Editor’s Note: This article contains mild spoilers for Deadpool 2. Read at your own risk.
Deadpool 2 is the right movie at the wrong time.
It’s unfortunate, really, that 20th Century Fox chose to release the R-rated sequel when it did. The universe of superhero geekdom has yet to fully process the audacious, and ludicrously profitable, Avengers: Infinity War, while the impact of another Star Wars theatrical release is imminent, once more.
Sandwiched between this Disney double-slap, the relatively quiet unveiling of Deadpool 2 almost seems like an oversight.
In the meantime, the House of Mouse endeavors to complete its near monopoly on superhero entertainment with a deal to buy much of the Fox portfolio, including the cinematic rights to the X-Men franchise, to which Deadpool belongs. Though the planned acquisition hit a recent snag with surprise competition from Comcast, Disney nonetheless remains a dominant force in comic-book cinema, a universe-building conglomerate to which other franchises must resist or acquiesce.
On the surface, Deadpool 2 seems to do a valiant job of the former. Its main character is irreverant, cracking wise at the expense of Batman, Wolverine and Thanos, a trifecta with little in common but the tendency to take themselves a bit too seriously at times. It’s a goofy, raunchy and genuinely hilarious send-up of the self-aggrandizement of those relatively dour series.
But does the commentary hold up under close examination? As an audience, we’ve grown to take these franchises too seriously, ourselves. Not only do we demand action and adventure in our big-budget franchise fare, but we crave storylines with deliberate themes and motifs, as well.
While Deadpool 2 offers laughs aplenty, it can’t compete with the heart of, say, a Spider-Man: Homecoming or Guardians of the Galaxy. It can’t tug at the heartstrings like Logan. And it’s much less inspiring than, for example, Wonder Woman or Captain America: The First Avenger.
So what kind of movie are we looking at here?
Deadpool 2, like Deadpool, himself, isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. To compensate, it tries to be a little bit of everything.
And it, too, succumbs to the mania of franchise-building it simultaneously derides.
Mid-way through the story, Deadpool assembles a coterie of misfit heroes to challenge the film’s villain, a crew that goes by the name of “X-Force.” In a legitimately funny, and slightly gruesome, sequence, nearly the entire team dies one by one while attempting to parachute into their first mission. One hero is hit by a bus. Another is electrocuted by telephone wire. A third gets sent through a woodchipper. You get the picture.
If Deadpool 2 had stuck to its guns, ending the story of X-Force with those ill-fated landings, it might’ve been a stronger film. But the alternative path is not entirely damning.
In a mid-credits scene, Deadpool gains the ability to travel through time. We thereafter witness him jumping from point to point, in the process reversing the most consequential deaths of the movie. His girlfriend, killed in Act One, is saved through time-traveling intervention. So is, presumably, each and every member of X-Force.
It’s all in the service of setting up a new film, the aptly titled X-Force, due to be released in the coming years.
That’s right: Deadpool sold out. But he, himself, would be the first to admit it.
That’s why a savvy viewer could argue the big sellout is artistically deliberate. The Deadpool franchise, they might say, is both a critique of superhero blockbusters while also being a bonafide blockbuster, itself. It engages and subverts the genre by acknowledging the failings of its own message.
For an example of this, consider the character Deadpool’s fourth-wall-breaking admonition of the film’s writers, whom he criticizes after an all-too-convenient plot point occurs. “That’s just lazy writing,” he says. The film is self-deprecating, and thus its humor, message and universe-building are not only coherent, they strengthen each other in the process.
Of course, that could just be lazy analysis. But hey, why attribute to corporate greed what can be explained by nuanced social commentary? ■