By Preston Wilder
News arrives that Avengers: Infinity War is now the fifth-biggest film of all time (unadjusted for inflation), having made $1,638 million in the three weeks since it came out; another of this year’s superhero movies, Black Panther, is ninth, with $1,342 million since February. The box-office clout of comic-book flicks is breathtaking, indeed they’re so successful they can even afford a court jester taking the mickey out of superhero-dom. That would be Wade Wilson, a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) – a pest and a smartass, not so much X-Man as just X-hausting. You’re not a hero, he’s told in this surprisingly glorious sequel, just “an angry clown dressed up as a sex toy”. Harsh!
The first Deadpool was a flippant, annoying little film that made much (too much) of its feisty irreverence. The sequel is better, partly because it has a better director (David Leitch, of Atomic Blonde) but also because Logan has intervened in the two years since the original; that film – Wolverine’s swansong – was purposely morbid and despairing, and Deadpool 2 picks up a lot of that vibe. ’Pool has a death wish, like Logan in Logan; he’s depressed and wants to die – which is actually not that hard, since his superpowers are the only thing keeping terminal cancer at bay. He also chats about Logan, and how Wolverine “upped the ante by dying” in that movie, and of course he also chats about this movie, the one you’re watching. The weird combination of blithe, none-of-this-is-real fourth-wall breakage and heavy, un-ironic desolation gives the sequel a sharp, singular flavour.
Deadpool 2 is endlessly self-conscious. There are jokes about its star, Ryan Reynolds (who had a hand in the script), including a mid-credits burn on his least successful movie. There are jokes about comic-book franchises. There are jokes about films as disparate as Yentl, Say Anything and Interview With the Vampire. The plot apes Logan, teaming Deadpool with a mutant kid (Julian Dennison, from Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and the kid makes an in-jokey reference to the current fuss over inequality in Hollywood: “The industry discriminates”. There are jokes about buzzwords du jour, from Tinder to (Jared) Kushner. While in jail, Deadpool meets a mutant called ‘Black Tom’, even though Black Tom is white: “What’s your superpower,” quips our clued-in hero, “cultural appropriation?”.
I know how it probably sounds; like a smug, insufferable jape, like the first Deadpool in fact. Those who absolutely hated the original are unlikely to love the sequel – but there’s something different here, less spurting blood (though the violence is still quite extreme) and more introspection. Deadpool’s superpower – that his wounds heal, meaning he’s able to absorb punishment – is appropriate, adding to the sense of a wry hero battered by a cruel world. A man arrives from the future (Josh Brolin as ‘Cable’) and confirms, inter alia, that everyone will be dead in 50 years, humankind being on the verge of destroying the planet. Later, in the film’s ballsiest move, ’Pool puts together a team of wannabe superheroes – but they all come to a bad end, all except the girl (Zazie Beetz, a.k.a. the sole bright spot in Geostorm) whose only superpower is being lucky.
Did you get that? This is a universe where dumb luck – not strength, not even agency – is the greatest superpower one can have. Deadpool revelled in being ‘dark’, but mostly it was just gleefully gory; Deadpool 2 really is dark, a film very much of its moment, reflecting deep-seated fears about Trump, global warming, automation, you name it – a fear, in short, of feeling helpless as the world seemingly slides towards disaster. (You can’t stop it; all you can do is be lucky.) It’s probably no accident that comic-book movies, the dominant genre of our time, are so apocalyptic – a recent article in the Village Voice also made this point, titled ‘Apocalypse Numb’ – though this one doesn’t feature any grand global threat; instead, in a grim reversal of The Terminator, Cable has come from the future to kill little Julian before the boy commits his first murder and develops a taste for it (another echo of Logan, with its lethal little girl). Kids aren’t immune to the darkness, quite the opposite.
Deadpool 2 is strong stuff. It’s also funny, though the humour works better in context (it’s really the same snarky, outrageous humour as in the first film). Fake opening credits mock Wade’s pain. Our hero – having literally been ripped in half – spends a memorably gross scene as a grotesque half-man, half-baby, while his body grows a new lower section. Why should this angry clown seem more palatable now than he did two years ago? Is it just a case of familiarity breeding affection, which might also explain why comic-book flicks just keep getting bigger and bigger? Maybe – but affection isn’t really the proper response to this twisted, rather ugly, yet fascinating movie. “I know what you’re thinking,” smirks ’Pool in voice-over: “‘I’m so glad I left the kiddos at home’.” Indeed.
DIRECTED BY David Leitch
STARRING Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin
US 2018 119 mins