Now that “Avengers: Infinity War” has been out for a few weeks, it’s time for yet another Marvel-based superhero movie featuring a villain played by Josh Brolin. This time, Brolin plays Cable, a murderous cyborg soldier from the future, and his character is opposed not by a bloated procession of cameoed Avengers, but by Deadpool (a very much in-his-element Ryan Reynolds) and friends (most notably Zazie Beetz as Domino, a new character whose superpower is good luck). The awkward optics of Brolin’s quasi-double-casting aren’t lost on Deadpool, who jokingly refers to Brolin’s character as Thanos (the rock-stealing antagonist of “Infinity War”). This brand of metacinematic self-awareness is highly characteristic of the humor in “Deadpool 2.” Deadpool seems to know that he’s actually Ryan Reynolds and that the events of his life are determined by “the studio.” One might estimate that three in every four one-liners are riffs on Marvel characters or franchises, and one joke, which is featured in the trailer, even takes a dig at the rival DC Universe. In all its smug self-awareness, however, “Deadpool 2” somehow avoids crossing the line from funny to tiresome, at least for the most part.
While some action-comedies sacrifice coherent plotlines in favor of humor and violence, “Deadpool 2” manages a decent dose of all three. Shortly after being taken in as an X-Man trainee, Deadpool lands himself in a high-security prison alongside a 14-year-old mutant pyromaniac named Russell (Julian Dennison), whom Cable is determined to kill. To fight Cable and protect Russell, Deadpool forms a band of mutants called X-Force, and the team struggles against Cable and his weaponry from the future. Though time travel can render some films unnecessarily complicated, “Deadpool 2” avoids these problems by treating the issue with such joking nonchalance that any plot holes or temporal paradoxes become inconsequential; to notice them or point them out would be to miss the point.
By not taking itself seriously as an X-Men movie or a superhero movie or a movie at all, “Deadpool 2” makes only one promise, and it delivers: It’s damn funny, and it’s a damn good time. Ryan Reynolds could not be a better fit for the character of Deadpool. Once again, he brings the exact energy and charisma the character requires, and he could carry the film himself if he needed to. Even so, 15-year-old Dennison has plenty of comedic and dramatic talent to offer, as does Morena Bacarrin, who is given far too little screen time as Deadpool’s love interest Vanessa. That being said, the film rather refreshingly avoids being weighed down by a half-baked ensemble cast; save for Domino, who plays a more prominent role, the various members of X-Force featured in the film’s trailer deliver their share of comedy in an appropriately short amount of time.
Despite its many, many layers of irony, however, “Deadpool 2” has some genuinely heartrending moments. Some of the scenes between Deadpool and Vanessa are real tearjerkers, especially for those who watched them fall in love in the first movie. “Deadpool 2” is unexpectedly wholesome. It achieves a unique and surprising balance of sentiment and cynicism, allowing characters to express their grief, affection, and vulnerability without veering too close to the saccharine.
Of course, “Deadpool 2” is not without its flaws. Without giving too much away, both Deadpool and Cable are defined by the loss or suffering of their female loved ones, who exist largely for plot or male character development but don’t function as full characters themselves. This type of asymmetry in the treatment of male and female characters has a long history, particularly in comic books and comic book-inspired media. There’s even a ’90s feminist website called “Women in Refrigerators” (so named for a comic book scene in which the corpse of a superhero’s girlfriend is found in a refrigerator) listing female comic book characters who have been “killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, [or] tortured,” often in service of male superheroes’ character arcs. More recently, bloggers have termed this “the fridged girlfriend trope” and criticized the misogyny inherent in using women as plot devices and repeatedly representing them as victims of horrific tragedy. Even if one were to ignore the sexist overtones of the fridged girlfriend phenomenon, it is disappointing to see a film that aims to be subversive rely on such an overused trope.
In a similar vein, there’s some troublesome invocation of racial stereotypes throughout “Deadpool 2,” mostly surrounding Deadpool’s timid Indian taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s quirky anime-looking new girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna). Given how irreverent, deeply ironic, and winkingly self-aware “Deadpool 2” is, it might seem unreasonable to criticize the film for not representing minorities in a sufficiently socially responsible way. Still, relying on stereotypes to fill a joke quota seems rather lazy and makes for moments that are more cringe-inducing than funny. Save for the light sprinkling of misogyny and racism, though, “Deadpool 2” is a film worth watching.
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