Monday, May 14, 2018

Zaki's Review: Deadpool 2

When the first Deadpool was released two years ago last Valentine's Day weekend, its stratospheric success caught most prognosticators entirely by surprise (including, I suspect, the studio that released it). The gloriously R-rated, unapologetically sex-and-violence soaked Ryan Reynolds star vehicle cost Fox a relatively piddly $60 million to produce, and managed to accumulate an awe-inspiring $780+ mil when all was said and done. That kind of haul instantly put this low-key X-Men spin-off in the winningest of win columns, placing Marvel's "Merc with the Mouth" alongside the Batmans and Iron Mans of the world when it comes to superhero heavy hitters.

Of course, in the high stakes world of franchise filmmaking (and the X-Men films have been a Fox touchstone for nearly two decades), the ultimate measure of success can only truly be found in how soon and and how often the purse string people reassemble the various ingredients to dutifully dish out more of the same. Thus, here we are two years later with Deadpool 2, which is indeed more of the same. This is one of the clearest examples of "Give the audience what they want" sequels I can think of. It has just as much violence, just as much profanity, and just as many whiplash-inducing one-liners. And while I liked the first Deadpool fine, I'm as shocked as anyone that I liked Deadpool 2 slightly more.

Though original director Tim Miller vacated the franchise (supposedly over budgetary disagreements) to head up James Cameron's upcoming Terminator reboot, Atomic Blonde's David Leitch has stepped in for this go-round and ably manages to keep the trains running on time. On the story side, Reynolds (who co-scripted alongside Deadpool vets Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick) is back in the lead role of cancer-stricken mercenary Wade Wilson, a wisecracking mutant with a healing power that renders him impervious to harm while leaving him horribly disfigured (sorry, Sexiest Man Alive, the mutant gods giveth, the mutant gods taketh away).

Also back is Morena Baccarin as his ladylove Vanessa, (the suddenly radioactive) TJ Miller as bartender buddy Weasel, and most of the mutant and non-mutant hangers-on who populated his last adventure. New to to the mix this time is Josh Brolin (playing his second Marvel antagonist in three weeks) as Cable, a cyborg mutant from one of those trademark post-apocalyptic futures that tends to produce cyborg mutants with names like Cable. Brought to the past on a mission of vengeance, Cable ends up crossing paths with Wade, who assembles a motley assortment of minor-league mutants to combat him under the name "X-Force" (and hey, if we end up getting another spin-off out of the deal, whaddya do, right?)

Like Deadpool, Cable was also created by comic artist Rob Liefeld during his tenure drawing Marvel's New Mutants in the early '90s, and like Deadpool he feels every inch the '90s refugee, from his scarred face to his robot arm to his big guns (and in typical '90s fashion, Cable's comic book history is so convoluted that at one point Reynolds-as-Deadpool implores the audience not to wiki him). Nonetheless, as someone who was reading X-Men comics at exactly the time Cable was introduced, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't waiting nearly thirty years to see the character realized in live action, and I'd also be lying if I said I didn't have a big dopey grin on my face whenever he was onscreen.

(I'd also be remiss here if I didn't mention Zazie Beetz' scene-stealing turn as Domino, a mutant with the decidedly un-cinematic ability -- as Wade repeatedly reminds us -- of "luck," who nonetheless walks away with some of the movie's most showstoppingly cinematic moments.)

But while I walked into the theater fully expecting to be caught up in the euphoria of seeing one of my childhood favorites brought to life for the first time (and wasn't disappointed in the least, by the way -- Brolin is pitch perfect in the part), something that caught me entirely off guard was how much I found myself caught up in the arc they've constructed for the guy whose name is on the title. I mentioned in my review of the first film that the arc of fervent Deadpool fandom generally passed me by, and while I've never disliked him, neither do I have the deep and abiding fondness of so many longtime fans.

As such, I have to attribute whatever affinity I have for the character to Ryan Reynolds. It's been said before and it'll no doubt be said again, but this is the part he was put on this Earth to play. And while the actor has dutifully worn his Green Lantern hairshirt for the last eight years, the ease and confidence with which he occupies Wade's red leather tights shows how patience can prove a virtue. That they actually found something resembling an emotional through-line that resonates past all the bullet wounds and fourth wall-breaking says something about the filmmakers' confidence going into this second chapter, and makes me that much more intrigued to see where Wade will end up next. B+

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