Deadpool 2 movie review: 'It's not perfect but it's better than its obnoxious predecessor'
As the superhero movie spreads like a malignant canker to every corner of mainstream film-making, it has branched out in unexpected ways. In the last two years or so we've had superhero slapstick (Thor: Ragnarok), superhero metaphysics (Doctor Strange), superhero feminism (Wonder Woman) and superhero self-satire (Deadpool).
Though that last film was praised to the skies by some critics for its daring nihilism, I found it a tiresome, nasty, misogynistic production, in which the anti-hero's whining mockery was interspersed with spectacularly unpleasant outbursts of violence. It had no charm and showcased Ryan Reynolds at his most irritatingly smug.
My expectations of the sequel, then, were not sky high. But while no masterpiece, Deadpool 2 is funnier than the original, and not nearly so objectionable. In the 2016 film, we were introduced to Wade Wilson (Reynolds), a well-intentioned mercenary who's working Manhattan's mean streets when he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He's reeling from this news when a mysterious stranger offers to inject him with a special serum that will cure his disease and unleash hidden mutant superpowers. It did that alright, but also severely disfigured him, after which he became a vengeful and unstable masked avenger.
Wade's superhero alter ego is Deadpool and his powers include great strength, agility and an ability to recover from even the most terrible wound. But he seems unsure about superhero etiquette, and tends to leave a trail of mangled corpses in his wake. He's a kind of punk X-Man who swears like a longshoreman, drinks to excess and uses duct tape to stop the arse of his homemade superhero suit from falling out.
The one civilising influence in Wade's life is Vanessa (Ariana Baccarin), a former prostitute to whom he's hopelessly devoted. At the start of Deadpool 2, they're planning to start a family together when a criminal gang stages a brutal raid on his apartment. Wade and Vanessa are separated and without her calming influence he descends into a tailspin of nihilistic violence and ends up in prison. There he befriends a teenage mutant called Russell, who can shoot fire from his fists but seems lost and vulnerable.
Meanwhile, a cybernetic mutant soldier called Cable (Josh Brolin) has travelled back in time and seems hell-bent on killing Russell. But what Wade wants to know is why?
Based on a 1990s Marvel comic book character, Deadpool and Deadpool 2 are unruly offshoots of the X-Men franchise and intended as salty satires on the pompous wholesomeness of that film series and the superhero genre in general. The first film had shock value: its violence was nihilistic, the F-word was dispensed with gay abandon and Wade seemed to mock the very idea that anyone could claim to be a hero at all.
Its loucheness and low humour made Deadpool a surprise hit: made for under $60m, it grossed almost $800m worldwide, revived Reynold's moribund movie career and, in the US, became the second most profitable R-rated film ever, behind Mel Gibson's Passion Of The Christ.
There's a reference to that in Deadpool 2, which is full of such knowing in-jokes. When Deadpool is asked for an autograph, he signs it Ryan Reynolds. He breaks the fourth wall constantly and comments regularly on the superhero genre. When he first meets Josh Brolin's character Cable, he says "you're dark - are you from the DC Universe?". All of this is wonderful news for diehard superhero buffs, who tittered dutifully from murky corners at the screening I attended. Deadpool 2 is very pleased with itself, and not nearly so subversive as it imagines: for all its swearing and preening cynicism, it's still a superhero film and that's about as blandly mainstream as you can get.
But the writing's funnier this time and Reynold's exhaustingly energetic performance holds the show together, while leaving little room for anyone else to shine.
Deadpool 2 (16, 119mins) - 3 stars
Also releasing this week: Movie reviews: Citizen Lane, Filmworker, Jeune Femme
Films coming soon...
On Chesil Beach (Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle); Solo: A Star Wars Story (Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke); The Breadwinner (Saara Chaudry); Edie (Sheila Hancock, Kevin Guthrie); Show Dogs (Will Arnett).