Sequels always play with an amount of diminishing returns. They have to re-enforce elements of the original film while trying to build a new story or take the characters in a new direction. For something like the James Bond series, this is easier as the format leaves him essentially unchanged as a character. But in series where the characters are expected to grow and change, the challenges at the script level escalate. This is doubly true when the original film ends on an emotionally satisfying note. That sense of finality becomes a load-stone for some screenwriters and they make a mistake: they shatter the emotionally satisfying ending of the first film to make the second one possible. It broke the Austin Powers sequels and it breaks Deadpool 2.
Which isn’t to say the film is bad — its actions scenes are great and its comedy lands for the most part — but by breaking the first Deadpool to get to this story, the satisfaction to be found in the film is muted.
Spoilers follow from here, of course.
The film picks up sometime after the events of Deadpool with Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) going global in his mercenary business, but still making time for Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). In fact, the two have even decided they’re ready for kids. Also, the bought a boat called the “Live-4-Ever.” That last part isn’t true, but it should indicate where things are going. The worst happens, leaving Wade to deal with the grief even as the movie tries to lampshade its choice during its phony opening credit sequence. Soundtracked with Celine Dion’s great “Ashes” and staged like a Bond opening, its attempt to temper the emotional fallout in the audience only really works when the director credit comes on; making the best John Wick joke ever inserted into a film.
After the credits, Wade tries to join the X-Men and eventually finds himself involved in the case of a young mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison) who wants to burn down his group home. Somehow, their chance meeting causes a chain of events which reverberates into the future time of the Man Called Cable (Josh Brolin); who bodyslides to Deadpool’s time in an attempt to kill Russell. The film becomes a push-pull between Wade and Cable for the heart of the boy and the fate of the future.
But all of that is just a structure for the film’s copious jokes about pop culture, superhero movies in general and X-Men flicks in particular. The first film’s jokes about the empty X-Mansion gets a hilarious explanation and Deadpool’s continued assault on the Wolverine movies comes to a startlingly funny conclusion. Cable’s opening scenes are pastiches of The Terminator so dry, the Brad Fiedel-inspired score in them plays successfully both as straight and for laughs. Deadpool finds new ways to describe Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Dopinder (Karan Soni) discovers a new disturbing angle to his life.
The biggest joke of all is X-Force itself, which Wade assembles to prevent Cable from killing Russell during a prisoner transfer (long story). The operation goes shockingly bad for everyone except Domino (Zazie Beetz), who’s mutant luck powers get lampooned until they suddenly become the most powerful abilities in the whole film. The sequence is also a testament to director David Leitch’s skills as an action filmmaker.
At the same time, though, the anarchic surprise and charm of the original film is missing. Deadpool’s mostly unacknowledged journey of personal growth is not as interesting it was in the first film. The “discovering your family” scenario the film employs only has two or three narrative options in a major tentpole release. In introducing likable characters like Domino, Cable and Russell, Deadpool 2 tries them all on for size before giving Wade a way to negate the whole thing entirely.
Which, thinking about the sequel’s earliest minutes, leaves the film a little hollow in comparison to its predecessor. It tries to deny that sensation with plenty of action, jokes and one very surprising appearance by a key X-Men character, but the thought upon leaving the theater will be “the first one is better” even if the majority of Deadpool 2 still proves enjoyable.
Deadpool 2 is in theaters now.