolds' quick-barbed tongue are all here—and all benefit from viewers going in blind. The resulting film's combination of one-and-done jokes and lousy pacing make it an easy recommendation for existing fans, but it's still too grotesque for anyone looking for a more "wholesome" version of Deadpool, while dedicated fans will have enough reasons to call this one worse than the original.
We have to wait until the film's final minutes to see a glimmer of how fun a future Deadpool-and-Cable film might turn out, when the characters finally exchange organic dialogue and interactions and tease the idea of the comic universe's ultimate Abbott-and-Costello pair. After that is an even bigger tease of the series' potential: an amazing after-credits spike that could have been the basis of an entire, yes-yes-yes sequel.
Comedy sequels are tough, and Deadpool 2 isn't a failure by any stretch. But I hope an inevitable Deadpool 3 completely flips the sequel script with that final spike as an inspiration point.