Deadpool 2 is the Family Guy of Marvel movies, and whether that’s a positive or negative is really just a matter of perspective. It’s also a pretty good indication of what you’ll make of the sequel to the breakout 2016 hit, which itself offered a smorgasbord of pop culture references, ironic needle drops, and surprisingly graphic violence. It’s at once a bigger version of its predecessor, with a noticeable increase in both production value and visual ambition in tow, and a further contradiction of its own premise. Deadpool 2 likes to situate itself as the subversive alternative to so many bloated X-Men films, with all their grave self-importance and bombastic action, but even more of this go-around resembles those movies than its predecessor, and if it reads to you as more than a bit hypocritical, just know you’re hardly alone.
Then again, hypocrisy isn’t something that exists in the world of Ryan Reynolds‘ labor of love. It was Reynolds who gutted out an abomination of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to bring the actual Deadpool to theaters, who pushed for it at Fox for years as an alternative to their A-list Marvel franchise, and who now shares a screenplay credit with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick on its sequel. Reynolds is all over Deadpool 2, and not just as the titular antihero; his characteristically snarky comic sensibility is slathered all over every inch of the film. (If that last part read to you like a dick joke, congrats once again, for you are absolutely Deadpool 2‘s target audience.) Deadpool 2 goes bigger, as is expected of any superhero sequel, but its success is wildly mixed in the effort, particularly given that its version of “bigger” draws it ever closer to all those X-Men movies that run too long and introduce far too many characters at once.
After taking care of the people who left Deadpool in the state he’s in, where he’s too hideous to live and too indestructible to die, Wade Wilson has become one of the world’s best hired guns. He’s a perfect shot in assassination situations, the perfect distraction in high-volume murder scenarios, and unkillable enough to waste any time worrying about silly things like bullet avoidance. Every night, he goes home to his beloved Copycat (Morena Baccarin), who couldn’t possibly be more of a Cool Girl if Amazing Amy was monologuing about her. But after a few ugly twists of fate befall Wade, he finds himself crossing paths with Russell (Julian Dennison, Hunt For the Wilderpeople), a young mutant with especially dangerous fire-flinging powers who’s desperately in need of a role model. Wade isn’t it, but he believes he can lead the boy down the righteous path, even when virtually everybody else involved sees the child’s death as the best and most effective way of curbing future problems. That’s truest of Cable (Josh Brolin), who arrives from years into an apocalyptic future to “John Connor” Russell before he realizes just how powerful he is.
Deadpool’s insistence on protecting Russell is quickly met by the reality that he can’t do it alone, and so he pieces together a group of mutants hungry to make an impression and calls them the X-Force. Even the movie calls it derivative, and that particular line emerges from Domino (Zazie Beetz), the only recruit who seems to actually deliver on the promises she makes during the initial squad auditions. Domino is endlessly lucky, and that gift makes for some of director David Leitch‘s best setpieces thoughout. In addition to the John Wick helmer bringing his penchant for perfectly choreographed hand-to-hand violence to Deadpool 2, to its great benefit, Leitch also finds a number of visually inventive ways to illustrate Domino’s knack for survival. Cars crash around her, fists seem to miss the mark, and even bullets hit everything but her. Beetz gets a number of the film’s best one-liners, and her perfectly over-it-all delivery makes for some of the most natural moments in the entire 119-minute feature.
A lot of them aren’t natural, however, and for all of Deadpool 2‘s blustering about how it’s “not your granddad’s Marvel movie,” it falls victim to perhaps the most Marvel habit that afflicts so many onscreen superhero sequels: bloated stories full of too many characters and too much plot and not enough else to latch onto. It swings for a great many jokes, and more of them land successfully this time around than in the first movie, but it also triples down on both the inside baseball punchlines and the haphazard stabs at making a proper, bigger-budget sequel to a hit origin story. Some of the bits in both are effective; there’s a killer jab at another, tangentially related superhero movie in there, and Dennison brings a great deal more emotion to his end of the “unorthodox family” story that Deadpool 2 sets up than the movie often seems to find. Among the film’s many running gags, there’s a great bit about Dopinder (Karan Soni) warring with his basest impulses. When it isn’t shooting orcas in a barrel with its material, the trio behind the film’s script lean even further into some eccentric ideas, and it’s a decent look for the would-be punk cousin of the Marvel world.
But even if the movie weren’t hell-bent on reminding you regularly that a) it is a movie with tropes and plot points, like all movies do in fact have and b) it’s an X-Men movie, but the Mean Girls “cool mom” version of an X-Men movie, Deadpool 2 also lags when it has to be a traditional superhero movie. One of the tougher things to reconcile about Deadpool as a movie character is that he’s the in-universe equivalent of the YouTube critic conundrum. Even as you’re spending your time and money on his movie, he’s consistently breaking the fourth wall to remind you of how ill-assembled much of the movie around him is and will continue to be. If you don’t care, and can lock in on the comedy of it, again, Deadpool 2 is often pretty damn funny. If you do, and find it both grating in its smug acknowledgment of its own shortcomings and derivative of other movies (a major comic setpiece early on is lifted pretty liberally from MacGruber), it may go down a little less smoothly.
For the snotty little brother of 20th Century Fox’s crown jewel franchise that it aims to be, Deadpool 2 is clever enough in its giddily obnoxious way. For those who’d chafe at the idea of Domino being severely underdeveloped despite Beetz’s charismatic turn, or Cable being a non-factor for nearly half the movie despite being integral to where it eventually goes, well, it might not be for you. But that’s the thing: Deadpool 2 goes so far out of its way to flip off anybody who isn’t on its wavelength that it almost seems beside the point to challenge it. But there’s one question that hung around after the first film ended, and becomes even more worthwhile here: isn’t a good movie better than a mediocre one that gets a little better when it jokes about its lowest-effort parts? You’d think so.
At least a new generation of nerds are going to discover Yentl because of a Deadpool movie. You can only hate that so much.