“Deadpool 2” exists less as a superhero sequel and more of a gut-splitting, anarchic, 120-minute episode of “Family Guy,” except replace Peter Griffin with a third-degree-burned Ryan Reynolds and Brian with an equally-droll Josh Brolin who’s relieved to no longer be wearing a Thanos motion capture suit for 16 hours a day. It’s a breath of flesh blood, still appealing to the 7th grader who loves to yell “Penis!” in all of us, but with enough emotional complexity to gravitate to our more matured, inner 8th grader, who’s priorities no longer lie in fart jokes but writing love letters to our new romantic partners who’ll end up dumping and forgetting about us one week later.
If you caught a glimpse of a run-on sentence or two in that last paragraph, well, that’s how it also feels to watch “Deadpool 2.” It’s relentlessly funny, relying less on jokes and more on pop culture references, but also has some extended problems with pacing. The plot and story lines feeling like they’re taking 30 minutes too long to resolve themselves, our lack of attention occasionally usurped by Wade Wilson throwing a baddie through a fourth brick wall. It’s not a bore, nor is a snore, but “Deadpool 2” does feel often like a chore, and even though we’re satisfied when we walk out the door, we’re still left wanting more.
Since the events of the first “Deadpool,” which I honestly do not remember nor have not rewatched once even though I enjoyed it, Wade Wilson has expanded his curse-spewing, criminal-fighting enterprise on a global scale. One second he’s in Hong Kong, the next he’s in Tokyo, but domestic tragedy squanders his international fightplan, culminating in his selection as the X-Men’s newest, underappreciated trainee. While on a mission with the squad, Wilson finds himself soothing the emotions of an overweight, abused teen mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison). He’s a kid who we’d normally spot drenched in sweat in the standing room section at a My Chemical Romance concert, but his penchant to burn anything with the touch of his hands would probably break Staples Center fire code. Russell is simply not okay.
Wilson and Russell kind of have a Adam Sandler “Big Daddy” dynamic going on until Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up like some sort heavily-armed social worker, who wants less to reunite Russell with Jon Stewart, but more to make sure Russell sleeps with the fishes and Scuba Steve. Equipped with his trusty bionic eye and metallic arm (like “Terminator 2!”), Cable travels into the past to kill Russell before he becomes a major threat in the future (like “Terminator 1,” and also like “Looper!”) Wilson summons the help of whatever heroes and X-Men are around to answer his texts, and together they form a group chat of justice, aimed at bringing Cable down for good.
It’s all good fun, where none of “Deadpool 2’s” jokes or moments are particularly memorable but still tickle our hedonistic sense of humor in the moment. Even in its farce, there are still genuine moments of pathos in the film, particularly those Wilson shares with his longtime-lover Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Zazie Beets excels as Domino, a red-hot charmer with a cool lucky streak, and Brolin breathes emotional life his macho machinery. Of course, “Deadpool 2” is still nothing more than an elaborate $110 million one man show for Ryan Reynolds, and frankly that’s okay. Reynolds could honestly have his own Las Vegas residency, where Bellagio guests would pay $150 to watch him do nothing more than wear a Deadpool costume onstage and show off some sardonic desert swagger.
But “Deadpool 2’s” biggest accomplishment is that it feels like a breath of fresh air in the current superhero landscape. Not for its banality or f-bombs, but because the movie exists wholly in and of itself, a respite for entertainment and not a requirement of it. It’s a return to the feel of the original “Spider-Man” movies or Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, where there was an acknowledgement of some larger universe, but the main focus was building a solid, individual story in the here and now. We felt the same way about “Black Panther” for a couple months until its fabled plot just served as a prequel to “Infinity War.”
Don’t get me wrong, I saw “Infinity War” three times in two weeks and the MCU has brought me more cinematic satisfaction than anything else over the past 10 years. But “Deadpool 2” echoes back to a lovely, bygone age of escapist entertainment, where we could immerse ourselves in a new story and not have to analyze or theorize about it for years later. It’s action is suitable, its humor is lively, and you won’t remember a thing said in it once its over. But “Deadpool 2” accomplishes its mission through a parade of panache, a jolly night off from the harsh 9-5 of the superhero working world.