Despite his superpowers making him nigh-on unkillable, Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is not a character built to last. His central gimmick of fourth-wall breaking jokes means his charm rests mainly on his audience enjoying references to other current superhero films, and without the novelty factor of the original, the thinness of this premise makes itself evident pretty quickly in Deadpool 2. Quips about Infinity War and the DCEU serve as stand-ins for real jokes, while a jumbled story strips the more serious moments of their potential impact. It’s not a disaster like Suicide Squad or Justice League, but following hot on the heels of one of the best superhero movies ever, Deadpool 2 feels really weak.
After a world-spanning montage of Deadpool brutally maiming and killing a series of crime bosses, the plot kicks off in earnest when a tragedy throws Deadpool into the arms of the X-Men. His first mission is to save troubled pyrokinetic teen Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison), which ends up landing both of them in a special mutant prison. Meanwhile, time-travelling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin in his second comic book villain role in as many months) begins his Terminator-esque mission to kill Russell in order to save the future.
For the first two thirds of the film, the story constantly borders on incoherent. Things happen loudly but forgettably, and the increased scope means a massive loss of focus compared to the original’s tightly wound revenge plot. Some of this is definitely deliberate, and Deadpool forming his own superteam – X-Force – brutally subverts comic book movie conventions in an entertainingly chaotic way, but mostly it just means most of the film feels empty. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script, now with Reynolds himself as a co-writer, skates by on Reynolds’s boundless charm, but hardly stands up by itself.
It’s a pity, because there are a lot of very good little moments buried here. From an excellent Bond-movie titles spoof to a last act fight that finally lets new director David Leitch show off his action chops that he so brilliantly proved in John Wick and Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 is intermittently great fun, and has some superb post-credits scenes. But there’s a streak of cynicism a mile wide, encouraging you not to care, and laughing at you if you do. Time travel and aliens are introduced without so much as a moment of explanation, and X-Force member Domino’s (Zazie Beetz) vaguely defined ‘luck’ powers let the script dig itself out of any hole.
Watching Deadpool 2 is like being at a party where everyone else is a lot drunker than you. It does a lot of wearisome and pointless things, yet somehow you feel like an arse for not having fun. It’s a deeply frustrating way to make a movie, even if it does achieve the desired effect of being essentially criticism-proof. With Infinity War still in cinemas, there doesn’t seem much point in seeing such a lesser example of the genre unless you’re very curious about just how gleefully gory a superhero film can possibly be.