I’ve been struggling on the how of criticising Deadpool 2 (what no witty subtitle?) for just about a week now. Not because there’s loads to criticise, or even that I really disliked it. No, the problem lies in its relationship to itself, or more accurately Deadpool’s relationship to the entire construct that surrounds him. I suppose that’s what I’ve settled on really, the only way to properly look at this movie is to divorce it entirely from its lead.
Because that’s what the film does anyway. It starts with the murder of his girlfriend, as films about tortured anguished men looking for redemption inevitably have to. Especially in genre fiction. It still feels weird and manipulative and is punctuated with an extended joke about how we could never have seen that coming when sadly, knowing how women have been treated in film forever, it just felt all to evitable. Lazy too.
After that the film turns into an actual story. This one about a time travelling warrior of vengeance, come back to kill the child who will grow to torment the world. These characters have actual motivations, lives and internalities. Deadpool and his running monologues, both in dialogue and voiceover, act as their Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, wildly bouncing between the major players. Arriving at each chapter of their story as the chaosmaker, diverting the story of these two self-serious rivals from the straight and narrow.
It’s a conceit that might actually work. The human embodiment of the grenade rolling back down a hill, or the unseen booby trap that’s about to cause a lot of trouble for our heroes. Fate itself being recast as the grieving misanthrope who can’t help but complicate everything around him. But this ain’t the tack though, what the film decides the character really needs is to love. It can’t breathe. Nothing can survive the crushing weight of this motivation.
Sad man needs to learn empathy, love the world? It’s leaden. A concept that needs equate shading in order to be anything other than empty, faux-motivational wishmaking. As far it goes, Deadpool and his alter ego Wade Wildon tend to be pretty broad. Ryan Reynolds is a charming and easy performer and transmutes that into a character just as comfortable with his own performativity. His ghost wife tells him repeatedly that his heart is not in the right place, yet the man is by turns the most open, accepting, and honest presence we get through the running time.
The film’s heart is suspended awkwardly between its two poles. The irony leaves the schmaltz feeling unearned, the schmaltz leaves the irony feeling dishonest. It’s lurching tone indicative of a storytelling style that cannot comprehend holding both extremes in its view at once. Its scenes of child abuse and molestation cannot be funny, its apocalyptic future world too is not allowed to be. Deadpool can be funny, and characters that float into his rarefied air are allowed to as well. Outside of him though, their lives must be lived and their stakes must be serious, otherwise the screenwriters would run out of wisecracks for him to spout.
It’s a right shame; the supporting cast is Josh Brolin as Cable, Julian Dennison as Firefist, and Zazie Beetz as Domino. They are all good friends and I want to spend more time with them. Dennison has grown since Ricky Baker, he feels more assured here, weaving his inimitable personality around a role that requires him to go bigger, reach deeper. Brolin and Beetz are mostly relegated to performing physically and having the best reaction faces in literally every scene that they’re in.
But even their phyical performances are straight, aside from a well executed opening montage (criminally set to the ‘ironic’ strains of one of the greatest songs of all time, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5) the action is all so staid. An action comedy without comedic action, what’s the point? These contradictions pile up on top of each other, warping the perception that this joint could ever be a cohesive whole.
Ah, but that’s the point isn’t it? Deadpool is anarchic and breaks all the rules. He even knows that he’s in a movie, how wild. I guess I’ve now gotta confront my position here. I’m not really a fan of that whole shtick, or at least in how it is executed here.
The way that we interact with comedy has been changing. You can see it if you spend time online. The meme cycle is getting shorter generating an endlessly disposable and remixable mountain of discarded content. Its existence as a humour artefact is derived from its use as a tool of exclusion, something to be mined through for reference to the initial comic impulse.
This is who Deadpool is, this is what Deadpool is. He adopts this image of the outsider, the heckler, the Statler and Waldorf of comics. But he’s really there to reinforce its worst excesses. The film postures and gurns, it wants you to know how very extra it is. How it explodes itself out in every direction, and I sit there in the audience and long for it to take a moment to be outrageous, be experimental, occupy somewhere other than the banal middleground to which it stakes its claim.
It is real nice tho to finally, finally, finally, see some queers in one of these movies at last. I mean, Negasonic Teenage Warhead were always coded that way, but to see, and be seen. It took long enough.
Deadpool 2 is currently screening in UK cinemas.